Third Chinatown

The Third Chinatown (1908 – 1960)

He walked uphill a mile or so, crossed the railway tracks and continued until he came to Pine Street. A makeshift fence stretched across the street, and in front of a gate was a city sign: ‘No Thoroughfare’ . . . Pavement turned to dirt, and as he crested the hill, Chinatown lay before him. Pine Street ran another two hundred or so feet before it ended in a dead end at the edge of the bluff. The street looked like the set of a western movie. It was lined on either side with unpainted one- and two-story wood-frame buildings, some with false fronts, all with overhanging balconies that sagged and careened. The entire scene was bleached by the sun.

Excerpt from Denise Chong’s, The Concubine’s Children

By 1911, Nanaimo’s third Chinatown was well established, with buildings on both sides of Pine Street. The community had a population of approximately 1,500 which would swell on weekends when Chinese workers came from surrounding areas to socialize and purchase supplies. The City’s non-Chinese population also frequented Chinatown for commercial and entertainment purposes.

The population and economic vitality of the Pine Street Chinatown waned in the early 1920s due to a decline in the coal industry and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923. The area became increasingly derelict until it was destroyed by fire on September 30th, 1960. By this time the majority of the population had dispersed throughout Nanaimo or relocated to larger Chinese communities in Canada and the United States.

Chinatown was considered a ‘ghetto’ in the small town. We were put in one place, and we didn’t come out of that place because that’s where we were supposed to stay. . . . we learned to stay within our own little Chinatown area. We lived on one street with Chinese people all around us.

Excerpt from Jin Guo (Jean Lumb – reflecting on growing up in the Third Chinatown)

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