Video by Hawkins Media for the Chilliwack Museum and Archives
Informant: Dr. Chad Reimer, author of Chilliwack’s Chinatowns (Chinese Canadian Historical Society of British Columbia, 2011)
Location: Chilliwack, British Columbia
Dr. Chad Reimer describes some of the fires that contributed the decline of Chilliwack’s once-flourishing Chinese community.
A title card is shown displaying the title “Chinatown Fires” and a newspaper headline reading “Chinatown Mass of Ruins as Early Morning Blaze Destroys Eight Buildings”.
In November of ’21, during a snowstorm, fire broke out in Chinatown North.
A black and white photo of the smouldering ruins of Chinatown North is shown.
These houses are straight wood, I mean, and they went up fast. The two large buildings that would have served as stores and boarding houses; so forth. Now, the Chinese Times, which was the newspaper for the Chinese language newspaper in Vancouver; the Chinese Times had a different story of course, and they even talked about how the Chinese consul, the diplomatic representative, went out to Chilliwack to check on, you know, thinking this was a fire that was set. Nobody was convicted for it, even though they did have an arrest. Now if this had been a one off, you could have said “well okay, you know maybe the guy didn’t set it, maybe it was an accident”, then, you know, it wouldn’t have been too puzzling or disturbing.
The previous photo is shown again next to part of a newspaper clipping about the fire.
Then in 1932, large fire, you know like just a-; the first devastating fire that wiped out all of the building on one, one side, and it, on one side of the Masonic hall. Now the, the Chinese reinvested, rebuilt that side, and including the Masonic hall. What was lost; there were no lives lost but what was lost were the records that had been in the Masonic hall, which we might have been able to access as historians.
A clipping of the same newspaper headline as in the title card is shown again.
Two years later, 1934, another fire which destroyed all of the buildings on the other side, and half of the buildings on, on; all the buildings on the west side and half the buildings on the east. The official story was that in the back of one of the, the, the stores at three in the morning. This was in August, you had some Chinese borders sleeping, you know it’s summer, nice and warm. They had a fire going overnight and it got out of hand and burnt the whole thing. If I was sleeping in August in Chilliwack, I don’t think I’d need a fire through the middle of the night. So, it was quite possibly, verging on probably, that it was an intentional fire. That was the last straw for most of them.