Vancouver history & Activity Blog

In 1867, a town sprung up around a bar owned by “Gassy” Jack Deighton, so named for his tendency for continuously talking. The small settlement became known as Gastown, and the waterfront area still retains the name today.
After being linked by rail to eastern Canada, the town took its name from the British explorer Captain George Vancouver, who spent only a single day on the site in 1792.
In 1887, the Canadian Pacific Railway’s first train steamed into the city, the first ship docked from China, and Vancouver began its boom as one of the major trading ports and cities in Canada

If you want to find out more The Museum of Anthropology is a mandatory visit for anyone interested in West Coast Canadian history and Aboriginal art. It has one of the world’s finest displays of Northwest Coastal First Nation’s art, artifacts and an unlimited supply of cultural information. It is a great way to spend a rainy (or snowy) afternoon with the whole family and learn a lot about British Columbia’s rich First Nation’s history.

The museum is located on the campus of the University of British Columbia, about a 20 minute drive from downtown Vancouver.

Outside, walk 1 block east on Keefer Street to Taylor Street. Andy Livingstone Park is farther ahead to your right, but to continue the tour turn left on Taylor Street and walk 1 block north to Pender Street. Turn right on Pender and walk 1 block. Now you’re in one of North America’s most populous Chinatowns. Our first Chinatown stop, at 8 W. Pender St., is the:

Sam Kee Building – The world’s thinnest office building — just shy of 1.5m deep (4 ft. 11 in. to be exact) — was Sam Kee’s way of thumbing his nose at both the city and his greedy next-door neighbor. In 1912, the city expropriated most of Kee’s land in order to widen Pender Street but refused to compensate him for the tiny leftover strip. Kee’s neighbor, meanwhile, hoped to pick up the leftover sliver dirt-cheap. The building was Kee’s response. Huge bay windows helped maximize the available space, as did the extension of the basement well out underneath the sidewalk (note the glass blocks in the pavement).

Just behind the Sam Kee Building is Shanghai Alley, which just 40 years ago was jam-packed with stores, restaurants, a pawnshop, a theater, rooming houses, and a public bath. (Canton Alley, on your right between E. Pender and E. Hastings sts., still gives an idea of what these teeming alleyways looked like a few decades ago. More interesting is the Chinese Freemason’s building, just across the street at 1 W. Pender. This building could be a metaphor for the Chinese experience in Canada. On predominantly Anglo Carrall Street, the building is the picture of Victorian conformity. On the Pender Street side, on the other hand, the structure is exuberantly Chinese.

Walk 1 block farther (east) on Pender Street and you’ll come to the:
 

Chinese Cultural Centre/Dr. Sun Yat-sen Park & Chinese Classical Garden - A modern building with an impressive traditional gate, the cultural center provides services and programs for the neighborhood’s thousands of Chinese-speaking residents. Straight ahead as you enter the courtyard, a door set within a wall leads into the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Park, a small urban park with a pond, walkways, and a nice gift shop, Silk Road Art Trading Co., which sells scaled-down replicas of the ancient terra-cotta warriors unearthed in the tomb of Chinese Emperor Qon Shi Huang. Admission to the park is free.

Adjoining the park, and accessible through another small doorway to the right of it, is the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden. Modeled after a Ming Period (1368-1644) scholar’s retreat in the Chinese city of Suzhou, this garden is definitely worth a visit. Dr. Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), for whom the park and garden are named, is known as the father of modern China.

Exit the Chinese Classical Garden by the gate on the east side, turn left on Columbia Street, and you’ll find the Chinese Cultural Centre Museum and Archives at 555 Columbia St.

From here, continue on Columbia Street up to Pender, turn right and continue east, peeking in here and there to explore Chinese herbalist shops like Vitality Enterprises at 126 E. Pender. At Main Street, turn right and walk south 1 block to Keefer Street and take a break at:

 

Floata Seafood Restaurant - Though it’s Canada’s largest Chinese restaurant, it isn’t easy to find (180 Keefer St.) In classic Hong Kong restaurant style, it’s on the third floor of a bright red shopping plaza/parking garage. Time your arrival for midmorning dim sum (a kind of moving Chinese smorgasbord) if you can.

To continue the tour, stroll east on Keefer Street, lined with sidewalk markets selling fresh fish, fruit, and vegetables. Turn left on Gore Street and walk 1 block north to Pender Street. On your left, at 296 E. Pender St., is the: 


Kuomintang Building
– Though often a mystery to outsiders, politics was and remains an important part of life in Chinatown. Vancouver was long a stronghold of the Chinese Nationalist Party or Kuomintang (KMT), whose founder, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, stayed in Vancouver for a time raising funds. In 1920, the party erected this building to serve as its Western Canadian headquarters. When the rival Chinese Communist party emerged victorious from the Chinese civil war in 1949, KMT leader Chiang Kai-shek retreated to Taiwan. Note the Taiwanese flags on the roof.

Return to Gore Street and turn left (north) for 2 blocks. At the corner of Gore and Cordova streets (303 E. Cordova St.) stands:

 

St. James Anglican Church - Just before getting this commission, architect Adrian Gilbert Scott had designed a cathedral in Cairo.

One block west on Cordova brings you to the:

 

Vancouver Centennial Police Museum - Located in the former Coroner’s Court at 240 E. Cordova, the Vancouver Centennial Police Museum is worth a visit. Among other displays, the museum has the autopsy pictures of Errol Flynn, who died in Vancouver in 1959 in the arms of his 17-year-old girlfriend.

Back on Gore Street, walk north 2 blocks to Alexander Street. Turn left and walk 1 block west on Alexander to the:

 

Crab Park Overpass – City Hall calls it Portside Park, and that’s how it appears on the map, but to everyone else it’s Crab Park. It was created after long and vigorous lobbying by eastside activists, who reasoned that poor downtown residents had as much right to beach access as anyone else. The park is pleasant enough, though not worth the trouble of walking all the way up and over the overpass. What is worthwhile, however, is walking halfway up to where two stone Chinese lions stand guard. From here, you can look back at Canada Place — where the tour started — or at the container port and fish plant to your right.

To bring the tour to an end, return to Alexander Street and walk 2 blocks west back to Maple Tree Square (stop 5).

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