Awakening Chinatown festival celebrates Victoria’s unique neighbourhood

Awakening Chinatown. Photo by Krystle Schofield.
Photo credit Krystle Schofield.

Victoria’s Chinatown celebrates the history and culture of Chinese Canadians with the second annual Awakening Chinatown festival May 28 from noon to 5 pm.

Presented by the Victoria Chinatown Museum Society (VCMS) and in collaboration with the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA) and local sponsors and Chinatown businesses, the free festival honours Asian Heritage Month with an afternoon of festivities for the the whole family.

The event was conceived as a way to welcome the return of in person events after pandemic restrictions were lifted. Over 7,000 people attended, and its popularity ensured the event is now an annual one.

“Last year, thousands came out to celebrate our inaugural event. This year’s celebration promises to be even bigger, so we are very excited to see even more of our community come together once again,” said Grace Wong Sneddon, Chair of VCMS.

“The VCMS is committed to fostering learning about the Chinese community, its living history and dynamic culture through the creation of a museum. Awakening Chinatown is just one more way we can achieve our mandate to educate and engage our community at large.”

A sanctuary within the city, Victoria’s Chinatown has an impressive legacy spanning over 160 years. Designated as a National Historic Site, the neighbourhood has the unique distinction of being the oldest Chinatown in Canada and while it is the second established in North America after San Francisco, it is the most architecturally true.

Victoria’s Chinatown has managed to remain authentically intact, while San Francisco’s Chinatown unfortunately fell victim to earthquake and fire in 1906 and was subsequently rebuilt with tourism in mind.

Awakening Chinatown. Photo by Krystle Schofield.
Photo credit Krystle Schofield.

However, as Robert Fung, VCMS Vice-Chair notes, while the history is tangible, Victoria’s Chinatown is not locked in time. Fung has been dedicated to preserving the historical integrity of the area’s buildings, while also planning for its future development.

“There are still plenty of opportunities for Chinatown to evolve and grow in ways that reveal even more of its magic that has been hidden from public view in intervening decades. Awakening Chinatown gives our community a chance to rediscover this beautiful part of our city. From its eye-catching architecture to its amazing eateries, there is something for everyone to explore.”

Awakening Chinatown festivities begin at noon with the Dotting of the Eyes ceremony to “awaken the lions” – a symbolic awakening of Chinatown itself.

As the lively Lion Parade travels the neighbourhood to bring good fortune and prosperity to all, on the main stage visitors can enjoy a wide variety of entertainment, including traditional martial arts and lion dancing by the Wong Sheung Kung Fu Club, and performances by traditional children and adult Chinese dance troupes, Asian opera singers, Happy Drum Group, Victoria Society of Chinese Performing Arts – Evergreen (Senior’s) Choir, the all Asian drag review House of Rice from Vancouver, