If you look behind the vibrant façade of Canada's oldest Chinatown, you'll find dark corners and even darker secrets that illuminate Victoria's dubious past. Lured in by the promise of gold, the first Chinese immigrants came to Victoria in 1858. While some made their way to the gold rush in the Fraser Valley, many set up shop in Victoria, thus establishing the young city as China's gateway to Canada. Chinatown soon became a thriving centre, welcoming important guests and, at times, supporting sleazy dealings and unhealthy habits.

 

fan tan alley today

Shady Alleys

In the shadow of buildings along Fisgard and Comorant Street (today Pandora Avenue) opium factories sprung up, foreshadowing what was to come. Larger brick structures replaced the wooden factories when opium was prohibited in 1908, forming alleys, such as Fan Tan Alley. In the years that followed, gambling dens thrived along Fan Tan Alley (Fan Tan was a popular game played during this time) as Chinese men were unable to send money home when the Japanese occupied Hong Kong in 1941. To avoid police raids, wooden doors blocked the entrance to the alley and secret escape routes allowed gamblers to leave unseen. To get all the juicy details of Chinatown's past, explore the narrow alleys and hidden secrets on a walking tour or visit the Royal BC Museum for a quick introduction to Chinatown's importance to Victoria.

 
 
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Grand Gates

With the arrival of important visitors, great temporary arches were erected throughout Chinatown. One of the first arches, constructed in 1876, welcomed Earl Dufferin, while a latter arch received not only the Governor General of Canada, but also Princess Louise, a daughter of Queen Victoria. In 1906, a new elaborate arch lit by electric lights and showcasing the message "welcome," demonstrated Chinatown's new openness to Western influences. After increased racism during war, Victoria erected the Gate of Harmonious Interest in 1981. The permanent arch, located on Fisgard and Government Street, reflects Canadian multiculturalism and Victoria's dedication to preserving its Chinese heritage. Vibrant Chinese New Year celebrations continue to speak to the importance of the Chinese community to Victoria.