Vancouver Chinatown Walking Tour, Vancouver

Vancouver Chinatown Walking Tour (Self Guided), Vancouver

Vancouver's Chinatown is North America's second largest Chinese-centered area, and it has long attracted hordes of tourists with its expressive culture, inexpensive but delicious food, and fabulous traditional architecture. Take this self-guided walking tour to explore some of the most magnificent attractions of Vancouver's Chinatown.
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Vancouver Chinatown Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Vancouver Chinatown Walking Tour
Guide Location: Canada » Vancouver (See other walking tours in Vancouver)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.3 Km or 0.8 Miles
Author: clare
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Millennium Gate
  • Historic Shanghai Alley
  • Sam Kee Building
  • East Pender Street
  • Keefer Street Food and Nightlife
  • Monument of Canadian Chinese
  • Chinese Cultural Center and Museum
  • Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden
Millennium Gate

1) Millennium Gate

Straddling West Pender Street near the intersection with Taylor Street is an awe-inspiring feat of architecture called the Millennium Gate. This four-pillar-, three-story-tall structure marks the entrance to Vancouver's famed Chinatown and was built in 2002 to celebrate the arrival of the new millennium.

But most importantly, it honours the role of Chinese settlers in the long and eventful history of the city. This includes both the early migrants from China, in the late 19th century, and those ethnic Chinese who came from Latin America later on.

The piece was designed to commentate a journey in time as well as to represent both the past and the future. With tall poles appearing to precariously hold up the orange roof, three large rectangular gray slabs, and ornate carvings on the top edges, the Millennium Gate makes an interesting sight in which new art forms occur within a very traditional setting.

The two stone foo lions, guarding the gate, include one male – on the left – with a ball under his paw, and one female – on the right – holding a cub. The images of people depicted in the upper portion of the gate show different styles of clothing typical for various parts of China. Another interesting feature is the colour scheme, a blend of traditional Eastern and modern Western-inspired motifs.

Many plaques and dedications to those involved in the project adorn the lower portion of the gate.

Vancouver's Chinatown is a living symbol of multiculturalism. It serves as a place where people of every ethnicity gather to partake in the sampling of delicacies from the local restaurants and shops and to interact with the locals that are an integral part of Vancouver society.
Historic Shanghai Alley

2) Historic Shanghai Alley

Historic Alley marks the area of Vancouver's earliest Chinese settlement. Originally comprising Canton and Shanghai alley, this neighborhood housed more than 1,000 Asian-Canadian residents, and was home to stores, restaurants, opera and other cultural activities.

Shanghai Alley was the first part of Historic Alley to be constructed and inhabited. Later, in 1904, Canton Alley was added. Eventually, this was followed by a Chinese-style courtyard surrounded with residential and commercial buildings running in two parallel, southward rows. The heart of Historic Alley was the 500-seat theater, built in 1898, surrounded by restaurants and shops. This gave residents of Chinatown a way to enjoy Chinese-language entertainment, food, and company without having to leave their Vancouver home district, and ultimately resulted in a tightly woven Chinese-Canadian community, within the boundaries of which one could spend their entire life.

The end result of Historical Alley is a Chinatown that is the second largest in all of North America, and one of the most visited by ethnic Chinese from outside of Vancouver. People of all races and nationalities come to Historical Alley for food, shopping, entertainment, and cultural events, as well as to view the Millennium Gate which crowns the Chinatown entrance.

Another key sight to behold here, set in the centre of Shanghai Alley, is the Western Han Dynasty Bell. This bell is a replica of the one unearthed in 1983 during an excavation in Guangzhou, China, and was gifted to the people of Vancouver from the city of Guangzhou on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the two cities twinning. While the original bell dates back over two millennia and symbolizes the age of settlement in the Pearl River delta in Guangzhou, its replica marks the spot of the first Chinese settlement in the lower mainland of British Columbia.
Sam Kee Building

3) Sam Kee Building

The Sam Kee Building has a rather odd distinction of being the shallowest commercial building in the world.

The edifice was originally built by one of Chinatown's wealthiest firms, the Sam Kee Company, in 1903. Its basement level was designed to hold public baths, while the ground floor held commercial spaces, and the top level was residential.

