Victoria’s Chinatown was once the largest in Canada. It was the main port of entry for all of British Columbia before Vancouver finally became bigger in the late 1890s. Chinese called Victoria Dai Fao, literally meaning “big port”. Chinatown was home for many Chinese who travelled seasonally to the Interior gold regions, coastal salmon canneries and logging camps. In the winter, they returned to Victoria to spend their hard earned money. The proprietors of Chinatown’s stores, tea houses, gambling dens, opium parlours, theatres and brothels always welcomed the men and their cash. Travelling Cantonese opera companies were one of the favourite winter attractions.
Chinese New Year in January or February was a highlight, with firecrackers and a lion dance to help celebrate the 15-day festival. Hopefully, the men saved enough money to send some home to support their families in China. Once the weather improved the men left Dai Fao to return to their places of work. And the cycle started all over again.
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