Vancouver Neighbourhoods: Chinatown

Chinatown’s Millennium Gate greets visitors to the neighbourhood.

History and culture saturate bustling Chinatown, which has evolved over the years into one of Vancouver’s hippest ‘hoods. Situated on the eastern side of downtown Vancouver, the colourful district – representing North America’s third largest Chinatown – is packed with apothecary stores, piled-high fresh produce stands and quirky one-off shops.

History

In the late 1800’s, Chinese immigrants arrived in Vancouver to build railroads and work in mines; they were housed in a ghetto at the edge of the city. Over the next several years, the neighbourhood expanded, bolstered by community pride and a collective determination to thrive.

In 1923, the Chinese Immigration Act came into effect, heavily impacting Vancouver’s Chinese population. During the ‘30s, in the midst of the Great Depression that seized North America, thousands of Chinese residents left Chinatown due to lack of work, or died of starvation.

In 1971, fortune shifted as the neighbourhood officially received heritage status, protecting buildings that had not already been demolished for redevelopment. The Millennium Gate was erected 31 years later, marking a partnership between three levels of government and supported by private donations. The eastern face of the gate reads “Remember the past and look forward to the future.”

Today, Chinatown marries the region’s Chinese heritage with contemporary West Coast culture, boasting traditional restaurants, markets, temples and gardens that coexist peacefully with trendy cocktail bars, acclaimed restaurants and buzzy boutiques.

Chinatown is filled with tasty bites and intriguing delicacies.

Dining and Nightlife

Chinatown’s eclectic mix of eateries reflects Vancouver’s cultural diversity with renowned chefs, international visitors and celebrities lauding the neighbourhood’s innovative culinary scene (check out Blake Lively’s Instagram shout-out to Taiwan- and Shanghai-influenced eatery Bao Bei). Also popular: imbibing on apothecary-style cocktails at The Keefer Bar; taking in the taxidermy over a stiff drink at Mamie Taylor’s; and exploring unchartered territory with Italian-Japanese fare at Kissa Tanto. In the evenings, East Pender street comes alive with beats emanating from Fortune Sound Club, whose exposed beams and brick walls pulse thanks to a state-of-the-art sound system.

 

Chinatown’s shops are packed with herbs, spices and rare ingredients.

Shopping

Chinatown’s intriguing shops are packed with herbs, spices and rare ingredients that can be incorporated into healing brews and balms. Stock up on good-for-you antidotes to calm your various ailments, then browse the various markets along Keefer Street for delicacies like pig snout, wild ginseng and lychees. Pop into New Town Bakery for steamed buns, egg tarts and other traditional goodies; then stop in at Bamboo Village Trading Co. for traditional folk art, lanterns and bamboo products. The Chinese Tea Shop is a must-visit to sample teas sourced direct from China and stock up on exquisite accessories. Craving clothing-inspired souvenirs? Erin Templeton carries locally sourced, gorgeously made vegan leather and recycled handbags.

Thought-provoking art in Chinatown.

Things to See and Do

The entrance to Chinatown is guarded by the dragon-covered, terra-cotta-tiled Millennium Gate – a perfect vista to snap a photo of the scarlet awnings and street vendors within. Further along Pender Street, you’ll find Sam Kee Building, honoured in the Guinness Book of World Records as the narrowest commercial building in the world at six feet. Continue onward and you’ll reach the Rennie Museum, housing one of Canada’s largest private collections of contemporary art – including the iconic “Everything is Going to Be Alright” sign on its rooftop, visible from Skytrains speeding into the city.

Chinatown is also a popular Hollywood North film site. Visit Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and, as you wander among the tranquil paths and koi ponds, you’ll see familiar scenery depicted in The Flash, Arrow and other shows frequently filmed in Vancouver. If you want to learn more about the history of the area, book a jaunt with Historical Chinatown Tours, which dives deep into Chinatown’s rich cultural tapestry; or A Wok Around Chinatown, showcasing the area’s attractions with a heavy emphasis on culinary delights. Learn more about Chinatown here.

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