Photographic tribute to oldest Chinatown in Canada

Fan Tan Alley, Victoria, British Columbia

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According to the research of professor David Chuenyan Lai, Victoria’s Chinatown is the oldest in Canada and the only one in North America to retain its 19th-century townscape. It is the second oldest Chinatown in North America after San Francisco’s.

Retaining the townscape hasn’t been easy. As some parts are being repaired.

(These men are throwing, and catching, balls of cement to repair the top-side of this entry way.)

Other parts are awaiting new construction.

And still others are under construction.

The morning delivery of fresh fruit and vegetables…

has been happening for as long as the history in these roof lines.

The Gate of Harmonious Interest constructed at Fisgard and Government in 1981 seems most appropriate.

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The discovery of gold in the Fraser Canyon in 1858 plus famine, drought and war in their homeland led Chinese citizens to immigrate across the Pacific Ocean to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Chinatown grew steadily over the years until its peak in 1911 (3,158 people), at which time it occupied an area of about six city blocks in the north end of downtown Victoria.

Sprout Question: Is there an urban street that inspires your imagination and creativity?

© 2010 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.

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From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada

21 thoughts on “Photographic tribute to oldest Chinatown in Canada

  1. It is good that folks have taken an interest in preserving this part of history.

    In response to the question, I enjoy visting urban streets, but don’t personally find inspiration in them–I prefer the open countryside without the clutter.

    • Well, Slamdunk since I live on an island in rural Canada, it will not be much of a surprise that I feel the same way most of the time. However, the older parts of cities do interest me and I find myself imagining what it might have been like to walk down that same street 50 or 100 years ago. Thanks so much your sprout and coming by.

  2. Terrill – I LOVE the multiple BRIGHT COLORS in your photographs!

    Sprout Question: Is there an urban street that inspires your imagination and creativity?

    There is a street – not only the aesthetics, but the smell and sounds of it – in Aix en Provence, France that is host to several markets. The main market by the Palais de Justice is a big affair of fresh produce and food—a gastronomic delight! The flower market is on the Place de Verdun and Place des Prêcheurs, by the Ste-Madeleine church has colors that that entice the eyes right out of your head. The clothing market that used to be around the old prison is now along the “other side” of the Cours Mirabeau—it brings out the haggler. The entire area is blanketed in undertones of lavender and overtones of fresh baked bread. The whole serves to stir my creative juices [and makes the most circumspect person want to wear short skirts, smoke cigarettes and drink during the day] …

    • Short skirts, cigarettes and drinking during the day… oh my – a place that has you inspired to do that Laurie has my attention. Thank you so much for your wonderful sprout response. I am still laughing:)

  3. Terrill, your photos do a great job of capturing Victoria’s Chinatown. It seems quite the contrast to New York’s much more crowded Chinatown.

    Now, as for your question: I find a lot of inspiration in all sorts of urban streets. (My flickr street ( has a lot of urban shots.) There are lot of interesting places for street photography in New York–both the buildings and the people can make for some very interesting and fascinating photography.

    Lately, I’ve been exploring Stone Street–a short, narrow street in downtown New York. Here’s a link to a set on flickr:

    I like the street because it’s closed to traffic. In the winter, you can great some great, somber and intense pictures without many distractions.

    The street is believed to be the oldest paved street in New York. The street fell into disrepair over the last century and was cut in half by a Goldman Sachs building in the mid-1980s. Over the last several years, Stone Street has experienced a renaissance. As businesses has returned to downtown Manhattan, restaurants and bars now line the street.

    I’ve manipulated some of my Stone Street shots a bit–something a blogged about earlier:

    • Jens thank you so much for your sprout response and great links (I got stuck over on your blog reading and writing a comment to your post – great read) I always find when someone finds something intriguing they have a real knack for inspiring others on the subject – this is what I experienced Jens with your Stone street photos. So glad you shared a bit of the history as well.

      • I’m really pleased to hear that! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on photo alterations.

        I should add that you have a really inspiring blog as well. I will be returning!

        Sorry for the typos above, btw.

        • No worries about typos Jens, I’m dyslexic – one of the most creative spellers in Western Canada:) I catch what I notice and let the rest go. And sometimes I leave well enough alone because this blog has international readers and people commenting who are learning English or for who English isn’t there first langauge. There is even a comment on one of the blog posts in German. I admire those who have more than one language or are able to learn a second or third language. I have my hands full with just one.

          I look forward to you dropping in again:)

  4. Terrill – I’m glad you got a kick out of it. Aix en Provence, France is a very ooh la la type of place. You feel emboldened to do things you wouldn’t normally dream of doing.

  5. i love urban streets, and I am very proud of my city. That may seem odd but over the last twenty five years it has grown up and changed in so many ways.
    There is no particular street which ignites my creativity but there is nothing like standing atop a building seeing the old parts of the city interwoven with the new creating an ever changing, living, thriving metropolis.
    There is also something wonderful about being out in the city late at night before any commerce starts in the morning, there is a stillness that is hard for me to even imagine any other time.

    • Thanks Jerry… I love that mix of old and new in a city as well. Montreal in Canada is like that. Jane Jacob’s called it a sign of a healthy community.

      At one time, when I was working very early mornings in Victoria while going to university, I was on the streets as the night people were getting ready to give the city over to the day people. I don’t think most of the day people were really aware that the city was occupied by others during the night… people they didn’t very often see in the day time. The shift was palatable and though this was in 1988, I can hear and smell and feel that time even now as I write.

  6. what a gorgeous photos fav is the last one.and i think china community esp in chinatown is exist in every country.

    btw i really like china themes on photography coz they have great and bright colour. and u have great insting to snap on the perfect moment jealous..

    as i said on twitter ur recent post is lil bit same as my next post (it will be posted on friday, coz it’s my free day so friday is my posting time,lol) dont forget to check it out 🙂


  7. Terrill, it’s so funny that Chinatown in Victoria is one of the places I go for inspiration, too. After leaving Victoria and living on Mayne Island for a couple of years, my husband and I took a short vacation in Victoria, house-sitting for a friend. We spent hours in Chinatown, something we never did when we lived in Victoria. I remember one night, sitting at a table outside a Chinese restaurant on Fisgard, sipping green tea and listening to music coming from an upstairs coffeehouse, watching honeymoon couples strolling by hand-in-hand and the well-dressed Chinese people going upstairs across the road to the rooms where they play mah jong. The moon was up and the cool breezes fluttered up from the Gorge, and we felt like we had travelled to a wonderful, exotic place.

    • Thank you Amber for sharing your Chinatown adventure. I think we humans are always looking afar for exotic and miss out on what is right next to us. I am glad you noticed your exotic place close to home:)

  8. Pingback: Roof Top Morning « Creativepotager's Blog

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