Fan Tan Alley exhibit connects Victoria visitors with history of Canada’s oldest Chinatown

Tzu-I Chung, curator of the exhibit, explains the history of Fan Tan Alley and points to a map from 1891. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)
Alan Lowe, chair of Victoria Chinatown Museum Society and a member of the board of directors for the Chinese Canadian Museum, says he hopes this exhibit will help lead to Victoria’s own Chinese Canadian Museum. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)

A new pop-up exhibit in Fan Tan Alley aims to connect passersby to the history of the area.

The exhibit features a map from 1891 that highlights Fan Tan Alley, also known as “the bank street,” as an economic centre that connected the trans-Pacific trade to the interior. During this time, the opium trade was still legal and brought the city “a lot of revenue at the time,” according to Tzu-I Chung, curator of the exhibit.

Across from the map, is a digital showcase of a handmade lantern that was displayed at the Chinese Freemason’s headquarters – which is one of the oldest Chinese organizations in the country, dating back to 1863 – in Victoria and likely at local Lantern Festivals during the 1930s and 1940s.

READ ALSO: New exhibit at Point Ellice House examines history of waste, water and privilege

“[The lantern] is based on this very, very old – thousands of years old – way of heating up from below and then using that heat to make the plate revolve,” explains Chung, emphasizing the craftsmanship needed to connect the moving parts of the lantern.

Chung says the goal of the exhibit is to make people stop and think about the connection of that place to the history, along with seeing the amazing art and crafts from that time. The lantern is in a digital format because it is extremely fragile and not in a condition to be on display for long periods of time.

READ ALSO: History app uses ‘then and now’ photographs of Victoria

On July 16, the province announced a $10 million investment to establish the first Chinese Canadian Museum in the country, which will include a provincial hub located in Vancouver Chinatown, along with multiple regional hubs.

Alan Lowe, chair of Victoria Chinatown Museum Society and a member of the board of directors for the Chinese Canadian Museum, says he hopes this exhibit will lead “us to our own Chinese Canadian Museum in the oldest Chinatown in the country.”

“This [exhibit] will give people a taste of what the quality of exhibits will be like in our future museum, which will hopefully be established in the near future,” he says, although it’s hard to say exactly when that could be. “A this point we’re working on a business plan, and then we’ll be looking at how we raise the funds.”

Chung wants the exhibit to help see the anti-Asian racism that was felt and the reasoning for Chinese people getting there start in that neighbourhood.

She explains how back in the 1800s, the Johnson Street bridge was a ravine just outside of Fort Victoria, and because of discrimination, Chinese people settled outside of the fort.

“This type of small exhibit is a beginning, we’re really hoping that we can share more stories where you can actually understand people’s struggles,” she says.

The exhibit officially opens on July 24.


 

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