Victoria's Chinatown - The Blooming Period, 1880s-1910s


Victoria was the gateway to Canada from China and American Pacific coastal cities.  Between 1881 and 1884 nearly 16,000 Chinese arrived in Victoria and most of them soon left for the mainland to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway.  Victoria’s Chinatown was blooming.  By 1886, it covered an area of more than four city blocks north of the Johnson Street ravine, and housed 87% of Victoria’s 2988 Chinese.  At that time, the city of Vancouver did not yet exist, and its predecessor, the village of Granville, had only three Chinese stores and fewer  than fifty Chinese residents. 

Victoria experienced a major building boom between the 1890s and early 1910s,  during which many wooden frame houses in Chinatown were replaced by three-storey brick buildings.  Victoria’s Chinatown reached its apogee in the early 1910s, covering about six city blocks and housing most of the city’s three thousand Chinese. In its prime, Chinatown boasted more than 150 firms, over ten opium factories, about twenty voluntary associations, two opera stages, a hospital, three Chinese schools, two churches, and more than five temples or shrines, and a growing class of wealthy merchants.  Behind the commercial facades of the buildings was a maze of claustrophobic courtyards, picturesque arcades and narrow alleys.  These interconnecting passageways, closed off from public view, led to tenements, opium dens, gambling clubs, brothels, and other socioeconomic activities.