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Awakening Chinatown festival to celebrate Victoria's Chinese community

The Gates of Harmonious Interest in Victoria’s Chinatown as seen on May 23, 2023. (CTV News) 

The Gates of Harmonious Interest in Victoria’s Chinatown as seen on May 23, 2023. (CTV News)

The history, culture and traditions of Greater Victoria’s Chinese community will be celebrated in Canada’s oldest Chinatown on Sunday.

The Awakening Chinatown festival showcases the important contributions made to Canada and B.C. by Victoria’s Chinese community for more than 160 years. This is the second year the Victoria Chinese Museum Society (VCMS) has hosted the one-day festival in Victoria’s Chinatown.

The group says the festival is an opportunity to share the culture and stories of Victoria’s Chinese community as it celebrates Asian Heritage Month. It also highlights the struggle that was endured by Chinese immigrants as they made a new home in B.C.

“The history and stories of these people are deeply embedded in the larger story of British Columbia,” said VCMS chair Dr. Grace Wong Sneddon. “The VCMS is passionate to share these stories through the lens of Victoria’s Chinatown, a place that we believe is a living museum.”

Wong Sneddon says the streets and buildings of Canada’s oldest Chinatown help to tell the history of Canada’s Chinese community. She says it is important to recognize that the story of the Chinese community in Victoria is not just one story.

“It is important to recognize that we are more than the railway worker, the gold miner or the restaurant owner,” said Wong Sneddon. “We want to share about who we were then and who we are today.”

From the eye-dotting ceremony to wake the lion to traditional demonstrations of dance and song, the festival highlights the Chinese culture and the people that helped to make Victoria what it is today.

“We really believe in our unique identities,” said Wong Sneddon. “This is the area that our ancestors came. They flourished, they struggled, but they resisted and we are here because of their hard work and their sacrifice.”

The free event kicks off at noon at the corner of Fisgard and Government streets with the traditional dotting of the eye ceremony to awaken the lions and runs until 5 p.m. The lion parade will then travel through the neighbourhood to awaken Chinatown and bring good fortune and prosperity to all.

On the festival’s main stage, festival-goers can enjoy a variety of entertainment, from traditional martial arts by the Wong Sheung Kung Fu Club to Asian opera singers and Victoria’s Happy Drum Group. There will also be a performance by the Victoria Society of Chinese Performing Arts Evergreen seniors choir and an Asian drag review by Vancouver’s House of Rice.

“We, as Chinese Canadians, are an evolving culture and we are learning and growing as we live our lives in Canada so we are not the one story that we get painted with in popular culture,” said Wong Sneddon. “Chinatown is a really fun place to visit and we encourage people to come and revitalize it and see the little gems that it offers.”

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