Come with us on a Walking Tour of Victoria's Chinatown. This Gate of Harmonious Interest is the main entrance at Fisgard and Government Streets... but this is actually where our Chinatown tour ended. More on the gate later.
There are seven Self-Guided Walking Tour brochures we picked up at City Hall in Victoria. In addition to Mysterious Chinatown there is Secrets of the Forbidden City, Rollicking Boomtown (gold rush), Fools Rush In, Law and Order... and two basically identical brochures on Haunted Victoria.
I didn't know that until about 1900 a ravine and stream ran right thru what today is Market Square between Johnson and Pandora. The first Chinese... mostly men, arrived in town in 1858 at the time of the Fraser River Gold Rush... and they settled on the north of the stream away from the centre of town where the land was cheaper.
Somewhere in the middle of this lower level a stream once flowed. Today there are shops around the outside... and in the centre there is a stage for musicians.
A wall in Market Square had some historic photos... this one showing early Chinatown on the Pandora side of the Square.
Pandora was a muddy street at times... with a board walk in front of the shops with residences above.
Many of the early Chinese emigrants to Victoria came from Guangdong Province where they farmed. The Chinese have always been known for raising and selling fresh produce... so this BC Produce Company building on Pandora has a lot of history behind it.
Directly across the street from the BC Produce Company is the Hoy Sun Ning Yung Benevolent Association... a place where young Chinese men who were strangers here came to help each other. If you look closely there is a sign on the red lamp post on the far, far right that says Fan Tan Alley... pointing to the narrow space between the two buildings.
Fan Tan Alley brags of being the narrowest street in Canada... with lots of small shops.
"Fan Tan" is a gambling game that was popular in the 1800's and was played in six gambling dens upstairs above the alley.
Shirley and Marilyn stopped into this little "Heart's Content" store...
No, she was not buying opium... it was big business in these parts up to 1908 when it was made illegal. Shirley just made a purchase of a new top she liked.
Fisgard is the main street and most vibrant part of Chinatown. Fruit and vegetable vendors, curio shops like the one above... and restaurants line both sides of the street.
I was attracted to these colourful parasols.
We had walked on this sidewalk several times before, but did not realize that the red brick pattern is the Chinese character "shou" (representing long life.)
558 Fisgard -The tallest building on Fisgard Street is the former headquarters of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association. At one time Chinese immigrants first required approval of the organization before they could come to Canada.
Across Fisgard to the left is the entrance to Dragon Alley. The dragon in China is not a nasty creature, but one that brings good fortune and positive energy. Originally the alley was a passageway to residences for men who lived here in Chinatown.
There are a few twists and turns along the alley...
But it is clean and appointed with lots of plants.
There were several shops... with very pleasant courtyards.
A Spa... again with a lovely courtyard.
Victoria Seed Bank... likely with residences above.
531 Herald Street: Big wooden doors allowed horses and carriages to enter a stable at ground level. Upstairs was was one of Chinatown's brothels... a common feature in a place where so many of the residents were single men.
1800 Block Government: This is the longest building in Chinatown... built in 1910 buy Lim Bang, a developer who had his own brickyard. Note the recessed covered balconies on the second level... a very nice feature on hot summer days.
Even the garbage cans boast about Victoria's Chinatown being the oldest Chinatown in Canada.
As we walked back along Government Street this new sidewalk with the "shoo" character now had a special meaning to us.
1713 Government Street: This interesting tall, slim building was established by the Yen Wo Society. Fifty-two steps up to the top floor is the oldest Chinese themple in Canada, dedicated to the god Tam Kung. Notice the graphic on the side of the building.
It is called "Dragon Dance." A mural by Robert Amos, assisted by the Principal, teachers and children of the Chinese Public School to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Canada's oldest Chinatown.
636 Fisgard: The Chinese Public School, established 1909. Chinese children were once banned from attending public schools unless they spoke English.
629 Fisgard: Lee Mong Kow Way is directly across from the school... named after the school's first principal who was highly respected.
This painting of Lee Mong Kow and his family is painted on the wall.
There is another amazing wall painting on this building beside the school.
If you look real close you can see the 8" x 16" blocks on the wall behind this painting on this Chinese Seafood Restaurant.
I liked this bicycle rack in front of Starbucks... see the graphics on it?
Marilyn treated Shirley and me to a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte... very delicious!
When we got home I did a little research on Victoria's Chinatown. It reached it's prime in 1911 when the Chinese population reached 3,158... almost more than the entire population of downtown Victoria at the time. And they occupied six full city blocks.
Between 1920 and 1970 the Chinese community went downhill... but then in the early 1980's things turned around and there was an effort to revitalize and restore some of the heritage buildings.
This beautiful Gate of Harmonious Interest was built in one of Victoria's sister cities, Suzhou and was then moved and constructed here in 1981.
Stone male and female lions stand guard on each side of the gate.
Shirley and Marilyn help to show the scale of these lions as they are coming forward to cross the street.
Notice the bells that hang on the corners... believed to scare away the evil spirits. Dragons, phoenix birds and other symbols are believed to bring positive energy.
It was now time for lunch... and our favourite Cafe Mexico in the Market Square was our unconscious choice. But we likely should have been more adventurous and tried one of the many restaurants in Chinatown.
One of the bonuses of a walking tour was that we saw several very interesting shops that we will no doubt go back to in the future. Another advantage is that we were able to stop and check out several shops and poke around in them... where in a guided tour you would get left behind if you did that.
Shirley even stopped to buy rice bowls... and I picked up a big bag of navel oranges at a good price.