This weekend is the 48th annual Chinatown Spring Festival Parade celebrating Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year, but locals have been celebrating the occasion with organized events in Vancouver for much longer.
In 1886 (before Vancouver’s incorporation) Chinese labourers worked in mines, farms, logging camps and canneries while entrepreneurs established successful businesses on Carrall and Dupont streets (renamed East Pender after 1904) which seasonal workers used as a home base, making Chinatown one of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhoods. By the 1890s it had over 1,000 residents.
The first official Chinese New Year Parade in Vancouver was organized by the Chinese Cultural Centre in 1973, but celebrations have been taking place as early as 1945. Now the parade is co-organized by the Chinese Benevolent Association of Vancouver, the Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Vancouver, the Vancouver Chinatown Merchants Association, the Chinese Freemasons Vancouver Branch and the Shon Yee Benevolent Association of Canada. Over 60 organizations participate in the parade which is anchored by lion dances, martial arts, and music.
We have gathered historic images of Chinatown Lunar New Year parades through the ages starting with the 1973 Bak Mei archive and spanning through to 1987. This year there are expected to be thousands of spectators for the parade but these images show that the celebrations have always attracted big crowds of locals and residents from surrounding areas.
In 1985 the parade also paid homage to Vancouver's centennial with then-mascot Tillicum the otter.
We also unearthed this 1989 documentary about Chinese New Year traditions and its celebration in Vancouver. The video begins with an explanation of the Chinese zodiac that bizarrely subs in Mickey Mouse for the year of the rat feature and concludes with a discussion of how the New Year was traditionally celebrated in Vancouver at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen gardens, with photos.