Inside Chinatown: Ancient Culture in a New World
November 4, 2013
Review By Larry Wong
This book is like an open house for all benevolent and family associations to Victoria’s Chinatown, the oldest in Canada. The reader is introduced to each society and its purpose, through many photographs, some never before published, and histories in both English and Chinese.
The founding of the societies is integral to the history of Chinese in Canada, as is shown very well in this book. The societies were set up to help newly arrived immigrants. In general, the benevolent and family associations were meant to help new immigrants from China in the twentieth century, such as the Hook Sin Tong Charity Association, the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, and the Lee Association.
Later, service clubs such as the Lions Club and the Chinatown Intermediate Care Centre came into being. Politics also played an important role in the establishment of the Chinese Young Men’s Progressive Party and the Chinese Canadian Cultural Association. There were also martial arts clubs such as the Sheung Wong Kung-Fu Club and the Dart Coon Club; for the ladies there were the Lung Kong Women’s Association, the Victoria Chinese Ladies Club, and the Chinatown Lioness Club.
Nods are given to outstanding individuals who helped shape Victoria’s Chinatown, such as David Lai, Kileasa Wong, and Alan Lowe, the former mayor of Victoria. But Jack and Bessie Tang, who contributed so much to Chinese opera in Victoria, are not mentioned.
It may have been outside the book’s scope, but I would have liked to have seen mention of the Mission Home for Girls, which became an orphanage, a school, and a safe haven for Chinese girls in the early twentieth century.
Though the book focuses on Victoria’s Chinatown, the stories of the societies apply to any Chinatown in Canada. In fact, some societies’ headquarters moved to Vancouver early last century. This shift led to the growth of Vancouver’s Chinatown, which explains the bond between the two communities of Victoria and Vancouver.