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Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
Vancouver Chinatown is located in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia. The historic place includes numerous buildings, structures, parks and streetscapes. Many of the buildings date from the turn of the 20th century. The neighbourhood's main cultural assets are concentrated along the Pender Street historic corridor; these include protected heritage buildings, Chinese family associations and cultural centres such as the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. The boundaries of the provincially recognized area align with the boundaries of the City of Vancouver's HA-1 Chinatown Historic Area.
Established in the 1880s after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, Vancouver Chinatown grew to become one of the primary centres of Chinese-Canadian culture in British Columbia by the turn of the 20th century. Today the neighbourhood has historic, aesthetic, scientific, social and cultural significance for many British Columbians.
Vancouver Chinatown has historical value as an enduring representation of pioneering Chinese Canadian history during British Columbia's early development. Its development helps tell the story of the robust cultural life and traditions of Chinese Canadians in the early years of the province, including the racial tensions and struggles for equality.
Vancouver Chinatown's existence today is a reminder of the importance of Chinese Canadian involvement in all aspects of life in British Columbia from the early years to the present day. Chinatowns were found in virtually every community and region of the province, often made up of a cluster of stores, cafes, tailor shops, laundries and other small businesses. Although bigger and more complex than most Chinatowns in British Columbia, Vancouver Chinatown is typical, in that it became a hub for Chinese Canadian business, culture and social life within its municipality and region. Vancouver Chinatown is an important reminder of the contribution of Chinese Canadians to the economic and cultural life of the province.
Recognized by non-Chinese Canadians as an exotic enclave, Vancouver Chinatown is important for its geographical location and physical distinction from the rest of the city. Established on the edge of downtown, it shared a marginal location with other ethnic populations faced with discriminatory practices, such as First Nations residents and Japanese Canadians. In this, Vancouver Chinatown is typical of other Chinatowns across the province and its location is a reminder of the exclusion and discrimination faced by Chinese Canadians in the early years. Over time, the majority of Chinese Canadians came to live outside of Vancouver Chinatown, spatially dispersed as farmers, market gardeners, store owners, household servants, and labourers of every kind. However Chinatown continued to provide cultural and social amenities to the dispersed community.
Vancouver Chinatown has enduring cultural value because of the many voluntary associations formed there to support and protect new immigrants who arrived from China. These enclaves helped to shield Chinese Canadians from the widespread racism that existed across the province. They also provided security, communal living facilities, and opportunities to socialize, as well as being places for important ceremonial and cultural features such as Joss houses, Freemason organizations and tongs.
Vancouver Chinatown is also valued for the diversity and uniqueness of its urban form and aesthetic experience. Its unique sense of place comes from a combination of factors: design of buildings and structures; types of stores, businesses and merchandise; visual references like signage and symbols; ceremonies, traditions and events; and availability of non-Western goods, ceramics, foods and medicines.
The value of Vancouver Chinatown is enhanced by its rarity, as a result of the decline of smaller Chinatowns elsewhere in the province. It is further valued for its survival through a period of urban renewal when older neighbourhoods in many North American cities were being demolished to make way for new construction. In the 1960s, when a freeway was planned to cut through Chinatown, citizens' groups successfully fought to stop the project, which was abandoned in 1968. Today, Vancouver Chinatown remains a vibrant centre for Chinese Canadian culture. It serves as a reminder of the social, cultural and spiritual value of all British Columbia Chinatowns to the descendants of those who lived and worked in them.
Source: Province of British Columbia, Heritage Branch
Province of British Columbia
Heritage Conservation Act, s.18
Provincially Recognized Heritage Site (Recognized)
Theme - Category and Type
- Developing Economies
- Trade and Commerce
- Building Social and Community Life
- Community Organizations
- Peopling the Land
- Migration and Immigration
Function - Category and Type
- Social, Benevolent or Fraternal Club
- Commerce / Commercial Services
- Shop or Wholesale Establishment
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
BC Heritage Branch files
Cross-Reference to Collection