This arrangement worked for the next nine years, until the city of Vancouver widened the street on which the Sam Kee Building was situated. This resulted in the severe curtailment of the Sam Kee commercial area. Ultimately, it saw the ground floor reduced to some four feet, eleven inches wide, and the second floor to just six feet wide. Despite such tightness, the Sam Kee Building is still used as a commercial space.

According to both the Guinness Book of World Records and Ripleys Believe It or Not, this building is the shallowest commercial space in the world, despite being challenged by the Skinny Building in Pittsburgh. Though the Skinny Building is wider than the Sam Kee Building's ground floor, the Skinny Building is shallower than its top floor, making it the shallowest building from the ground floor up.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
East Pender Street

4) East Pender Street

Vancouver’s Chinatown is an exciting place where the old and modern come together. The areas of East Pender Street and the rectangle formed by Pender, Main, Keefer, and Gore streets are a true paradise for shoppers keen on all things Asian. Here, alongside locals perpetually searching for specialty ingredients for dinner, you will find the young and hip crowd checking out independent stores. The variety of things on offer is enormous, spanning from ginseng to green teas, fine embroidered linen, silk robes, exotic fresh produce, plus traditional Chinese tableware and cooking utensils.

The area is also noted for the abundance of natural pharmacies and herbalists, as well as numerous restaurants and smaller eateries serving freshly-made Asian delicacies: from moon cake to roasted duck. When it comes to steam buns, the best place to get them in Chinatown is New Town Bakery. The joint serves a variety of 13 different steam buns, ranging from $1.65 to $3.30 apiece, filled with pork, chicken, beef, sweet custard, sweet lotus paste, and egg yolk.

Speaking of modern, a number of cool new stores lining East Pender Street, west of Main, really break the Chinatown mold, offering skateboard decks, vintage clothing, cocktail sets, and club wear. A special mention deserves the something-for-everyone Bamboo Village, at 135 East Pender Street. The shop is specialized in all things bamboo – from furniture, paper lanterns, and worship supplies to Maoist memorabilia, Chinese folk art, and home decor.

The emerging neighbourhood between Main Street and Carrall Street is also home to many notable businesses, such as Kissa Tanto, Umaluma, Propaganda Coffee, Bao Bei, Aubade Coffee, and others. Paired with a bunch of mixed-use development projects completed in recent years, this creates one of the fastest-growing and most dynamic neighborhoods in Vancouver.
Keefer Street Food and Nightlife

5) Keefer Street Food and Nightlife

In 2010, Condé Nast Traveler described Vancouver's Chinese food as "the best in the world," better even than in Hong Kong or mainland China! Despite the abundance of incredible Chinese food available on East Pender Street, Keefer Street is just as prominent foodie's destination in Vancouver Chinatown, with a few stand-outs of its own.

Among them are Gold Stone Bakery & Restaurant (139 Keefer Street), a local favorite renowned for its Hong Kong-style diner food and sweets, including egg tarts and sticky buns; Kent's Kitchen (232 Keefer Street) – serving big portions of Chinese fare with a small price tag; Floata Seafood Restaurant (180 Keefer Street), a classic Chinese restaurant that hosts Chinese New Year celebrations and is most famous for its seafood and dim sum; and Bao Bei (163 Keefer Street) noted for its contemporary twist on Chinese cuisine in a trendy eclectic space. Its seasonal menu harmoniously blends Chinese and French culinary traditions, reinforced with an interesting cocktail list to match. Great date spot, and you can’t go wrong with the menu.

Another point of interest is Gain Wah Restaurant, at 218 Keefer Street, offering a taste of old school Chinatown. This place may not look like much on the outside, but on the inside it will win you over hands down with its cheap, but finger-licking quality Chinese tucker. And if that's not enough, there are also several terrific Chinese markets on Keefer Street worth checking out, just before Gore Avenue, including San Lee Enterprises (267 Keefer St), a perfect place to shop for seasonal fruits, or Sing Chong Food Centre (253 Keefer St), a must-stop for all types of BBQ meats.

Keefer Street is also home to Vancouver's major nightspot – Keefer Bar at number 135 – which has put Chinatown firmly on the map of nightlife entertainment alongside prominent destinations, like Gastown and the Granville Street Entertainment District. This is one of the city's Top 10 Cocktail Bars with a strong reputation for fabulous original cocktails containing Chinatown-sourced ingredients. Come have a sip, whenever you get a chance!
Monument of Canadian Chinese

6) Monument of Canadian Chinese

The Monument of Canadian Chinese is a memorial commemorating the Chinese people's contribution to Canada's history, and is located on the edge of Vancouver's Chinatown area.

