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Chinatown North

Chinatown North was Chilliwack’s first Chinatown. Located in downtown Chilliwack around the Five Corners intersection, Chinese merchants began operating businesses in the area as early as 1882. Over the next two decades, the Chinese community grew and established businesses that offered the local populations a variety of goods and services. From groceries and restaurants, to laundry services and boarding houses, Chinese-operated businesses expanded north along Young Street.

Detail of a black and white street map of downtown Chilliwack marked with 3 coloured letters (A, B, and E) and 5 coloured boxes that indicate Chinese ownership.

Map altered with teal coloured letters and lots to show ten businesses, including a general store, owned by Chinese merchants in downtown Chilliwack in 1920. 
Chilliwack Museum and Archives, Map 132.

These businesses, established by merchants such as Young Duck Let and Ng Shai Han, were based out of narrow, wood-framed buildings. The area became a thriving centre for Chilliwack’s Chinese community and soon, a distinct neighbourhood, Chinatown North, emerged.

Black and white postcard of Westminster Street in Chilliwack, British Columbia. Street lined with two story buildings with church in background.

Westminster Street (today Yale Road East), looking west to Five Corners, c. 1900. 
Chilliwack Museum and Archives, PP500583

In 1886, Tom Lung Tai opened the first recorded Chinese-run laundry in Chilliwack and his employee, Fook Yuen Ah, did laundry for “half the town” according to The Chilliwack Progress in 1898. Shops opened by Chinese migrants often involved low initial investment and could employ many Chinese labourers at low cost while the growing Chinese population provided ready demand for their services.

Between 1908 and the 1930s, Chinese-operated businesses accounted for nearly 10% of the registered businesses in Chilliwack, many based out of Chinatown North. To learn more about the businesses in Chinatown North, listen to an 1983 interview between retired logger William Franklin Bradshaw and the Chilliwack Museum and Historical Society’s Neil Grainger.

Audio clip with transcript. 

A devastating fire in Chinatown North in 1921 resulted in the deaths of three people and the destruction of various Chinese shops. As a result of the fire, many Chinese residents left Chinatown North and shops belonging to impacted Chinese entrepreneurs were not rebuilt.

A newspaper clipping from the Chilliwack Progress discussing the 1921 Chinatown fire

Headline of article from The Chilliwack Progress: “Three Burn to Death in Monday Night’s Fire,” November 29, 1921.