Vancouver’s vibrant Chinatown – clustered mainly on Pender Street between Carrall and Gore streets and on Keefer Street from Main to Gore – is a city apart. Vancouver’s 100,000 or more Chinese make up one of North America’s largest Chinatowns and are the city’s oldest and largest ethnic group after the British-descended majority. Many crossed the Pacific in 1858 to join the Fraser Valley gold rush; others followed under contract to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway. Most stayed, only to find themselves being treated appallingly. Denied citizenship and legal rights until as late as 1947, the Chinese community sought safety and familiarity in a ghetto of their own, where clan associations provided for new arrivals and the local poor, and helped build the distinctive houses of recessed balconies and ornamental roofs that have made the area a protected historic site.

Vancouver’s Chinatown is authentic and lively: shops, hotels, markets, tiny restaurants and dim alleys vie for attention amid a hustle of jammed pavements
and the buzz of conversation. Virtually every building replicates an Eastern model, and written Chinese characters feature everywhere. Striking and unexpected after Downtown’s high-rise glitz, the district brings you face to face with Vancouver’s oft-touted multiculturalism, and helps explain why Hong Kong immigrants continue to be attracted to the city. Yet it’s a district with a distinct edge, and visitors should avoid the area’s dingier streets at night, such as East Hastings near Main.