Nanaimo’s first Chinatown was established in the 1860’s by the Vancouver Coal Mining and Land Company (VCMLC) for their Chinese labourers in the dock area of Downtown Nanaimo. As the land in the area became more valuable, and the number of Chinese mine workers grew, Chinatown was relocated to the city limits in 1884.
At the turn of the century more than 1,400 Chinese called the district of Nanaimo home. In addition to Nanaimo’s Chinatown there were a number of small camps along the Railway. Workers in these outer camps would arrive by train on Saturday morning and by the evening Chinatown would come alive with people visiting and shopping.
This Saturday night socializing often involved gambling. There were 8 known gambling houses in operations at the turn of the century. During the course of an evening, individuals taking part in this illicit activity would move from house to house playing for a time in each. The houses would share the profit as well as the risk. A raid in 1904 lead to the arrest of 18 men. It was the first successful raid in eight years and resulted in a crackdown on gambling. (From the collection of the Nanaimo Archive)