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Victoria's Chinatown gate undergoing $1.4M restoration this year

Archway was part of revitalization campaign and is a symbol of Chinatown, city's first Chinese mayor says

Whether it's welcoming people to the shops and restaurants of Canada's oldest surviving Chinese community or it's featuring as a backdrop in tourist photos, the gate rising from Fisgard and Government streets has become a fixture of Victoria's Chinatown. 

But as aging sections of the four-decade-old Gate of Harmonious Interest have started to deteriorate, the landmark will receive a more than $1 million-rehabilitation this year in order to extend its life. 

The gate was erected in the early 1980s, coinciding with the decade where Victoria's Chinatown went through a revitalization campaign as similar communities in other North American cities experienced a time of struggle. 

“I think that all of the community has grown to see the gate as a symbol of Chinatown,” said Alan Lowe, Victoria's former mayor and the first of Chinese descent to hold such office. 

The master plan in the '80s included creating an archway, like the ones in other major cities' Chinese neighbourhoods, that would serve a gateway to Canada's first Chinatown, Lowe said. Now serving as the founding president of the Victoria Chinatown Museum Society, he said the gate and other Chinese cultural elements infused into the streetscape were important to the revitalization effort. 

The red and gold structure – accompanied by a pair of lion statues donated by Victoria's Chinese sister city of Suzhou – remains a picturesque feature of B.C.'s capital. 

“When you’re in Chinatown and you’re taking photographs, you always have got to get the Gate of Harmonious Interest in the background,” Lowe said. "It's become iconic in Victoria's city fabric." 

Victoria's Chinatown gate will undergo a $1.4 million restoration in 2024. . (Jake Romphf/Victoria News)

Cracking tiles led to the gate being restored back in the 1990s, and a few decades later its due for another rehabilitation. 

Victoria's budget allocates $1.46 million toward remediating the gate in 2024 as the city says the deterioration of the structure's ceramic tiles has accelerated.   

"This work will maintain the design and form of the original gate and provide a maintenance plan to preserve the heritage and quality of the asset for generations to come," a city spokesperson told Black Press Media. 

The budget states the gate's roof tiles need to be replaced with materials that will provide a similar appearance, but will be more resilient over time. The city has already procured the new tiles that are set to be installed. Some wood panels will also be refurbished, the financial plan says. 

Designated as a site of national and architectural importance, Victoria's Chinatown is not only the oldest of its kind in Canada, but it also hosts an appearance that hasn't changed drastically over time, according to the museum society. The neighbourhood features North America's largest intact cluster of Chinese buildings, the society adds. 

Last year marked a century from when the Canadian government brought in an exclusionary act that would prohibit Chinese immigration until the law was repealed in 1947. 

“It is a reflection of where we’ve come from 100 years ago to where we are today and I think that Chinatown has become a fixture in the community,” Lowe said. 

The city's former mayor says the gate and the new museum in Fan Tan Alley help showcase the history, culture and stories of Chinese Canadians. Lowe said he commonly sees older generations bringing their children and grandchildren to the museum so they can share what it was like when they were younger and reflect on the past. 

“That knowledge is very important to share with future generations.”

Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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