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Cultural Centre of Past and Present Chinatown

Chinese Public School on Fisgard Street (Photo by John Price).

Chinese Public School on Fisgard Street (Photo by John Price).

From the late nineteenth century, the Chinese community in Victoria had established several schools to provide education for its children. In January 1908, the Victoria School Board ruled that children born in China would not be allowed to attend public schools in Victoria because they could not understand English. Of course, learning English would be difficult for them without access to public schooling in that language. Therefore, the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA) hired barrister Fred Peters to fight this ruling in court, but lost. Chinese speaking children then had to attend the Lequn Free School, founded by Chinese merchants in 1899, which became overcrowded especially after 1908.

The CCBA decided to build a school and raised $7,000 from Chinese communities across Canada to purchase one and a half adjacent lots on Fisgard Street. The new school, an impressive two-storey structure, is distinct from most other buildings in Chinatown and downtown Victoria. Designed by Scottish architect David C. Frame, the school building combines style features of Eastern and Western architecture. Chinese elements include a pagoda-like roofline, temple filials, tiled eaves, and Chinese characters. As architectural historian Robin Ward states, the Chinese Imperial School also has some of the most western motifs in Chinatown: “Italianate cornices, Gothic trefoils and lancet windows give the school a quasi-Christian air — quite appropriate as many Chinese joined Methodist, Presbyterian and other Christian churches, bridging the cultural divide more effectively than the school board was willing to do.”

The new school was opened by the Chinese consul-general of San Francisco on 7 August 1909. It was called the Daqing Qiaomin Gongli Xuetang (Great Qing Overseas Chinese Public School), or the Chinese Imperial School in English. After the fall of the Manchu government in 1912, the school was renamed the Chinese Public School (Hauqiao Gongli Xuexiao).


Lai, David Chuenyan. Chinese Community Leadership: Case Study of Victoria in Canada. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Co., 2010.

Lai, David Chuenyan. The Forbidden City within Victoria: Myth, Symbol and Streetscape of Canada’s Earliest Chinatown. Victoria, BC: Orca Book Publishers, 1991.

Ward, Robin. Echoes of Empire: Victoria & Its Remarkable Buildings. Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Publishing: 1996.