Canada’s Oldest Chinatown Is an Underrated Day-Trip Destination

It’s not in Toronto. Or Vancouver.

The Gate of Harmonious Interest in Victoria, Canada

The Gate of Harmonious Interest is the entrance to the oldest Chinatown in Canada.

Photo by meunierd/Shutterstock

Travel to Fisgard Street in Victoria, British Columbia, and you’ll find a red and gold gate guarded by two stone lion statues. This ornate piece is the Gate of Harmonious Interest, and it serves as the entryway to the oldest Chinatown in Canada. Occupying a part of downtown Victoria between Government and Store streets, Victoria’s Chinatown was formed as gold seekers from countries like Australia, Mexico, and notably, China came to Victoria in the mid-1800s. By 1911, the city had become home to more than 3,000 Chinese immigrants.

It was once the largest Chinatown in Canada—until the 1910s, when Vancouver’s Chinatown took the title—and is now one of the smallest, encompassing just three city blocks. Nonetheless, Canada has recognized the impact of this storied neighborhood, designating it as a national historic site in 1995.

There’s plenty to see in the area, including Canada’s narrowest street, window displays of Hong Kong–style roast meats, and a museum retracing the journey of Victoria’s first Chinese immigrants. Here’s where to eat, shop, and see the sights on your visit to Victoria’s Chinatown.

What to eat in Victoria’s Chinatown

Bite-size appetizers at Don Mee

Still employing the old-school way of presenting baskets of steamed, baked, or fried bite-sized appetizers on push carts moved among tables, Don Mee has been an essential part of Chinatown since 1923. While its menu features mainstays like baked barbecue pork buns and rice rolls, the shrimp dumplings and sticky rice are crowd favorites. Enjoy your meal at a circular table and pair it with hot cups of oolong or chrysanthemum tea.

Steamed buns at Wah Lai Yuen

Pastries and buns—whether steamed, baked, or stuffed—are a quintessential part of Hong Kong’s food culture. Buy one at Wah Lai Yuen to go for an afternoon snack or pick up a box to keep your kitchen stocked for the next few days.

Try the restaurant’s classic cocktail bun, a delightful blend of shredded coconut, sugar, and butter encased in a fluffy bun, or go for the ever-popular barbecue pork bun, where you’ll get a mouthful of meat in a golden brown bread layer. And you can’t go wrong with the golden-yellow egg tarts and their flaky crust, especially when fresh from the oven.

Hong Kong–style roast meats at Loy Sing

Take it from the whole chickens and ducks in the large window display of Loy Sing: The restaurant knows how to cook meat. This cash-only joint on Fisgard Street is known for its siu mei, or Hong Kong–style roast meats, which usually include barbecue pork, soy sauce chicken, and roasted suckling pig and duck (though barbecue pork, with its caramelized finish and blend of sweet and savory flavors, is the most popular choice). These succulent meats are commonly served atop rice along with bok choy for a fast and cheap lunch or dinner, although they can also be served as a side dish.

Dumplings from Dumpling Drop

Opened in 2018, Dumpling Drop is one of the historic neighborhood’s newer additions. Thanks to its loyal following, what began as an Instagram-only business—where followers ordered packs of 20 frozen handmade dumplings for delivery through DM exchanges—evolved into a physical storefront on Pandora Avenue with table and bar seating. Unlike the usual steamed or pan-fried dumplings, Dumpling Drop’s come deep-fried for a crispy yet juicy bite. Featuring a lineup with ingredients like pork belly, spicy ginger beef, and lemongrass chicken, its frozen dumplings always draw a line, so pick up a few packs for later on your way out.

Where to shop in Victoria’s Chinatown

Victoria Dragon Village

Part souvenir shop and part housewares store, Victoria Dragon Village’s shelves are stocked with a mishmash of goods. Lucky cats and red paper lanterns with yellow tassels are displayed among porcelain dishware, mah-jongg sets, and pretty tea sets at this small shop on Fisgard Street. The selection here is ever rotating, and whether you’re looking for trinkets to display in your home, something to add to your kitchen, or are just browsing, wandering its maze of aisles is an entertaining pastime.

Silk Road Tea

Recognized for its fine blend of organic teas, Silk Road Tea has been a local favorite since it first opened its doors in 1992. While one of the two rooms in the store serves as a tasting tea bar, the other displays shelves of tea and teaware, ranging from strainers and tumblers to cast-iron teapots.

Don’t miss the bestselling Angelwater tea, crafted with an aromatic blend of spearmint leaves, lavender blossoms, and rose petals. This subtly sweet and minty tea is also used in a custom cocktail created by local cocktail bar Clive’s Classic Lounge.

Shops in Fan Tan Alley Avenue in Victoria, Canada

Fan Tan Alley runs from Fisgard Avenue to Pandora Avenue.

Photo by Wirestock Creators/Shutterstock

What to do in Victoria’s Chinatown

Walk Fan Tan Alley

Billed as Canada’s narrowest street, Fan Tan Alley remains a fundamental part of Chinatown today. This 240-foot-long street ranges in width as it runs south from Fisgard Avenue to Pandora Avenue. At its widest, it spans six feet. And at its narrowest, the alley is a mere 35 inches wide.

In the late 1800s, Fan Tan Alley’s gambling dens and opium parlors formed the neighborhood’s core entertainment district for the influx of Chinese fortune seekers who moved here for the gold rush. Though opium was legal at the time, gambling wasn’t. Now, these establishments have been replaced by a collection of boutiques and shops with offerings that include clothing, jewelry, and vintage records.

Visit the Chinese Canadian Museum

Open Thursdays through Sundays, displays of old photographs and artifacts at the Chinese Canadian Museum in Fan Tan Alley keep the legacy of Victoria’s first Chinese immigrants alive. Through its two exhibitions, First Steps: Chinese Canadian Journeys in Victoria and Gold Mountain Dream!, visitors can retrace the arduous journey to Victoria. The museum gives insight into how this community has shaped Chinatown and beyond through stories of personal struggles, resilience, and achievement that date back to the 1850s.

Celebrate Chinese New Year

This 15-day festival generally falls between late January and late February each year (depending on the lunar calendar) and is one of Chinatown’s most vibrant celebrations. Homes and businesses are decorated with glowing lanterns and paper cutouts in red, the color of prosperity. Observe the lion dance that snakes through Chinatown, collecting red envelopes and blessing observers with good fortune by eating and spitting lettuce at them.

From Our Partners
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
More From AFAR