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Yale Chinatown in about 1885. (BC Archives: c-00709)
The east end of Front and Douglas streets was Chinatown.

The Chinese were among the earliest visitors to Yale. Many worked as labourers, but also some merchants saw the great opportunity in supplying the miners:

Chinese immigration to British Columbia began in 1858, with miners from California making their way to the new gold fields. Soon after, Chinese began immigrating directly from the Kwangtung area of China.2
On Lee House - Documentary History
Click to read more.
Some immediately commenced mining, while others went into service occupations such as laundering, cooking, and market gardening. In the towns and settlements that developed the Chinese banded together in their own communities to provide mutual support and assistance, and to allow them to retain much of their own customs and culture. (Linda J. Eversole. On Lee House - Documentary History. p. 2).

Mary Kai Kee
Mary Kai Kee, wife of a wealthy Yale merchant, Kai Kee.

The Chinese community was well established and provided many services.

Chinatown was self sufficient. The area east of Regent street contained buildings and gardens. One must try to imagine how it was at the time, where "the foreign tongue is one constant sound" (Inland Sentinel. June 17, 1880, p.2.). The Chinese merchants were prominent in Yale, as they had regular contact with more than just the Chinese population. During the boom caused by railway construction in the 1880s, a report on Chinese immigration in 1885 counted a total of 116 people: 100 labourers, 7 store employees, 2 prostitutes, 1 doctor, and 6 merchants. (Sessional Papers. "Report of the Royal Commission on Chinese Immigration".)

Chinatown flourished for many years, and pieces of buildings still remain.

In Yale today, there is very little left in the Chinatown area. Ruins of fireproof vaults are all that remain. The heavy metal doors which were shipped from San Francisco still lie near them.

Vault door Present day Chinese vaults
Door originally from San Francisco. Ruins of the Chinese vaults as they look today.

A prominent merchant's house endured for over 100 years. Visit the On Lee house page to learn more.

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Last updated 31 August 1998.
This digital collection was produced under contract to Canada's Digital Collections Program, Industry Canada.
Produced by Canada's Digital Collections Team.