The monument is constructed of light coloured rock, flanked by two bronze statues. One of the statues is a railway worker, set to commemorate the many thousands of Chinese who worked to help lay track for the transcontinental railroad, and some of whom lost their lives while performing this back breaking labour. The other statue is a World War II soldier, honouring the Chinese-Canadians who enlisted to fight in the war. Their bravery eventually earned them the right to vote in 1945, and furthered their acceptance in the mainstream Vancouver society. This monument also serves as a focal point for the Remembrance Day ceremonies in Chinatown.

Furthermore, it serves as a reminder of Vancouver's multiculturalism, much as a testament to the hundreds of Canadian residents of Chinese descent who have paid the ultimate price helping to make Canada great. Vancouver would not be the city it is today without the sacrifices of thousands of Chinese people, and the Monument of Canadian Chinese is Vancouver's way of acknowledging their place in the country's history.
Chinese Cultural Center and Museum

7) Chinese Cultural Center and Museum

Despite the contributions of Chinese-Canadians to Canada's history, cities like Vancouver were plagued by anti Chinese sentiment for years. It took until 1945 for Chinese-Canadians to be granted the right to vote, despite the fact that many of them slaved to build Canada's transcontinental railroad, and enlisted in World War II. The Chinese Cultural Center and Museum honours their sacrifices, and serves as a means of preserving the historical contributions of Chinese-Canadians. The Museum is home to artifacts and archives dating back to the Gold Rush, when anti Chinese sentiment was at its highest, and many Chinese people sacrificed their lives to make Canada great.

The Chinese Cultural Center and Museum is located in Vancouver's Chinatown, the second largest Chinatown in all of North America. Visitors can call ahead to book a tour of the Museum itself, and can contact the center to ask about workshops, classes, and other programs. The Cultural Center gives visitors the opportunity to learn about traditional Chinese calligraphy, tai chi, and more.

The Chinese Museum and Cultural Center is located near Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden. If you are planning a tour of Vancouver's Chinatown area, no visit can be complete without a stop at the Museum to learn about Chinese-Canadian history, and the Garden for a relaxing walk.

Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 11:00 am – 5:00 pm.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden

8) Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden in Vancouver is the first Chinese or "scholars" garden built outside of China. It was created in 1985–1986, in time for Expo 86, and was funded by the Chinese and Canadian governments together with Vancouver's Chinese community and other public and private donors.

The garden is named in honour of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, the first president of the Republic of China who is considered the "father" of the modern Chinese nation. During his travels to further the cause of the Chinese nationalist movement in the early 20th century, Sun Yat-Sen stayed in Vancouver on three occasions for extended periods.

The venue incorporates a public park and a classical Chinese garden which are two separate entities, linked by an artificial pond. The outer park was designed by local architects, while the inner garden was conceived with the help of experts from Suzhou, China.

The classical garden relies on the philosophical concepts of Taoism and Feng Shui, striving to achieve harmony and a balance of opposites, while the public park portion is similar to the Western parks built in Chinese style, with mostly North American materials. While the park is free to enter, the garden is accessed for a fee. The paid admission includes a guided tour which adds a great deal to the overall experience.

Because the winter climate in Vancouver is similar to that of Suzhou, many of the plant varieties featured in the garden are identical to those commonly found in Suzhou. The plants were chosen for their blooming schedule, to emphasize seasonal changes, especially the "awakening" in spring. They are used sparingly, in contrast to western gardens, and provide colour throughout the whole year.

Koi carp feeding happens once a day, at around 11:30 am, from May-October, so if you're there, be sure to watch it. Otherwise, try the tea and explore whatever exhibit is showing at the time.

If you're unsure about the fee, you can always try the free public park first, as it also has a little pond, bridges, and beautiful views.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10 am-4:30 pm (Oct-Apr); 10 am-6 pm (May-Jun 14); 9:30 am-7 pm (Jun 15-Aug); 10 am-6 pm (Sep)
Closed Mondays, between Nov 1 and Apr 30. Holiday closures Dec 25 & Jan 1.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

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