Centered on Pender Street, and situated next to Gastown, Vancouver's Chinatown is the largest in Canada and one of the largest in North America. While Chinese immigrants flocked to Vancouver after the 1856 Fraser Canyon Gold Rush, the largest influx occurred between 1890 and 1920. Many of them settled in the area of Vancouver that became known as "Shanghai Alley." At one time, this one street was home to over one thousand residents. Most of the community's activities revolved around the 500 seat Sing Kew Theater located in the alley. This theater also served as a meeting hall for local service associations and political debates. Chinatown was also once known for its elaborate neon signs, but, like the rest of the city, most were lost to changing times and political regulations. The oldest school in Vancouver, the Lord Strathcona Elementary school (built in 1891), serves the Chinese community. During the years leading up to the Great Depression, there was a lot of anti-Asian sentiment running through Vancouver, resulting in regulations that saw the decline of Chinatown's infrastructure. However, over the last two decades there has been a resurgence in Asian immigration, leading to new found prosperity for this neighborhood. Following the 1986 World's Fair, known as Expo '86, the government of the People's Republic of China donated the gate that now serves as the entrance to Vancouver's Chinatown.
....plants, wood for the buildings, and even the furnishings were all imported from China.
Another iconic symbol of Vancouver's Chinatown is the "Sam Kee Building" (now known as Jack Chow Insurance). Sam Kee, one of the wealthiest persons in Chinatown, bought a standard size lot in 1903. However, nine years later, the city expropriated 24 feet of the above ground property in order to widen Pender Street, thus making the commercial use of the rest of the property impractical. As an act of rebellion against what Kee felt was anti-Asian sentiment in the city, he went ahead and built this four feet eleven inches wide (at the ground floor level) building anyway. Today, this structure is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the "...narrowest commercial building in the world." Tours are offered (for a fee, of course)of the building and the underground public baths.