Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Beautiful Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: Chinatown

The Ever-Patient Terry and I have been 
in Victoria almost two weeks now,
and we've been all over the downtown area.
It is one of the most walker friendly cities I've explored.

Victoria's Harbour Area
We've walked over most of this!

One of the fascinating areas we have visited
is Victoria's Chinatown, the oldest in Canada
and the oldest physically surviving in North America.

San Francisco's Chinatown predated Victoria's,
but it was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake.

The Gate of Harmonious Interest
Victoria, B.C.

The heart of Victoria's present day Chinatown 
is the 500 and 600 blocks of Fisgard Street,
with The Gate of Harmonious Interest in the middle.

This beautiful arch was built by the city of Victoria
in 1981 and funded by the urban community 
and the municipal and provincial governments.

The arch was modeled after the entrance to China's 
Dunhuang Caves and the Pingshan Hall gate in Yangzhou.

The two granite lions
flanking the arch
were presented to Victoria
by its sister city
Suzhou, China
in September 1981. 

At first glance Chinatown seems crowded and chaotic,
a mishmash of buildings, alleys, shops, balconies and fire escapes,
apartments, signs, lanterns, and sidewalk vendors.

The 500 Block Fisgard Street

But once you start walking up and down its streets,
you begin to glimpse the mystery of old Chinatown
with its storied history of gambling, prostitution, and opium.

 Along Fisgard Street

The Gold Rush of 1858 brought hundred of Chinese miners 
to British Columbia along with 30,000 other gold-seekers.

Wealthy Chinese merchants from San Francisco
soon arrived in Victoria by boat that same year.
They bought land and built huts in anticipation of laborers 
arriving to work in the Fraser River placer deposits. 
Simon Fraser University 

Within a year, Chinese immigrants were sailing 
from China to Victoria seeking gold, 
but also fleeing war, drought, and famine.
Chinatown became the gateway to the mainland gold fields.

Chinatown connected to Victoria by small bridges 
across the Johnson Street ravine.  
Tenements, businesses, stores, and warehouses 
sprang up in an area where the Chinese hoped
they would not experience the same discrimination
the Chinese had in the California gold rush.
Royal BC Museum: Gold Rush! El Dorado in B.C.

Chinatown provided a haven and a base
for Chinese immigrants beginning a new life in Victoria.

Ah Hoo, a Chinese Miner in British Columbia

Over time, Chinatown became a home to Chinese 
who worked in the gold regions, salmon canneries, 
and logging camps during the better months of the year,
but returned to spend their winter in Victoria.
There they frequented Chinatown's tea houses, stores, 
brothels, gambling dens, opium parlors, and theaters.

Chinatown had its Forbidden City
hidden behind the streets fronts
by heavy wooden doors or gates.

This warren of alleyways 
and courtyards 
was open only to Chinese.

Its gambling dens had 
elaborate escape routes for 
clients fleeing police raids.

You can explore part of the Forbidden City 
by slipping into a narrow crack between 
two towering red brick buildings on Fisgard Street.

This passageway is Fan Tan Alley, 
reputed to be the narrowest street in Canada,
only 35 inches or 90 centimeters wide in places.

Exploring Fan Tan Alley's
Twists and Turns
and Imagining its
Forbidden Past.


There is so much to see every which way
up and down the streets of Chinatown.

Along Fisgard

Dragon Alley

A Coffee House on Fisgard.

The 1980s saw a revitalization of Chinatown
which has continued into the present.
Old buildings were restored and converted into new spaces:
studios, workshops, condominiums, stores, and offices.
It became particularly popular among the artistic community,
and it is no longer exclusively Chinese in population.

In 1995 Chinatown was designated 
a National Historic Site of Canada.

Condos in Dragon Alley

Coal, Well-Known Resident of Fan Tan Gallery 

Ping Tsing's Sculpture of a Red Dragon
at the Corner of Pandora and Government Streets
on the Edge of Chinatown

Victoria's Chinatown is well worth a visit!

The Gate of Harmonious Interest
Victoria, B.C.

And for map-lovers like me,
here's Chinatown's place in space!

Location of Victoria, British Columbia

Vancouver Island, British Columbia

285 mi or 460 km in length and 62 mi or100 km width (at its widest) 
a coastline length of 2,138 mi or 3,400 km
an area of 12,355 square miles of 32,000 square kilometers

Plaque on Fisgard Street

A map showing the location of the Johnson Street Ravine 
simonfraseruniversity  (4th photo down in the picture scroll on the right)


  1. Very cool! I didn't know they had a Chinatown. I'll remember that narrow passageway if I ever visit.
    Stunning photos, Fundy.

    1. Thanks, Alex! Chinatown is fascinating! I hope that you do get to visit it someday. Victoria has history all over the place! Have a good one!

  2. The Gate and the lions, magnificent, and this is so worth keeping for everyone to visit. Hope you had your walking shoes on. Colourful, not too crowded, and so much out on the footpaths. great series of photos for us all.

    1. Thanks, Jean! I had so much fun exploring Chinatown! Now that I understand the layout of the place and have a bit of a framework for its history, I want to take an historic walking tour with a guide. I think I'll understand a lot more with a bit of background! Have a lovely day! Night??? LOL

  3. I love Victoria's Chinatown and especially Fan Tan Alley! Is that pagan-y new age store there in Fan Tan Alley? Or has it gone belly-up by now? I didn't know this is Canada's oldest Chinatown and the oldest physically-surviving one in North America -- thanks for that info!

