In B.C., the TCT links to Canada’s original Chinese community
As it weaves its way across this nation, the Trans Canada Trail touches one thread of Canadian heritage after another – 400-year old Acadian paths in New Brunswick, Loyalist byways in Upper Canada, ancient aboriginal portages in the Canadian Shield, to name only a few. And in Victoria, British Columbia, the TCT links to a fascinating piece of this national fabric.
Victoria is home to Canada’s first, and oldest surviving, Chinese community. It is, in fact, the second-oldest Chinatown in all of North America, after San Francisco.
When this community was founded, back in 1858, British Columbia was not yet a province, nor was Canada even a country. Vancouver Island was its own crown colony, and Victoria (or Fort Victoria, at the time) was little more than a 15-year-old Hudson’s Bay trading post. It was the discovery of gold in the Fraser Valley that put this remote harbour on the international map.
News of the gold strike spread quickly down the coast and, in 1858, scores of would-be miners sailed from San Francisco. Victoria was ideally situated to serve as an outfitting station; many of the new arrivals decided to set up shop there.
Long before the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, which would draw thousands of Chinese nationals to B.C., the original Chinese-Canadians put down strong roots in Victoria, founding a community that remains vibrant to this day.
At its peak, Chinatown accounted for half the population of Victoria, with its own hospital, three schools, five temples, two churches, several theatres and more than 150 shops.
It maintained strong social institutions and cultural traditions which, together with its heritage wooden and brick structures, give Victoria much of its character today, particularly in the six remaining blocks of Chinatown.
One of the most characteristic structures has to be the beautiful and massive “Gate of Harmonious Interest,” at the corner of Government and Fisgard streets.
It’s no accident that the TCT leads travellers to this historic Chinatown on its way from Mile Zero West. From Clover Point, the TCT travels up David Foster Way to the 60-km Galloping Goose trail. The Johnson Street Bridge is one short block from famous Fan Tan Alley – the narrowest street in Canada – and the heart of Chinatown.
“When you stop and think about it, you can’t help but be impressed by the tremendous journeys undertaken by all of Canada’s cultural communities,”
Here are just a few special places and ways that the Trail connects with Canada’s history and heritage.