Chinatown in Vancouver began in Shanghai Alley in the late 1880’s, on the shores of False Creek at Pender and Carrall Streets. Today, Chinatown stands firmly established as a strong ethnic community, a well-known tourist attraction, and a prosperous commercial district.
To discover Chinatown is to be suddenly engulfed with the tastes, sounds and fragrances of another culture. Streets bustle with colour and commerce, telephone booths are topped with pagoda tiles. Curious foodstuffs spill onto the sidewalks and apothecaries sell ancient and exotic remedies of dried lizard skin, thin-sliced deer antler, and ground rhinoceros bone.
Listed in the Guinness Book of World Records, the Sam Kee Building is the narrowest building in the world – it’s only 6 foot wide. In 1912, the city expropriated most of Chang Toy’s property to widen Pender Street. Leaving only a tiny strip of land, Chang responded by erecting the narrow building. Below the sidewalk, a basement 10-foot wide extended the full length of the building, which was used as an underground bath house.
In 1911, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen took refuge at the Chinese Freemasons’ Building at 1 West Pender Street. Here, he organized headquarters for those who helped him to depose the adolescent Emperor Pu-Yi. Nestled behind high white walls in Vancouver’s bustling Chinatown is the exquisite Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Completed in 1986 at a cost of 5.3 million Canadian dollars. With both craftsmen and materials imported from China, the garden is a photographer’s delight. It seems almost monochromatic after the dazzle of Chinatown: all contemplative muted greens and stony grays, with water walkways leading from pavilion to pavilion among the gnarled trees and natural rock sculptures that keep the city and the century at bay.
You will be enriched by the Garden’s symbolism and enthralled with the intricate carvings, the courtyards, the ‘leak’ windows, the architecture of the Main Hall, Water Pavilion and Scholar’s Study. From covered winding corridors, ever-changing views unfold. Here the essential and opposing elements of nature reveal the infinite and subtle contrasts of Taoist yin and yang. Throughout the Garden, treasured Tai Hu limestone rocks blend with plants, trees and jade-green water.
The government of Canada and the People’s Republic of China collaborated to create this wonderful Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) garden. Private sector enthusiasts, local designers and consultants worked with 52 artisans from Suzhou, the Garden City of China. To enhance your experience and refresh your heart, take an interpretive tour with a Garden Docent. Learn about the centuries-old methods and imported materials the Chinese craftsmen used. Your visit may also coincide with cultural performances, Tai Chi classes, the sighting of koi fish or the resident heron. Step into the Gift Shop before leaving the Garden, and select from unique treasures to keep the memory alive.
The elaborate 4-columned China Gate and the Chinese Cultural Centre is adjacent to Sun Yat-Sun Garden. Beautifully hand painted in traditional colours, the gate entrance is one of the most photographed attractions in Chinatown – the two chimeras, lion-like figures, are protective symbols.
The Wing Sang Building, constructed in the Victorian Italianate style of 1889, is Chinatown’s oldest building.
The Chinese Benevolent Association was established in 1906 to unify the community, settle internal disputes, and defend the community against discrimination. The green-balconied building was erected in 1909 and once housed a Chinese hospital on its ground floor.
Other interesting spots to visit include the Lee Building, which once concealed an opium factory, and the Kuomintang Building, once the temporary headquarters for the Chinese Nationalist League.
Whether the sun is shining or the rain is falling, the Garden is a perfect place to visit year round. Please call for hours of operation and tour schedules.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
578 Carrall Street