- Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association
- Victoria Chinese Canadian Veterans Association
- Chinese Public School
- Clan Associations
- County Assocations
- Dialect Assocations
- Friendship Associations
- Political Organizations
- Recreational Associations
- Religious Organizations
- Women's Associations
- Other Organizations
- Prominent Visitors
- Local Leaders
Gateways to Past and Present Chinatown
From around 1869 to 1946, elaborate and temporary arches were constructed in British Columbia along main thoroughfares to celebrate special events or, more often, the arrival of important visitors. Arches were built by individuals, organizations, and municipal governments. Arches in British Columbia represented a variety of architectural traditions, such as Japanese or Chinese gateways or European city gates. They were typically decorated with evergreen boughs, flags, flowers and lights and located along the route that a royal visitor or dignitary would take in a procession around the city. Early visits by governors general of Canada to Victoria were often celebrated by arches. The messages that arches carried could proclaim loyalty or, on occasion, political protest.
The Chinese community built a series of highly decorated arches to welcome governor generals to Victoria from 1876 to 1912. These arches and accompanying speeches identified Chinese residents as part of a distinct community within Victoria that proclaimed its loyalty to the Crown while bringing attention to the fact that the residents of Chinatown did not enjoy the same rights as Canadians of European origin. Over time, Chinese arches in Victoria became more modern and westernized with electric lights and English statements.
1876 Arch: Gateway to Early Chinatown
Second Chinese arch on Cormorant Street (Pandora Avenue today) in 1876 (Royal BC Museum, BC Archives, E-01926).
This is the second of the three arches that were built in Victoria’s Chinatown to welcome the Earl Dufferin, governor general in 1876. On the top-central part of the arch is the message: “English laws most liberal,” which reflected the local Chinese demand for equal treatment in the British dominion of Canada. On two sides of the arch, four Chinese characters stated, “People are content and happy under the administration of honest and incorrupt officials,” which could be read as an ironic critique of the second-class status of Chinese residents in British Columbia.
The simple and plain arch reflected the early stage of Chinatown’s development. On the left of the arch, there was the signboard of the Kwong Lee Co., which first operated in San Francisco but opened its Victoria’s subsidiary as early as 1858. In 1862, this Chinese company in Victoria was second only to the Hudson’s Bay Company in terms of its tax payment. It is possible that this company took on most of the financial responsibility for building this arch.
The Earl of Dufferin, Canada’s third governor general, and the Countess of Dufferin visited British Columbia in 1876, five years after Confederation. Alexander McKenzie, who replaced John A. Macdonald as prime minister in 1873, was reluctant to spend the money necessary to complete the railway to British Columbia, as agreed in the Terms of Union. Part of the purpose of the governor general’s trip to the west coast was to soothe the feelings of frustration that resulted from the delay in railway construction. The Earl and Countess spent about a month travelling in British Columbia, and they were welcomed by at least twenty-five decorated arches in various communities.
1882 Arch: Gateway to Traditional Chinatown
This was one of several arches that were constructed in Victoria to welcome the governor general of Canada, the Marquis of Lorne, and his wife, Princess Louise, a daughter of Queen Victoria. Decorated with lanterns and artificial flowers, the Chinese arch included a model theatrical group with miniature figures. This arch represented the traditional culture of residents of Chinatown in the early 1880s. The three Chinese characters on the central board on either side of the arch mean “the kingdom of the great Qing [China].” The left verse on the back of the arch reads: “pacify barbarians and worship China.” This verse was quickly removed, as is shown by another picture around that time. Local Chinese culture would experience dramatic change in the near future, as photos of two other arches in 1906 and 1912 demonstrate. In 1882, prominent merchants from Chinatown, including Sun Chong, Kwong Lee, and Goon Gap Wing Lee, met with the governor general.
The Governor General’s visit to British Columbia was promoted by Prime Minister John A. Macdonald to dampen separatist sentiment arising from impatience over the transcontinental railway, promised to BC in 1871 and still not completed. During the visit, the Marquis of Lorne announced a completion date and the railway was operational by 1886.
1906 Arch: Gateway to Transitional Chinatown (1)
Chinese arch on Government Street between Yates and View streets, 1906 (City of Victoria Archives, M09087).
Chinese arch on Government Street between Yates and View streets at night, 1906 (City of Victoria Archives, M09091).
This Chinese arch was erected in 1906 for the visit of Earl Grey, and it also represented the cultural transition of Chinatown at the beginning of the twentieth century. Although anti-Chinese racism intensified and the head tax on every immigrant from China increased from $50 in 1885 to $100 in 1900 and $500 in 1903, Victoria’s Chinatown experienced eastward expansion beyond Government Street and northward expansion beyond Fisgard Street. Unlike the Chinese arches in 1876 and 1882, this new arch in 1906 was built on Government Street between Yates and View streets, far beyond the southern boundary of Chinatown. It was surmounted by a large British Crown flanked by two Chinese dragon flags, and decorated with colorful cloth, buntings, and lanterns. At night, the arch was illustrated by hundreds of electric lights. The fancy decoration of the arch, together with the English message of “welcome” in its center showed that Chinatown was more modern and open to Western culture.
