Victoria Chinatown - The Budding Period, 1858-1870s


A few wealthy Chinese merchants from San Francisco came to Victoria by boat in June 1858.  They bought properties on Cormorant Street, where they built wooden huts in preparation for the arrival of labourers recruited for panning gold in the Fraser River.  Separated from the city centre by the Johnson Street ravine, Cormorant Street was accessible from the south only via three narrow footbridges.   The economy of the 

budding Chinatown was dominated by three Chinese import and export companies, namely, Kwong Lee, Tai Soong and Yang Wo Sang.  During the gold rushes, they recruited Chinese labourers to come to Canada, and provided Chinese gold-seekers with goods, equipment and daily necessities. These three companies were also opium importers and manufacturers.  The Canadian government received substantial revenues from the opium trade which, during the 1870s, was British Columbia’s third largest export item to the United States after coal and furs.  The 1870s saw the advent of a class of merchants of moderate means.  Although most of the stores were on Cormorant Street, a few stores began to appear on Fisgard Street.  Chee Kung Tong, a secret society, was set up in 1876.  In the same year, Tam Kung Temple was built.  The Methodist Church opened the first Chinese mission school in 1874.  Towards the end of 1870s, the Chinese population in Victoria was estimated at about a thousand.