Established back in the 1890s, Vancouver’s Chinatown has been humming busily for more than a century with vivid colours, exotic cuisine and a vibrant culture. Vancouver’s Chinese population originally made the journey to work in local mines and build the Trans-Canada railway. Rich in history and architecture, this area east of downtown boasts North America's third-largest Chinatown after New York and San Francisco. The main commercial area runs is around six blocks, bordered by East Pender Street, Gore Avenue, East Georgia Street, and Carrall Street.
You’ll find plenty of classic Asian specialty stores, with their wares piled by the sidewalk for perusing, as well as dim sum restaurants, apothecaries, and quiet oases offering calm respite from the bustle. While there are many traditional finds in Chinatown, you’ll also see a burst of modern retail thanks to some young entrepreneurs who have set up shop in the neighbourhood, especially along Pender between Columbia and Main streets.
Seeing and Doing
It’s easy to spend a half-day in Chinatown. No visit is complete without spending time at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden—the first of its kind to ever be built in Canada. Along with being a beautiful garden, it offers a fascinating primer on Chinese culture and symbolism. The world’s narrowest commercial building, the Sam Kee Building at the corner of Pender and Carrall, is also worth a look. But the best thing about spending time in Chinatown is strolling the commercial district, and experiencing the neighbourhood with all five senses. The area is also home to the Vancouver Chinatown Festival in August each year.
Eating and Drinking
If you’re going to be in Chinatown in the late morning, or over lunchtime, make sure that you grab dim sum at one of the neighbourhood’s restaurants. Choose a few different steaming baskets of these tasty bite-sized dumplings, buns and other delicacies and tuck in while you sip tea. If you’d rather pick up something “to go,” visit one of the many Chinese bakeries for well-priced snacks. Along with the traditional, you’ll also find modern twists on Chinese cuisine among some of the newer spots. Interestingly, Chinatown is also an excellent place to get a cocktail! Some of the city’s best bartenders can be found behind the wood in this part of the city.
Shopping and Souvenirs
Trawling Chinatown’s streets, you’ll have no problem finding places to shop! From ducking in to an apothecary for a traditional Chinese cure, through to buying jewellery made of lucky green jade, you’ll have a lot of fun exploring the area’s stores. Prized for its quality, B.C.-grown ginseng is available in many of the apothecaries, and would make an excellent souvenir for anyone you know that might need its purported energy-boosting properties!
Along with the stores selling live seafood, bulk goods and the latest and greatest electronics, you’ll also find a growing number of stores run by a new generation of Chinatown business-owners. From skate shops to vintage clothing, these spots are bringing new life to the neighbourhood.
For more information, visit the Chinatown Business Improvement Association online.