Vancouver: Hangin’ ‘Round Chinatown

Vancouver: Hangin’ ‘Round Chinatown

One day during our trip to Vancouver this past winter, before heading to the Capilano Suspension Bridge and Cliffwalk, we took advantage of a FREE walking tour of downtown Chinatown Vancouver with Tour Guys Vancouver.

I don’t know much about Chinese history or culture, and I rarely visit Chinatown here in Los Angeles. But for some reason, the opportunity to explore Vancouver’s Chinatown piqued my interest. Perhaps it’s because Vancouver has such a large Cantonese population, or maybe it’s because I just wanted to get a complete perspective of Vancouver – I’m really not sure what motivated me to sign us up for this tour, but I’m glad we did.

We met up with our guide and about four other tourists in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery and off we went. Along the way, our guide explained that there’s been a move to gentrify the northeast section of downtown Vancouver, and with such gentrification, the area has been rebranded as “Crosstown” which you can see on business awnings and the like. The same push towards gentrification is currently underway in Chinatown.

Once past Crosstown, when we reached the Millennium Gate at Taylor & Pender Streets, our guide noted that we were at the entrance to Vancouver’s Chinatown – Canada’s largest Chinatown and one of the largest historic Chinatowns in North America.

Next, we made our way to Shanghai Alley & Canton Alley, a section of Chinatown where a small Chinese district developed in the late 1800s. Over 1,000 Chinese residents lived in tenements in this tiny alley, and there was even a 500-seat Chinese theatre in operation at the time.

Canton Alley developed in the early 1900s and was comprised of a courtyard enclosed by two rows of buildings that housed shops on the main floors and residences, boarding houses, and meeting halls on the upper floors.  These alleys were the heart of Chinese life in Vancouver.

There was only one entrance to the courtyard which featured an iron gate that could be closed in the event of an emergency such as the Anti-Asian Riot of 1907. The Asian Exclusion League formed in Vancouver to exclude Asian immigrants from British Columbia. A riot broke out when members of the league mobbed Chinatown after getting worked up by inflammatory, racist speeches at City Hall. By the time the mob made its way to Japantown, the residents there were armed with bats and bottles and were fully ready to defend themselves. Our guide explained these historical events with apparent remorse for British Columbia’s racist past.

Jack Chow Insurance is a company (still in operation) sitting in a narrow building that’s only 4’10” wide inside, and it’s earned the Guiness World Record for the “Shallowest Commercial Building in the World”.
Jack Chow Insurance is a company (still in operation) sitting in a narrow building that’s only 4’10” wide inside, and it’s earned the Guinness World Record for the “Shallowest Commercial Building in the World”.

Next up was Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park, one of the city’s public parks and an extension of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden next door with which it shares a pond. Both the park and the garden are named in honor of Sun Yat-Sen who was a revolutionary, a founding father of the nationalist Republic of China, and the Republic of China’s first president.

Along our walk, our guide pointed out eateries to try, including a dim sum restaurant. We eventually made our way to a Chinese market that sells all sorts of “goodies” from chicken feet to dried scallops, traditional Chinese remedies, and ever-controversial shark fins which are sold for an astronomical price (I believe it was something like $500 per ounce or per pound – I don’t recall).

Our last stop on the tour was at the Monument to the Chinese Canadians which lies on the edge of Chinatown. On the right is a statue dedicated to the Chinese railway workers who sacrificed their lives building the Trans-Canadian railway system, and on the left is a statue dedicated to the Chinese Canadians who voluntarily served in World War II which later earned them voting rights.

I’m glad that we didn’t pass up the chance to take the Chinatown tour. It’s always good to learn about the different cultures that influence your destination as it provides a deeper understanding of a place.

PINNABLE

vancouver-chinatown

Have you been to Vancouver’s Chinatown? In your opinion, which city has the best Chinatown?

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  • Gerry

    Now days to get most of the chinese culture in BC, you have to go to Richmond. All the best restaurants are along the #3 Road and basically replaced Vancouver’s Chinatown

    • Dana Carmel

      We missed Richmond when we were in Vancouver. We’ll have to check it out the next time around. Thanks for reading!

  • I think you mean “people’s” republic of china. Not to be confused with Taiwan and Tibet.

    • Dana Carmel

      No, he was the founding father of the Republic of China. The People’s Republic of China followed the Republic of China.

      • I can see how that would be confusing. He did found the party and serve as president. That was a very short time and the government was provisional. After he died, his predecessor lost to the new people’s republic of china. The ROC was set up in Taiwan and Chiang Kai shek (pardon the spelling) declared himself president there. Taiwan, referred to as ROC in china, are wary of calling sun yat sen a founding father, as they had to do so under pressure.

        He is revered in “china” because he believed in some democrat qualities. But, actual president depends on your interpretation of history.

  • Great post Dana, i have never been to Vancouver China town. But through this i got few glimpse of it. Canada is one of the most cuilturally diversed countries in the world. Its just shows how the rest of the world love Canada and aspire to come to the country.

    • Dana Carmel

      You’re right, Adam. Canada is pretty diverse. And I’ve found that for the most part, Canadians are such friendly people. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • I love to visit the Chinatowns of different cities. There seems to be one in almost every major city around the world!

    • Dana Carmel

      There are a lot of Chinatowns around the world. I haven’t visited very many here in the U.S. I used to live in the Bay Area and never visited its Chinatown which is the oldest in North America, so the next time I’m in San Francisco, I’ll have to be sure to check it out.

  • I’m from Canada but I’ve never been to Vancouver (other than the airport!). I have heard of the large Asian population there….must make for lots of interesting cultural things to do 🙂

    • Dana Carmel

      You’re absolutely right! You have to plan a trip to Vancouver. It’s one of the cleanest and greenest cities I’ve ever been too! Thanks for your comment!

  • Although I’ve been to Vancouver, I didn’t get a chance to visit the Chinatown. It seems there’s quite a history, and I learned much about it thanks to you. Great read, Dana!

    • Dana Carmel

      Thanks for reading, Salika! 😉
      Hopefully you’ll get a chance to check out Chinatown the next time you’re in Vancouver.

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