Most visitors are awed the first time they step foot into the area known as Vancouver Chinatown. The largest Chinatown in Canada and the second largest in North America (following San Francisco), the area has an authentic Oriental feel that entices visitors to come and explore all that it has to offer.
The long-ago history of the Vancouver Chinatown is actually a rocky one. The Chinese came to the province about 130 years ago to assist in building the roads and railroads.
Chinatown grew and private enterprise began to emerge, but the Chinese were not welcomed by the white population of the city. In 1885, the government imposed a head tax on the immigrants and two years later, a riot drove many of the Chinese out of Chinatown. By 1923, Chinese immigrants were no longer permitted to enter the country.
In the 1940s, what remained of Chinatown had become a tourist attraction in the city and the government began to reconsider its policies. In 1947, the government repealed the 1923 law and Chinese were welcome as free Canadian citizens.
Shopping in Chinatown
Chinese is the largest minority ethnic group in Vancouver and while many Chinese have moved out of the city and into other areas, Vancouver Chinatown is still very much the center for Chinese business and culture.
You’ll probably want to spend most of your time here browsing through the fascinating shops that line the streets, including Main, Gore, East Pender, Keefer, and East Georgia Streets.
The items you’ll find in these shops are ones that you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. You’ll enter the fascinating world of the Chinese herbalist, with hundreds of jars that line the walls, containing exotic herbs and other natural ingredients, all waiting to be mixed into a remedy to cure what might ail you.
Other shops in the Vancouver Chinatown might feature colourful Chinese handicrafts like baskets, linens, or clothing. Walk into another storefront and you’ll find martial arts items, Chinese books or stationery, antiques, beautiful artwork, or cooking supplies.
If you’re in Vancouver during the summer months, be sure to make time to shop at the Night Market, with more than 100 stalls offering everything Buddhas to beans.
Tasty Dining Opportunities
Many guests come to Vancouver Chinatown for the shopping but stay for the incredible restaurants. This is Chinese food at its best, from light and affordable meals like Dim Sum to more elaborate exotic temptation. Don’t miss the bakeries strewn around the area, where you can pick up a Coconut Bun or other delectable pastry to nibble upon while you’re strolling through town.
If you’d prefer to do your own cooking, visit the Fresh Market, located east of Main Street from Gore to Hastings, where you can purchase the freshest seafood in the city as well as meat and produce.
The Chinese Cultural Center and Museum is a good first stop for those who want to learn more about the history of Chinatown Vancouver Canada and about the Chinese immigration to North America. This beautiful Ming Dynasty-style building opened to the general public in 1998.
Near the Cultural Center, you’ll find Chinatown’s number one attraction, the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden. This stunning garden was designed to create an atmosphere of tranquility and contains the four necessary elements of such a garden: water, rock, plants, and architecture.
Don’t forget to make a quick stop at the quirky Sam Kee Building, the narrowest in the world at only 1.8 meters (6 feet) wide.