One of Vancouver’s few distinct cultural historic neighbourhoods, Chinatown has a universal appeal to locals, tourists, as well as a growing number of emerging chefs, artists, and small business entrepreneurs. The distinct character of buildings are preserved by a heritage designation with murals and window art telling the stories of early Chinese pioneers.
Between 1886-1920, the first wave of Chinese immigrants settled around Carrall Street and Dupont (now Pender) Street. By 1890, the area was home to more than 1,000 Chinese residents. One of the earliest community institutions evolved around the creation of the first of three Chinese opera theatres, the first built in 1890s. In a parallel setting, Canton Alley and Shanghai Alley were named in 1904 with Canton Alley serving as a a point of convergence for trade, political, and cultural activities which fostered the growth and expansion of Chinatown.
Living in Chinatown
You’ll find plenty of classic Asian specialty stores, with their wares piled by the sidewalk for perusing, as well as dim sum restaurants, apothecaries, and quiet oases offering calm respite from the bustle. While there are many traditional finds in Chinatown, you’ll also see a burst of modern retail thanks to some young entrepreneurs who have set up shop in the neighbourhood, especially along Pender between Columbia and Main streets.
Things to do in Chinatown
It’s easy to spend a half-day in Chinatown. No visit is complete without spending time at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden—the first of its kind to ever be built in Canada. Along with being a beautiful garden, it offers a fascinating primer on Chinese culture and symbolism. The world’s narrowest commercial building, the Sam Kee Building at the corner of Pender and Carrall, is also worth a look. But the best thing about spending time in Chinatown is strolling the commercial district, and experiencing the neighbourhood with all five senses. The area is also home to the Vancouver Chinatown Festival in August each year.
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If you’re going to be in Chinatown in the late morning, or over lunchtime, make sure that you grab dim sum at one of the neighbourhood’s restaurants. Choose a few different steaming baskets of these tasty bite-sized dumplings, buns and other delicacies and tuck in while you sip tea. If you’d rather pick up something “to go,” visit one of the many Chinese bakeries for well-priced snacks. Along with the traditional, you’ll also find modern twists on Chinese cuisine among some of the newer spots. Interestingly, Chinatown is also an excellent place to get a cocktail! Some of the city’s best bartenders can be found behind the wood in this part of the city.
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