Sir Albert Henry George Grey, the 4th Earl Grey, served as governor general of Canada from 1904 to 1911. He visited Victoria in September 1906, after travelling through the new Prairie provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. Loo Cheung Leong, secretary of the Chinese Native Sons of Victoria, and Lee Yut Wah, secretary of the Chinese Native Daughters of Victoria, presented a speech to the Earl and Lady Grey, highlighting the loyalty of their organizations, stating: “We beg to express to Your Excellency how much benefit we derive from the protection we enjoy in the fair Dominion of Canada.” The Earl Grey acknowledged the contributions of Chinese residents in developing British Columbia. He thanked them for their address, stating, “It is the pride and glory of the British Crown that men of every nationality and creed shall enjoy the protection of fair and impartial justice in every portion of the wide dominion of the King.”
1912 Arch: Gateway to Transitional Chinatown (2)
This Chinese arch was erected for the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Connaught in 1912, and it also represented the cultural transformation of Chinatown at the beginning of the twentieth century. Like the Chinese arch of 1906, it was built at the intersection of Government and Yates streets, far beyond the southern boundary of Chinatown. Under a small pagoda-like top, the roof of the arch was covered with tiles and supported by two pillars. On the tops of both pillars, there were the pictures of Yuan Shikai, the president of Republican China, and the governor general of Canada. At night, the entire structure of the arch, including the English message of “welcome” in its center, was brightly illustrated. Thus, together with the Chinese arch of 1906, this arch again showed that Chinatown had become more modernized, westernized and open to the larger society. But this promising period would be ended by the economic depression around the beginning of the First World War and more serious anti-Chinese racism during wartime. This seems to be the last arch that the local Chinese built before the 1980s.
Nevertheless, the two photos of the Chinese arch in 1912 reflected that the local Chinese community was not an isolated ethnic ghetto even during the era of racism. Rather, it was actively involved in the local civic activities like welcoming the governor general.
1981 Arch: Gateway to the Present Chinatown
The Gate of Harmonious Interest at Fisgard and Government streets, 1981- Present (Royal BC Museum, BC Archives, I-03395).
This arch was erected by the whole urban community of Victoria in 1981, and it is a symbolic representation of present Chinatown and its relations with the larger society in a multicultural Canada. The purpose of building the arch was to “preserve the heritage of Chinatown and revive its prosperity for the benefit and interest of all.” It was also built as “a permanent monument to mark the harmony of the multicultural society which all Canadians enjoy.”
The Gate of Harmonious Interest was modelled after the entrance gateway to the famous Dunhuang Caves in northwestern China and the gate of Pingshan Hall in Yangzhou, eastern China. The top of the gate is a stupa, and its roof is covered with golden glazed tiles, and decorated with Chinese supernatural creatures on the corner ridges. In the central part of the arch is the Chinese name plate bearing three characters, “Tongjimen,” meaning the Gate of Harmonious Interest. The three square panels on each side of the name plate are decorated with gold-foil gilded dragons. The two Chinese verses on the front of arch’s two side-panels means “to work together with one mind” and “to help each other to achieve harmony.”
Indeed, the construction of the Gate of Harmonious Interest reflected the harmonious relations among the Chinese community and between it and the larger society. It originated from a recommendation in Dr. David Chuenyan Lai’s research project, “the Future of Victoria’s Chinatown” in 1979, and the idea soon became a concrete plan of the Chinatown Ad Hoc Committee of the City of Victoria chaired by Alderman Robert Wright. The funds for the project came not only from the local Chinese community but from the whole urban community and the municipal and provincial governments. The municipal government of Suzhou in mainland China donated a pair of stone lions to commemorate its sister-city relationship with Victoria, the Ting Hwa Architect-Engineers Co. of Taiwan was contracted to provide the exterior decorative finishes, the local Hafer Machine Co. Ltd. was engaged to build the steel structure of the gate, and another local company, Well’s Electrical Designs and Drafting, was the consultant for the concealed electrical and sound systems of the gate. The opening ceremony for the arch was held on Sunday, November 15, 1981.
By Zhongping Chen and Jenny Clayton
The British Colonist, Online Edition: 1858-1910, 15 September 1906, 1: http://www.britishcolonist.ca/display.php?issue=19060915 (Accessed 12 July 2012).
The Governor General of Canada, “Former Governors General.” http://www.gg.ca/document.aspx?id=55/
Jackman, S.W. Men at Cary Castle: A Series of Portrait Sketches of the Lieutenant-Governors of British Columbia from 1871 to 1971. Victoria, BC: Morriss Print. Co., 1971.
Lai, Chuen-yan David. Arches in British Columbia. Victoria: Sono Nis Press, 1982.
Sandwell, R.W. “Dreaming of the Princess: Love, Subversion, and the Rituals of Empire in British Columbia,” in Colin M. Coates, ed, Majesty in Canada: Essays on the Role of Royalty. Toronto: The Dundurn Group, 2006.
Wickberg, Edgar, ed. From China to Canada: A History of Chinese Communities in Canada. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1982.