What is Chinatown Today?

To share Chinatown’s stories – past, present, and future.

Chinatown as the heart of Vancouver.

History & Heritage
We believe that the culture of a space comes from embracing its history.

Destiny & Future
We seek to highlight core community needs while recognizing that there are distinct visions for the future of Chinatown.

Education & Knowledge
We believe accessible facts and stories contribute to an informed and civically engaged community.

Community & Neighbourhood
We value people and communities coming together to identify their individual and shared experiences.

A community older than the city it resides in, Vancouver is home to Canada’s largest historic Chinatown. This neighbourhood was home to early Chinese pioneers in the late 1800’s. Designated a Historic Site by the Province in 1971, a visit promises a photogenic look into the history of Vancouver’s Chinese Canadian community through its society buildings, commemorative murals and statues. This historic Vancouver neighbourhood also invites you to experience and engage in a distinct living heritage. With streets lined with traditional Chinese businesses, some over a hundred years old, the sounds of clacking mahjong tiles, laughter coming from lively clan houses and Chinese drumming as athletic clubs established in the early 1900’s practice lion dance, you get a chance to not only see history but live in it. So come and visit! Become a part of the community and the experience!

True to its cultural roots, Vancouver’s Chinatown is home to incredible authentic Chinese cuisine. With experienced chefs cooking and baking coveted traditional recipes that have been passed down for generations, your stomach will never go hungry! Chinese fish mongers ensure nothing but the freshest catch to appease the palate and markets are stocked with anything you need to make an authentic Chinese meal. In fact, many say Vancouver’s Chinatown serves some of the tastiest Chinese dishes found outside of Asia.

A neighbourhood also in a state of transition, you’ll additionally find an eclectic mix of new Chinese and non-Chinese businesses to enjoy. Authentic Chinese foods, a Classical Chinese garden are found side by side art galleries, museums, coffee shops galore among hidden alleyways and spaces that engage youth advocacy. It is this diverse combination of buoyant intangible characteristics, respect for heritage and new businesses that aims to draw intergenerational audiences – local seniors, youth, and tourists alike.

Chinatown Today reflects the intercultural and inter-generational aspirations of Chinatown- a discussion on what the space has been and what it will become.This platform bridges cultural and knowledge gaps that are critical to creating an inclusive and safe environment, to inspire solutions for respectful and informed community development and cohesion.

Chinatown Today chronicles the change, past and present, in Vancouver’s Chinatown through the lens of local businesses, people, shared experiences and passed on traditions. Chinatown Today uses found objects in Chinatown as a starting point through which we can study and explore opportunities and challenges in the neighbourhood. This is a not-for-profit project and a public platform to gather and share diverse perspectives and wisdom with the community.

Indigenous Sovereignty Recognition

We acknowledge that this work is taking place on the ancestral, traditional, unceded and occupied Indigenous territories of the Coast Salish Peoples, and in particular, the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ speaking xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Tsəl̓ílwətaʔɬ /Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) and Skwxwú7mesh Snichim speaking Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) Nations. This land was never surrendered, relinquished, or handed over by these Nations to Canada or British Columbia through a treaty or other means; it is sovereign and unsurrendered.

Formation of Chinatown

Vancouver’s Chinatown is the second largest historic Chinatown in the world after San Francisco’s Chinatown. The formation of Chinatown was a result of forced discrimination rather than choice settlement as the Chinese were unwelcome in other parts of the city.

Most Chinese labourers were forced to live in the fraught areas of the city due to discrimination enacted by non-Chinese folks. However, the Chinese community was able to create a space of business, home, and camaraderie in this space, creating a home environment away from their home in China. To outsiders, Chinatown became a mysterious exotic den, a place of opium, gambling, and disease. [1]

Chinese people came to Canada in 3 large waves. The first was in the late 1850s for the Gold Rush, the second wave was in the 1880s to labour on the Canadian Pacific Railway, and the third was in the late 1940s after Canada lifted the ban on Chinese immigration.

Often, Chinese sojourners would leave their ancestral villages in China in search of ‘Gold Mountain’, referring to overseas opportunities of wealth and a better life that could be found in Canada, the United States or Australia. The name ‘Gold Mountain’ (‘gum shan’) was given by the first wave of Chinese migrants who hopefully sought out the North American gold rushes of the 19th century, and over time has come to reflect migrant dreams of hope in the new world. [2]

The first wave of Chinese migrants arrived in British Columbia in 1858. In 1857 thousands of miners flooded to BC in search of gold, after the first discovery of it was made, including the first group of Chinese immigrants who arrived to Victoria via boat from San Francisco in June 1858. The height of the gold rush quickly came to a close in 1865. Due to labour shortages, the government hired the incoming waves of Chinese immigrant men to labouriously build trails and roads for the gold rush. [3]

The Canadian government enacted a series of racist legislation towards the Chinese community, a reflection of the harsh racism and white supremacy that took form in prejudiced social sentiments and government policies directed towards Chinese Canadians. [4]


[1] http://ccs.library.ubc.ca/en/stories/viewItem/2/2/31/

[2] “Chinatown Walking Tour Orientation & Training Manual” Property of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden Society and no part or whole shall be reproduced without prior written consent. Copyright 2010 Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. All rights reserved.

[3] http://www.sfu.ca/chinese-canadian-history/chart_en.html

[4] http://ccs.library.ubc.ca/en/stories/viewItem/2/6/52/

Vancouver’s Chinatown: Past, Present, and Future [video]