The dragon danced in the rain this weekend at the annual Chinese Lunar New Year parade. It was appropriate because this was the celebration for the year of the water dragon. In spite of the icy drizzle, the streets of Chinatown were crowded with spectators who came to enjoy the festivities. Lions performed their good luck rituals in front of merchant’s shops and exploding firecrackers filled the street with clouds of smoke.
I found a good vantage point near the Chinatown Gateway across from the notorious Shanghai Alley. The vantage point had some nostalgia for me, because on that corner is the Sam Kee Building which Ripley titled “the world’s narrowest building’ where, back in the 1950’s my husband and I were invited to celebrate the Chinese New Years with the proprietor and his friends. At that time it was a jewelry shop with living quarters above, barely wide enough for a sofa in the main room and under Pender street in the proprietor’s rec room tables were set up with mahjong games and expensive bottles of whiskey. I’ve never forgotten that fascinating evening.
Sam Kee Building
Vancouver has one of the largest Chinatowns in North America. Besides the many fascinating shops there are many designated heritage buildings and intriguing stories behind the history of this area. The Millennium Chinatown Gateway entrance across Pender St. was built as a testament to the early Chinese's struggles and triumphs.
The Lunar New Year parade is a colourful display of the Chinese culture from the lion and dragon dances, traditional performances believed to scare off evil spirits and summon good fortune. Colourful flags fluttered above the parade of men and beautiful young women dressed in traditional costumes. A variety of bands played, from bag-pipes to a Chinese youth marching band and Vancouver’s familiar Carnival Band decked out in funny costumes. Red envelopes filled with candy were handed out to the bystanders, a tribute to the lei see, traditionally filled with money and given out on holidays as a sign of blessing.
Vancouver has one of North America’s largest Chinese communities. In the late 1890's early Chinese immigrants settled in an area known as Shanghai Alley and Canton Alley. These two alleys were the site of a vibrant nightlife, an opera house, shopping and political and cultural activities. A panel featuring some prominent Chinese people and places depicts the history of the alleys. The West Han Dynasty Bell, unearthed in Guangzhou, China in 1983 is located in Shanghai Alley. The bell, weighing just under a tonne, was a gift from the City of Guangzhou to Vancouver in honour of the 15th anniversary of the twinning of the two cities.
At the turn of the 20th century, Chinatown prospered as Chinese merchants invested in property extending Chinatown east along Pender St. to Gore St. Today the “Silk Road Route” is marked clearly with colourful banners and road signs making it easy for a self-guided walking tour. You’ll see some interesting heritage buildings along the route. At the end of Keefer and Columbia streets the Monument of Canadian Chinese has been erected to commemorate historic achievements of Canadian Chinese.
Although most of today's Chinese residents live outside of the downtown core, Chinatown's centre is still a busy, interesting hub, situated around the Chinese Cultural Centre on Pender Street marked by a beautiful arch. Be sure and visit the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park and Gardens located just behind the cultural centre.
There’s a lot of interesting stores where you can browse, buy souvenirs and even purchase Chinese antiques. To celebrate the New Year the shops were gaily decked in red and gold banners and lanterns. There’s an abundance of traditional Chinese medicine shops, grocery stores with colourful arrays of veggies, herbs, dried fish, fresh poultry, meat and seafood, tea shops and bakeries.
Ladies riding horses
The rain didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for this annual event. After the parade ended my friend and I went into the shopping mall and warmed up with a bowl of hot soup at the food court. The parade crowd moved indoors too and filled the mall, where entertainment was provided on a small stage. The Chinese New Years celebrations had started a week ago and ended this weekend with the annual parade. Even the grey skies didn’t stop people from flocking to Chinatown to enjoy this fun multicultural event.
Gung Hay Fat Choy: Happy New Year!