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Tucked away on the east side of downtown Vancouver lies Canada’s largest Chinatown, a neighborhood that was once the settlement of choice for 19th- and 20th-century Chinese immigrants. There, in addition to Asian grocery stores, herbal remedy shops and clan houses (early Chinatown buildings that belong to Chinese associations), visitors will also find a variety of businesses they might not expect. Due to low rent costs and a central location, Chinatown is attracting bold entrepreneurs who are opening edgy shops and fusion restaurants, in addition to residential developments.
For clients who are interested in Chinatown’s history and culture, it’s a good idea to arrange a tour with a true insider.
“You can visit the new shops and restaurants on your own, but Vancouver’s Chinatown is a national and provincial historical site with a culture that runs deep,” said Judy Lam Maxwell, owner and guide of Historical Chinatown Tours. “My tours take people to places they couldn’t see on their own, such as inside clan houses and to other locations to learn about Vancouver’s Chinese population.”
A Vancouver-born Chinese-Canadian with a master’s degree in Chinese-Canadian history and the Chinese diaspora, Lam Maxwell has strong ties to Chinatown. Though there’s no denying that new developments have breathed life into the neighborhood, she’s concerned that too much change might cause the neighborhood to lose some of the cultural value that makes it so special.
It’s a delicate balance to strike, but for now, it seems to be working. The best part about this eclectic fusion of old and new is that visitors and residents alike are rediscovering one of Vancouver’s most historical neighborhoods — and they’re loving it.
EXPLOREHeritage: Arrange a behind-the-scenes heritage tour with Historical Chinatown Tours’ Judy Lam Maxwell to learn about Canada’s largest Chinatown. Afterward, visit Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden to let your heart and mind relax.
Hip: View the latest exhibition at Rennie Collection, which is located inside Chinatown’s oldest building, Wing Sang, and is one of the largest collections of contemporary art in Canada. Curated by philanthropist Bob Rennie, Rennie Collection focuses on works related to identity, social injustice and appropriation. To visit, make an appointment for a free guided tour.
EAT AND DRINKHeritage: Try Asian-fusion casual dining at Sai Woo, or join the locals for garlic chicken wings and butter beef at Phnom Penh, a popular Vietnamese-Cambodian restaurant.
Hip: For an interesting take on a classic cocktail, as well as live burlesque on select evenings, visit The Keefer Bar. The swanky establishment was one of the first spots in the city to offer apothecary-style cocktails. Dine at one of the neighborhood’s funky new restaurants, such as the Cascadian-inspired Juniper, or Kissa Tanto, the best Japanese-Italian fusion restaurant in the city.
www.junipervancouver.com www.kissatanto.com www.thekeeferbar.com
SHOPHeritage: Check out the unique products for sale in the area’s many Chinese grocery stores and herbal remedy shops.
Hip: Buy a pair of limited-edition kicks at Livestock, a trendy sneaker store, or explore vintage motorcycle culture at The Shop Vancouver.