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Awakening Chinatown set to open eyes and hearts in Victoria

The festival goes beyond tradition, with organizers aiming to draw audiences of all ages

When one thinks of Awakening Chinatown, what may first come to mind is the colourful, striking image of the Lion Dancers and the Dotting of the Eyes ceremony.

But Grace Sneddon, the board chair for the Victoria Chinese Museum Society, which is producing the festival, will tell you there is a lot more to it.

First, it’s about becoming grounded and setting the right intentions. Sneddon said the Dotting of the Eyes ceremony is so you can hear, speak and see clearly.

“It’s about having good intentions with a good heart.”

Then, it’s about taking in the spectacles, experiencing interactive arts, and delving into Chinatown’s impressive 160-year history while looking to its future.

A Lion Dancer at Awakening Chinatown 2023. (Michelle Proctor)

Last year, the third annual festival had around 6,000 visitors.

One popular part was the calligraphy workshop, Sneddon said. “It was packed.”

Genevieve Thompson, who managed the calligraphy last year, added that it engaged all ages. “It was very special to watch Chinese parents teaching their children how to hold the brush as they had been taught.”

The art form is done with Chinese brush pens and ink and can be very inner-centering, Sneddon said.

“In Chinese culture, it’s also supposed to reveal the kind of person you are,” she said. “If your brush strokes are all jerky, or you’re messy for instance, people can see that.”

Other festival attractions this year include vocal performances, drumming, magicians, and fortune-telling in the oldest temple in Canada on Government Street.

“Real fortune telling, not just the play stuff,” said Sneddon.

But one of the grand highlights will be the closing performance by Victoria Chinese Opera Club, who will be singing in Mandarin, Japanese, German, French and English from the balcony of 541 Fisgard St. The building itself is significant, as it’s where descendants of Lee Mong Kow – a very prominent figure and one of the first English translators in Victoria – used to live.

Lion dancers will be performing in the streets below.

“The first time we did it, there were people crying in the streets because it was so cool. It’s beautiful,” Sneddon said.

She also added that they mix in traditional and contemporary performances. For instance, House of Rice, Vancouver’s first all-Asian drag house will return this year.

“It’s important we reach out to other younger Asians so that they can reclaim their pride in their Asian identity as well. We also want to be very mindful of all the intersectionalities of identity,” she said. “Also to help teach our senior Asian members that we’re growing, and we can be in a good way, even if it’s a bit different from what they’re used to.”

It’s all part of Victoria Chinatown Museum Society’s mandate to broaden awareness of and celebrate Chinese culture in Greater Victoria, while aiming for an eventual permanent museum.

Awakening Chinatown commemorates Asian Heritage Month and takes place on Sunday, May 26 from noon to 5:30 p.m. Learn more at

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Sam Duerksen

About the Author: Sam Duerksen

Since moving to Victoria from Winnipeg in 2020, I’ve worked in communications for non-profits and arts organizations.
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