By halfway through the 20th century, the once bustling Chinatown – then located in it’s third location close to downtown – had seen a significant decline in population. However, on September 30, 1960 a fire broke out in Chinatown, causing mass destruction that ultimately brought an end to the community for good.
The fire began sometime in the afternoon, as a cook from one of the area’s restaurants first spotted the flames. Both the Nanaimo Fire Department and the volunteer-based Harewood Fire Departments responded to the call. Despite their efforts, they were unable to match the power of the uncontrollable flames.The mighty fire raged on for over seven hours, spreading to both sides of Pine Street.
In the end, nearly all of the structures in Chinatown were destroyed on that fateful day, including beloved local restaurants and shops of cultural and historical significance. The fire also displaced the last remaining residents of Chinatown, as some 200 people lost their homes and belongings in the flames. Nanaimo has not had a Chinatown since then, as many of the Chinese population dispersed into other areas of the city.
The Chinatown fire in 1960 was one of Nanaimo’s greatest losses as a community; a tragedy that changed the city forever.