Victoria's Chinatown - The Reviving Period, 1980s

Having languished for more than three decades, Victoria’s Chinatown seemed to be doomed to extinction, like other old Chinatowns in Canada.  It was eventually saved by City councils during the mayoralties of Michael Young and Bill Tindall.

Alderman Bob Wright, who perceived the economic potential and heritage value of Chinatown, was the driving force behind the launch of a rehabilitation program in July 1979.  Dr. David Chuenyan Lai was appointed by the City and the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association to be the chairman of the program. It included several projects: painting or cleaning old buildings, removing overhead power and telephone lines and installing them underground, improving sidewalks, erecting the Gate of Harmonious Interest, constructing the Chinatown Care Centre and Chung Wah Mansion (a subsidized housing project), rehabilitating Fan Tan Alley, and installing bilingual street signs and directional signs to Chinatown.  Today, the number of residents in Chinatown is estimated at about 400 and there are about one hundred shops and businesses. 

Although Victoria’s Chinatown has a small population and does not have many business concerns, the remaining fragment still retains its nineteenth-century townscape.  It is one of the very few Chinatowns in North America to retain cohesive groupings of old buildings with high heritage values.  The labyrinthine features behind them remain,   defining the special heritage character of the once Forbidden Town.  Victoria’s Chinatown was the first Canadian Chinatown to carry out a comprehensive rehabilitation program from 1979 to 1986.  Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth visited Victoria on 8 March 1983 and included Chinatown in her tour.  Chinatown has several times been a location for television and motion picture production.  In October 1995, the Heritage Sites and Monuments Board of Canada designated Victoria’s Chinatown as a national historical district.  As of the year 2010 Victoria’s Chinatown has remained little changed, because Victoria has not had many new Chinese immigrants. Its Chinatown is now an integral part of the city’s downtown centre, a historic district with a rich heritage, one of the early roots of Chinese culture in Canada, and a Mecca for tourists.