    1. Yes it is, Debra! And I immediately thought of you when I saw it. If I'm back through the alley again, I'll try to get a shot. Tricky to photograph in there! I do love exploring and trying to piece together a place's history. Victoria is history every step! Have a good one!

    2. I'm glad to hear it's still in business! It's a nice little shop.

  4. That was interesting. The narrow alleys are cool. It seems like everyone has those mini libraries these days.

    1. Thanks, Susie! I was back yesterday exploring more in the narrow streets. I went through a maze of rooms in one Chinese store and ended coming out on a different street. That was fun! I think sharing books in a small library like that is really a great idea. Have a lovely day!

  5. That looks way more fun and cleaner than NY's. That one was blah and rather nasty lol the cat sure looks comfy there too. Never knew it was the oldest surviving one in NA.

    1. I'd feel much safer roaming the streets of Victoria's Chinatown than New York's for sure ~ nasty or not! A clerk in the store told me that Coal is a favorite of many customers. He seems to enjoy people petting him; but he can look intimidating. Like if you petted the head of the Queen! He weighs 22 pounds or 10 kilograms! Have a good one!

  6. I love this, Louise! What a lovely place, so nice to see all the shops, cafes and activities...and I love Coal, the gorgeous copper-eyed black cat! So funny, I just posted a video just the other day on my blog about Montreal's China Town! :) I really enjoyed this tour, thanks so much for sharing. :)

    1. Thanks, Linda! I watched your video about Montreal's Chinatown and meant to comment on it and some other things. Then I read about how you were feeling and felt it was more important to respond to that! Have a great day, my friend!

  7. I haven't been to Victoria in years, but I loved it. It is a great place to walk. I had no idea about Chinatown.


    1. Hi Janie! Lovely to see you! I didn't know about it either until I saw an exhibit in the Royal BC Museum. I 'm having fun poking around the city and learning about its history. Have a great day!

  8. This is amazing, Louise. You must be overjoyed at all the sights (oh, the photo opportunities). I love that red dragon sculpture. Very cool!

    1. Thanks, Martha!
      And yes there are photo shoots everywhere! Terry played pickle ball yesterday which required a 30 min. bus ride each way; so I went off on my own exploring all kinds of things. Great fun!

      I wanted to get more of the tail of the dragon in the above photos, but a man waiting for a bus was sitting on it. After I took a couple of shots, he offered to move; but a crowd of people came by, and I didn't want to keep him standing.

      I went back yesterday, but there was very strong, directional sunlight and the dragon was in a dark shadow. That's why I am candid shooter! Take what I can get when I can get it! LOL

      Have a good one, my friend!

  9. Love the write-up! I stumbled across this site and couldn't believe the coincidence. My family and I moved to the Saanich Peninsula a few years ago and I work in Victoria. At New Year these days we treat ourselves to a meal at Don Mee's in Chinatown. Glad you enjoyed your visit to this beautiful city.

    1. Hey Botanist! Thank you for your kind comment! Your New Year's visit to Don Mee's sounds like a wonderful tradition. I was sitting in the coffee shop (In my post) photographing Don Mee's sign yesterday, and I wondered if it was a good restaurant. So maybe we'll get there for a meal in the time we have left.
      Thanks for visiting! Have a goodie!

  10. I was reading another guys' blog today, he lives in Dubai and was talking about its version of Chinatown

    1. Now that would be fun to see! I'd like to visit the Middle East, and I would definitely stop in Dubai. Have a great day, Adam! Best wishes to you and Daisy!

  11. Hello Fundy!
    A great footage of this China town, well researched info and quite a story you are telling here and what an escape or rather an expatriation for the eyes!
    I really enjoyed this post :)
    Sorry I am such a dilettante visitor to your great blog, but I have so little time to sit and blog although it is always a privileged moment when I enter your world :)
    Keep well dear friend and many thanks for your kind and faithful words on my posts :)

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment! You don't need to apologize, dear Noushka! If anyone understands it, it's me because I'm such a herky jerk when it comes to consistency in blogging. Your work recording our wonderful world and advocating for its exquisite creatures is so important! I probably told you this before, but I think of you as Dr. Suess's Lorax! A very talented Lorax! Have a lovely day!

  12. What great photos! Every nook and cranny seems to reveal something interesting. I hope you ate some great food.

    1. Thanks, Barb!!! Victoria is a fascinating city; so many things to experience! I've been eating great food all over the place; I'll be afraid of stepping on the scale when I get home! I hope you are having a lovely autumn in beautiful Breck!

  13. Replies
    1. Thank you, JackieSue! I had a lot of fun putting this post together! Have a good one!

  14. What a fantastically interesting place!x

    1. Thanks, Kezzie! I love Chinatown! Have a good one!

  15. I love the dragon. I've been to a number of China towns, but not there.

    1. I do too, Sage. I only wish someone hadn't been sitting on its tail so I could have gotten all of it! My favorite Chinatown was Hong Kong! I've only spent two days there, but what a city! Got to get back! Have a good one!

  16. What a fascinating place!! Now I want to see it in person!
    Very well-put-together post, Louise! You weren't a teacher by any chance, were you?!! lol
    I love the history of this place....thanks so much for all the work you put into this post!!


Thank you for your comments! I appreciate them very much.