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5 things you (probably) didn't know about Vancouver's Chinatown

Chinatown has always been an integral part of the city.
chinatown
Clockwise from left: Chinatown in 1929, the Millenium Gate, a Lion Dance in 1945, the 2023 Lunar New Year Parade.

Vancouver's Chinatown is a historic place; so much so it's on provincial and federal registries as a distinct neighbourhood worthy of protection.

As a Chinese population in the area predates the founding of Vancouver, it's fair to say Chinatown has always been an integral part of the city. At the same time, that means it has a lot of history, worthy of books (and there are a few).

But if you need a few quick facts, here are five you (probably) don't know about it.

1. A path used by local First Nations runs through it

Before settlers arrived from foreign lands, a path cut through what is now known as Chinatown. It was used to get from False Creek to Burrard Inlet.

That path roughly followed to the route of Carrall Street through Chinatown, the 'middle' of Vancouver (in so much as Carrall is the dividing road for East and West roadways).

2. It was named one of the top Chinatowns in the world

Neighbourhoods where people born in China or of Chinese heritage are a feature of cities worldwide.

In Canada there are a few; Victoria's is the oldest and Vancouver's is the largest. Fodor's the travel guide company, put out a list of the top 15 Chinatowns in the world. Vancouver ranked 10th, a few behind Toronto, which placed 5th.

3. During the 1930s a group of Chinese students were the only Chinese-Canadian soccer team

According to the BC Sports Hall of Fame, which inducted the team in 2011, they may have been the only such team in the world.

Chinatown would be empty on game day, when the team played a game in the city, as it offered the local Chinese population some respite; at the time racism was commonplace (they weren't allowed to vote, among other things) and the Great Depression was in full swing.

The team was skilled and in 1933 they took home the Mainland Cup, a soccer trophy contested by teams across the region.

4. In 1975, after being shut down by health inspectors, Chinatown BBQ shops closed and protested in the streets

It started when health inspectors shut down five shops for not storing meat cooked in traditional ways above 60 C or below 4 C. 

The group ended up taking the issue to Ottawa and scientific proof ended up baking their claim that the recipes were hygenic and safe.

5. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is the first of its type outside of Asia

Built in 1985 and 1986 in advance of Expo 86, the garden is the first full-scale Chinese classical garden built outside of Asia.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, often considered the father of modern China, visited Vancouver three times to hide from Chinese authorities and raise money for revolution in China, which he used for uprisings that culminated in the creation of the Republic of China.

The garden was created in the style of a "scholar's garden" with roots back to the Ming Dynasty. It was built by hand, with 52 artisans taking 13 months to create.

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