Celebrating Chinese Heritage in Victoria

 
In celebration of Chinese New Year (February 19) and BC Heritage Week (February 16 – 22), the City of Victoria is shining a light on our city’s rich Chinese Canadian heritage.

 

 Victoria is nationally recognized as the location of the first and oldest intact Chinatown in Canada. In the 1850s, exacerbated by political and social turmoil in China, thousands of Chinese migrated from a small region in the southern province of Guangdong to frontier gold rush sites in California, setting up a permanent base in San Francisco. In 1858, the Fraser Gold Rush spurred the movement of the Chinese communities from the US into Canada. Victoria, being a significant port town, became the primary point of entry into the country for Chinese immigrants until the early twentieth century.

 

In order to highlight the contributions of the thousands of Chinese Canadian’s who aided in the early settlement and development of British Columbia,  Heritage BC has initiated the Chinese Historic Places Recognition Project. Recognition of sites with historical significance to Chinese Canadians will serve as an opportunity to celebrate British Columbia’s diversity, and recognize and acknowledge the contribution of Chinese Canadians in British Columbia – both past and present – to the prosperity and diversity of the province. A selection of nominated historic places will be officially recognized by the Government of British Columbia and placed on the BC Register of Historic Places and the Canadian Register of Historic Places.

 

The City of Victoria is nominating three Chinese Historic Places from within Victoria’s Chinatown National Historic Site to the Recognition Project. However, these three buildings alone only scrape the surface of the vast depths of history associated with Chinatown and Victoria’s Chinese community. You can explore some of this fascinating history yourself by taking the Mysterious Chinatown Walking Tour, here.

 

Some main places of interest in Victoria’s Chinatown include Market Square, Fan Tan Alley, the Gates of Harmonious Interest, Dragon Alley, Canada’s oldest Chinese Temple and the Chinese Public School on Fisgard Street. Observing and walking by some of these places is one thing, but learning about the history of these places really reveals some amazing details about our shared heritage as a multicultural community.

 

 Here are some interesting historical insights on the three buildings we’ve nominated to the Chinese Historic Places Recognition Project:.

CCBA Building

Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA) Building: 554-562 Fisgard Street

In response to growing anti-Oriental attitudes and legislation, 31 groups in Victoria established the CCBA in 1884. It served as the primary representative body for Chinese people in Canada until the Chinese Consulate was established in Ottawa in 1908. CCBA initiatives included protests against racial discrimination, monitoring the treatment of servants, mediation in disputes over business transactions, contributions for Chinese persons in other parts of Canada and abroad, and the monitoring of medical care offered by Chinese hospitals in British Columbia.

 

This building acted as the headquarters for the CCBA; : ccommercial space occupied the ground floor, offices were located on the second floor and the third floor housed the Palace of All Sages’ and the Chinese Free School. The CCBA Building was designed by John Teague (1835-1902) who was Victoria’s most prolific architect in the second half of the nineteenth century. His surviving designs include Victoria City Hall (1878-1891), the Masonic Lodge (1878) and the Admiral’s Lodge in the Royal Naval Dockyard in Esquimalt (1885).

 

The Lung Kong Kung Shaw & the First Chinese Empire Reform Association Building: 1715 Government Street

This building is valued for its association with the establishment of Victoria’s first Chinese political party, the Chinese Empire Reform Association (CERA). The CERA was started during the late Qing Dynasty by former statesman and eminent scholar, Kang Yu Wei (1858-1927). A monarchist organization, his movement was spurred through attempts to save the declining Manchu Empire. Due to groups who opposed his quest, Kang fled to Canada, setting up headquarters in Victoria. After the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912, the CERA sold the northern half of the building to the clan-based Lung Kong Kung Shaw Association, made of members with the surnames Lau, Kwan, Cheung and Chiu. Such associations, or Tongs, had members with common ancestors and were established to protect the earliest Chinese settlers against Western intolerance and prejudice and opposing Chinese clans. Funding for the association was obtained entirely by membership dues, gambling, opium dens and exiting fees.

Chinese School

The Chinese Public School: 636 Fisgard Street

The Chinese Public School is an important symbol of perseverance in the face of Western Society’s discrimination against the Chinese community in the early twentieth century.  The school was constructed in 1909 by the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA) in response to the racial and cultural segregation imposed by the school board and government, which banned Chinese-born students from City schools until they spoke English.  Although no longer the sole source of education for Chinese children in Victoria, as it was originally, the school continues to provide education to members of the community in Cantonese and Mandarin to the present day.

 

As you can see, these buildings are not just structures built of wood, mortar and brick; they are also storehouses of cultural memories and their stories serve as critical links to both our past and our future as a community. The Chinese Historic Places Recognition project will help to refresh some of these interesting stories that not only helped to shape the identity of our city, but also contributed to the broader narrative of what it means to be a member of Canadian society in British Columbia, in the past and present.

 

Nominations of Chinese Historic Places to Heritage BC can be submitted by anyone. So if you know of a place that’s important to you and/or the Chinese Canadian community, then don’t delay – nominate it today!

 

Nomination forms can be completed online at Heritage BC’s website.