Through the Gate of Harmonious Interest

By Shanna Baker

Photo: Ken Seabrook

Victoria’s historic Chinatown—Canada’s oldest—is just a few short blocks from our editorial offices, and when I need a break, my feet often lead me there. Once I step through the ornate Gate of Harmonious Interest, I feel like I’ve escaped to a different time and place: red silk lanterns sway overhead, incense spices the air, and the quirky little shops of Fan Tan Alley—said to be North America’s narrowest street—invite exploration.

Today I’m joined by local chef and tour guide Les Chan. He sums up the appeal of the area for me as we walk the streets together. “There’s all the history and mystique of old Chinatown, but it’s just such an inclusive environment,” he says as we squeeze through Dragon Alley and join the throng of people on Fisgard Street. “Everyone is welcome here.”

Gone are the gambling dens and opium factories of the early 20th century. Today, East meets West in this tiny Chinatown: amid produce markets, herbalists, restaurants, and traditional gift shops, there’s a modern mix of galleries, stores, studios, and cafes.

Soft neon restaurant signs blink as we dodge the racks of postcards and brocade clothing that spill onto the sidewalk. A chef slices barbecue pork in a window as diners wait to be served. And it’s shoulder to shoulder in the produce markets.

Chan is enthusiastic about the quality of the fruits and vegetables sold in these markets, and he identifies some of them for me outside one of the stores—tender baby bok choy, bitter melon, dragon fruit, and durian, or “stinky fruit.” (“Tastes heavenly, but trust me, you’ll want to open it outside,” he says.)

For a taste of Chinatown in Vancouver and Richmond, turn to our feature story, “Behind the lion’s mask” (page 18). Follow writer Daniel Wood as he goes behind the scenes of Chinese New Year—into the practice halls, private residences, and temples—as families in the Lower Mainland prepare to welcome the New Year.

Family gatherings are central to the celebration of Chinese New Year, and food is a major part of the festivities. As you’ll learn from the article, ingredients are chosen at Chinese New Year for their symbolic meaning, shape, or colour. Click here to read about my experience preparing a New Year’s dish with a chef in Victoria’s Chinatown.

With this issue, we also hope to whet your appetite for adventure. Join Steve Ogle as he and four friends ski the barren volcanic landscape of Mount Edziza Provincial Park; tour the Salish Sea with Bruce Obee; then descend into the chilly underground world of Nakimu Caves with Frances Backhouse.

Speaking of our contributors, I wanted to tell you that we recently won nine International Regional Magazine Association awards for our 2010 editorial features, including Gold for J.B. MacKinnon’s “Island survivor” article (Summer 2010) and Silver for Isabelle Groc’s “Orca encounters” (Fall 2010). Congratulations to all of our contributors and staff.

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Christine Ly

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