Chinatowns


CHINATOWNS are urban enclaves of CHINESE Canadians' homes, businesses and associations. They formed partly because Chinese newcomers preferred to congregate together in familiar surroundings but mainly because discrimination ostracized them to their own communities. For example, in VANCOUVER Chinese were restricted from buying property outside Chinatown until the 1930s. As a result, Chinatowns became virtually self-sustaining, providing all the social, cultural and economic needs of their residents. They came into existence wherever Chinese settled, whether in large urban centres or in small MINING camps and farming communities. BARKERVILLE, for example, had a Chinatown that is now part of the reconstructed historic town, while COAL mining centres such as NANAIMO and CUMBERLAND had Chinese neighbourhoods that were destroyed or abandoned after the mining era ended.

By the 1960s outsiders had a new perception of Chinatowns as interesting ethnic districts with potential for TOURISM and urban redevelopment. After immigration restrictions were relaxed in 1967, Chinese immigrants increasingly settled outside the Chinatowns, most notably in RICHMOND, though the original neighbourhoods remain vital commercial and cultural centres for Chinese Canadians. The 2 most significant BC Chinatowns are in Vancouver and VICTORIA.

Victoria's is the first and oldest surviving Chinatown in Canada. Located on either side of Government St, it began with the arrival of Chinese miners in 1858 and it was the largest Chinese community in Canada until 1910. It dwindled during the 1960s and 1970s and almost disappeared before a rehabilitation program in 1979 began reviving it as a historic tourist district. Landmarks include a permanent arch over Government St, Fan Tan Alley and many heritage buildings, including the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Assoc (1885), the first major Chinese-owned building in Canada.

Chinese began to settle in Vancouver in 1886 following completion of the CPR. Many of them had worked on railway construction and drifted to the coast looking for jobs. Originally they congregated along Dupont (now Pender) St. Since then Chinatown has grown to encompass an area of the Downtown Eastside roughly bounded by Hastings, Union, Carrall and Gore streets. In 1967 the community mobilized successfully to oppose a freeway that the city wanted to route through the neighbourhood. In 1971 the province designated the Chinatown core a historic area. Landmarks include the SAM KEE Building (the narrowest commercial building in the world), the SUN YAT-SEN Classical Chinese Garden and the Chinese Cultural Centre, opened in 1980.
Reading: David Chuenyan Lai, Chinatowns: Towns Within Cities in Canada, 1988.