Fan Tan Alley
Between Pandora Fisgard streets
Just half a block from the golden lions of the Gates of Harmonious Interest lays Fan Tan Alley, the very heart of Canada’s oldest Chinatown. The high brick walls of this site have been deeply etched with the rich cultural history of North America’s immigrant Chinese.
The alleyway’s weather-worn red bricks have remained almost unchanged since Chinatown’s earliest times. Fan Tan Alley is tight and narrow -- just five feet wide in places -- but its looming walls stretch three towering stories above the street giving the impression of a deep chasm. The proprietors of the gambling operations and opium dens that used to reside here must have found its cramped and compact character perfectly suited to their nefarious activities.
Perhaps the most authentic examples of Chinatown’s past can be discovered at the end of Fan Tan Alley. The labyrinthine passages of The Chinatown Trading Company are an excellent illustration of the crowded, maze-like pattern utilized so often in this neighbourhood. Almost immediately after stepping into the dark shop though the alley side door, you will notice a historical display containing a collection of original artifacts ranging from opium pipes and ointments, to dice and dominos. Another nearby exhibit offers a glimpse of a 1920's gambling operation as it would have appeared in its day. In addition to these ‘not-for-sale’ historical items, the winding passageways of The Trading Co. are stocked with countless miscellanea such as wooden fans, bamboo furniture, incense and even prayer bells.
The rest of Fan Tan Alley is populated by half a dozen cozy little shops that would appeal to any inquisitive traveller. Nestled in one corner you will find a fine collection of military books, photos and other memorabilia at Victory Gate Militaria or you can discover hard-to-find CDs, tapes and LPs at The Turntable or Galliard Music. Equally intriguing is the funky, vintage clothing of Heart’s Content and eclectic instruments of DragonSong Music Co.
It would be nearly impossible to find a more authentic or compelling piece of Chinese history anywhere in Canada.
From the Inner Harbour walk North on Wharf or Government to Pandora Street just past the big, blue Johnson Street Bridge.
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