The oldest Chinatown in Canada is the one in Victoria, British Columbia. Victoria’s Chinatown is also the second oldest in North America.
Victoria’s Chinatown Neighbourhood
Chinatown comprises about three or so blocks in downtown Victoria. The neighbourhood is full of Chinese restaurants, Asian-style shops and heritage buildings.
Where is Chinatown?
Chinatown is a historic area of Victoria between Douglas Street and Store Street.
At the core of Chinatown are the two blocks along Fisgard Street between Government Street and Store Street. There are also a few Chinese-influenced buildings and restaurants in the block between Douglas and Government streets, and for a block or so along Government Street itself. There is also Fan Tan Alley which runs between Fisgard Street and Pandora Avenue.
What to Expect in Chinatown
You can expect to see a number of Chinese restaurants including a couple of the city’s most famous and popular ones in Victoria’s Chinatown. Visitors will also find a couple of shops selling vegetables and Chinese groceries, and a number of stores full of souvenirs, clothing and various other Asian products. You’ll also likely encounter a few shopkeepers whose first language is, no doubt, Chinese.
Chinatown isn’t large. It’s actually quite tiny, and far smaller than Vancouver’s Chinatown. Both Chinatowns contain quaint, older buildings and lots of history. Both neighbourhoods are also popular destinations for sightseeing busses which often drive through the areas.
At the entrance to the main part of Victoria’s Chinatown, at the corner of Fisgard Street and Douglas Street, is the Gate of Harmonious Interest. The gate looks like it might be quite old, but was actually built in 1981.
Fan Tan Alley
Between the 500 block of Fisgard Street and the 500 block of Pandora Avenue is Fan Tan Alley. This unique place is known as the narrowest street in all of Canada.
Fan Tan Alley is a neat shopping street with several locally-owned stores. The shops are small in size but each offers something different. Products available in Fan Tan Alley range from ice cream and other treats to vintage records and trendy clothing.
Another key feature of Fan Tan Alley is its architecture. A significant amount of the exterior has a brick finish. The old buildings appear extra tall thanks to the street’s narrow width.
(Trivia: If you’ve ever seen the movie Bird on a Wire you might remember seeing Mel Gibson, or more likely his stunt double, riding a motorcycle down Fan Tan Alley.)
Chinese Restaurants in Chinatown
The following places to eat are some of the best Chinese restaurants in Victoria. They are all located within the city’s historic Chinatown district.
- Bao – a Chinese-Japanese fusion restaurant that offers traditional street food at 626 Fisgard Street.
- The Cozy Place Restaurant – a small but highly-rated Chinese restaurant located at 1692 Douglas Street.
- Don Mee – a popular old-fashioned Chinese restaurant in the middle of Victoria’s Chinatown at 538 Fisgard Street.
Other good restaurants that specialize in Chinese cuisine are listed below. They are not in Chinatown, but they are still nearby and worth checking out.
- J & J Wonton Noodle House – a highly-rated Cantonese and Szechuan restaurant about a 20-minute walk from Chinatown at 1012 Fort Street.
- Lotus Pond Vegetarian Restaurant – located a couple of blocks from Chinatown, at 617 Johnson Street, this restaurant exclusively offers both vegetarian and vegan Chinese food.
The History of Chinatown in Victoria
Victoria’s Chinatown is one of the oldest in North America. Construction within the city began in the 1800s when miners arrived in British Columbia in search of gold. Chinese immigrants came to the area, and many began building what they could at the time.
During the 1880s, over the course of construction, Canada employed thousands of men to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. As many as 6500 of the workers, or over half of the total, were of Chinese origin. Whether arriving from California or directly from China, Victoria was their main port of entry. Those that were able to afford bringing their families along with them helped Victoria develop a large Chinese population.
Over time, the basic buildings in Chinatown were reconstructed to meet the needs of the community. Public stores, schools and other necessary buildings were constructed in the area. By the early 1900s, Chinatown was home to about three thousand individuals.
Despite the overall decrease in size and population in the years that followed, Victoria’s Chinatown remains one of the city’s most visited attractions to this day. While much of the area has evolved over time, some features of the buildings have been preserved. The distinct Chinese architecture sets it apart from the rest of Victoria.
Other Places of Interest in the Area
Chinatown is a tiny part of town, but it’s worth visiting, especially as it’s close to other interesting places in the heart of Victoria. The entire area is full of heritage buildings and interesting restaurants, shops and boutiques.
Nearby places of interest include the following:
- Market Square
- Centennial Square and Victoria’s City Hall
- The Songhees Walkway (on the other side of the Johnson Street Bridge)
- MacPherson Playhouse Theatre
- Government Street
- Bastion Square
To learn about BC’s other most famous and historically significant Chinatown neighbourhood see Vancouver’s Chinatown.
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