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Awakening Chinatown Festival weaves history into the future of Victoria’s downtown

Canada’s oldest Chinatown celebrates enduring contributions to the community at May 28 festival
The second annual Awakening Chinatown Festival takes place in Victoria’s Chinatown Sunday, May 28. (Courtesy Victoria Chinatown Museum Society)

The second annual Awakening Chinatown Festival is coming to Victoria and on Sunday, May 28, Victoria’s Chinatown will be the place to visit.

Presented by the Victoria Chinatown Museum Society (VCMS) the festival will celebrate the enduring contributions of Chinese Canadians and their important role in Victoria’s history as well as their continuing part in framing the city’s future.

“Last year, thousands came out to celebrate our inaugural event. This year’s celebration promises to be even bigger, so we are very excited to see even more of our community come together once again,” said Grace Wong Sneddon, chair of VCMS.

“The VCMS is committed to fostering learning about the Chinese community, its living history and dynamic culture through the creation of a museum. Awakening Chinatown is just one more way we can achieve our mandate to educate and engage our community at large.”

The festival will kick off at noon with the Dotting of the Eye Ceremony to “awaken the lions”. The lively and colourful parade will travel the neighbourhood with the aim of bringing good fortune and prosperity to all.

Later, on the main stage, visitors can enjoy demonstrations of traditional martial arts and lion dancing by the Wong Sheung Kung Fu Club, performances by traditional Chinese dance troupes, Asian opera singers, the Happy Drum Group, a seniors choir from the Victoria Society of Chinese Performing Arts, an all-Asian drag review, magician Justin Louie and more.

Of course, just wandering through Chinatown is a treat in itself.

Victoria’s Chinatown was Canada’s first (started in 1858) and it became a haven for the wave of Chinese immigrants who ventured to Canada, first to pan for gold, and later to work on the railway’s construction.

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In its early years, it was also home to no less than 10 opium factories, at a time when opium was legal and the Canadian government enjoyed considerable tax revenue from its export. In the 1870s, opium was the third largest export to the United States, just behind coal and furs.

Victoria’s Chinatown did face a period of decline as Vancouver supplanted it with a much larger Chinatown, but it persevered and underwent a period of revival starting around 1970.

That rehabilitation was brought about through the cooperation of the City of Victoria and the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association. They ensured that the winding alleyways, historical buildings and unique character of the area were preserved at a time when Chinatowns in Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto and across the country were being demolished.

But while its history is impressive and tangible, Chinatown is not locked in the past.

“There are still plenty of opportunities for Chinatown to evolve and grow in ways that reveal even more of its magic that has been hidden from public view in intervening decades,” said Robert Fung, VCMS vice-chair.

Awakening Chinatown gives Victoria a chance to rediscover this beautiful part of our city and revel in its past while celebrating what’s sure to be a vibrant future.

To learn more about Awakening Chinatown, visit

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About the Author: Black Press Media Staff

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