There are only quiet reminders of Nanaimo’s Chinatown. However, nearly 150 years ago, Chinese immigrants played a significant role in developing the Harbour City we now know today.
Nanaimo’s Chinatown was a thriving center of activity and commerce in the 1860s. Chinese labourers in search of a better life came to Nanaimo to work for the Vancouver Coal Mining and Land Company. By the 1880s, Nanaimo’s Chinese community was the third largest in the province, just after Victoria and New Westminster.
Prosperity did not come without hardship. Chinese immigrants faced blatant racism during this period in Canadian history. As tensions flared, Nanaimo’s Chinese community moved from their original location and relocated to the outer limits of Nanaimo.
Over the years, Chinatown continued to expand, developing a self-contained community, complete with restaurants, a doctor’s office, and various shops. Nanaimo’s Pine Street, Hecate Street, and Machleary Street encompassed a large part of Chinatown. The economic wave of Chinese prosperity took a turn for the worse in the 1920s as the mining industry declined and the Chinese Exclusion Act was instituted. The final blow to Chinatown was a massive fire, which engulfed the entire community on September 30, 1960.
So, next time you’re out and about, walk along the streets of what used to be Nanaimo’s Chinatown. Who knows, you may see some shadows of the past.