Vancouver Chinatown information including shops and the Night Market. Our city guide provides entertainment, accommodation, sightseeing, restaurant, shopping and local events information.

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Vancouver Chinatown

Contents:

  • General Information
  • Asian Restaurants
  • Wing Sang Building
  • Sam Kee Building
  • Chinese Cultural Centre
  • Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden
  • Chinese Freemasons Building
  • Chinatown Night Market
  • Chinatown Walking Tour
  • General Information
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    In the past, Chinatown was regarded as nothing more than a ghetto site. It still bears some traces of its ghetto history but much has changed over the years. Chinese immigrant families who flocked towards the eastside of Downtown since the 1850’s, have established a town filled with colorful and exotic Chinese architecture.

    Chinese immigrants first arrived on the province during the 1850’s when the Fraser Gold rush occurred. Many settled around the Victoria and New Westminister area. Many Chinese laborers were imported to build the railway tracks. Conditions were terrible as the laborers were made to work long hours and were paid a mere one dollar a day.

    Towards the turn of the century, a recorded 2100 Chinese people lived in Chinatown. An elite merchant class soon developed early roots and became the motivation for private enterprises to emerged. Although developments in Chinatown was taking place, the Chinese people were not treated equally by the whites and in 1887, an ugly riot drove the Chinese out of Chinatown.

    Chinatown Shortly after, the government began taxing the Chinese immigrations, moving from the usual $100 to about $500. Racial tension exploded once more in 1907 when the Asiatic Exclusion League encouraged a mob against the Chinese community. Looting soon followed. In 1923, the government decided to stop any Chinese immigrants from entering into the country causing the decline of the Chinese population over the next few years.

    In the 1940’s, Chinatown’s popularity grew as a tourist attraction, causing the government to reconsider its laws. The neighborhood’s distinct culture gained currency as an exotic and mysterious eastern experience. When Canada joined the World War II effort, many Chinese who were second generation Canadians, joined the cause.

    Chinese Canadians were finally granted citizenship in 1947. The government then withdrew the Chinese Immigration Act 1923 and welcomed the Chinese community as free citizens. It was at this golden opportunity that the Chinese took to integrate into the city beyond Chinatown for the first time in history.

    Modern Chinatown is filled with many shops that sell various herbs, sweet cakes and other items. Sample delicious ‘dim sums’ and ice chilled ‘bubble tea’ drinks. Eating in Chinatown is not only unique but also rewarding, as you will presented with an assortment of tasty dishes. The atmosphere in any restaurant is always busy so be patient when you are eating there. It is considered common courtesy to pay a tip to the waiters who are serving even though it is not in the Chinese custom to accept tips.

    (See Asian Restaurants for more details)

    Heading towards 8 West Pender Street, you will come across a building which is the narrowest commercial building in the world. This is known as the Sam Kee Building and it is the centre for importing goods from overseas. The building has a colorful if not interesting story. When the plans for widening the streets came into effect, the proprietors of the asked the government to compensate for the loss of their building. When the government refused, the proprietors raised a narrow storefront which was just under 2m deep. The upper storey is only larger by a few meters. You can find old communal baths in the basement and under the sidewalk.

    Established in 1973, the Chinese Cultural Centre at 50 West Pender Street, Vancouver, is the heart and soul of the Chinese community centre. The centre not only sponsored the first Chinese New Year celebration in Vancouver but also play host to special events, lectures, exhibitions on carvings, paintings, ceramics and historical photographs. There are also language courses in Mandarin, Cantonese and English. Together these activities create a valuable and social cultural links for the surrounding neighborhood.

    The centre conducts tours for Chinatown but only if there are groups of 10 or more. However, it is not necessary to do the tour with the tour guide as the centre provides a detailed and easy pamphlet of Chinatown.

    If you walk towards 1 West Pender Street, you will find the Chinese Freemasons Building which is a fascinating union of architecture from both east and west. Go towards Carrall Street and you will find an interesting design influenced by late Victorian Italianate of early Vancouver. Contrast the building architecture on Pender Street and you will find the familiar Chinese architecture. It is said that the famous Dr. Sun Yat Sen lived in the building during his visits to Canada in 1897, 1910 and 1911.

    Speaking of the famous doctor himself, one should not visit Chinatown and missed out the delightful Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden which is tucked away at the rear of the Chinese Cultural Centre. It is a garden that provide a glimpse of another world and culture. Entering the garden, you will find why the locals have referred to it as the ‘refreshment for the heart’, as a pause in the midst of a moving city.

    As one of the oldest buildings in Chinatown, the Wing Sang Building was built in 1889 by Yip Sang who made his fortune as a labor contractor for the CPR after working as a dishwasher, cook and cigar-maker. Located on 51-67 East Pender it is worth a visit. Moving along to the rear of the building is the Market Alley which is a former centre for the production of opium. The use of the narcotic drug was legal in Canada until the 1909. You can still find the old opium factory within the this tenement. The building now houses the Panda Emporium which sells an assortment of baskets, porcelains, abacuses, painted umbrellas and bonsai ornaments.

    You can also try your luck at bargain hunting at the Chinatown Night Market which is held in the summer. Stalls would be set up along the streets of main Chinatown where you are sure to get goods at a bargain price. The night market run from 6.30pm till 11.00pm and only on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

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