While few physical vestiges of Nanaimo’s once thriving Chinese community remain, the story of Chinese settlement offers fascinating insight into one of Nanaimo’s oldest, and the important economic and cultural role it played in the City’s development.
Origins of Chinese Settlement in Nanaimo
Gold rushes brought many Chinese to North America in the mid-1800s; first to the United States, then to Canada. But in Nanaimo, coal was the lure, especially during the winter months when cold weather in the Province’s interior discouraged gold mining. Most of the Chinese who came to Nanaimo were from Guangdong Province (Canton delta region) and the four counties of Toi-san, Sun-wui, Hoi-ping, and Yin-ping.
Like other immigrants they followed the footsteps of countrymen or relatives seeking a better life. From the mid-1800s, population pressures, limited land opportunities, floods, famine and political instability caused many to leave despite the Chinese government’s prohibition against emigration.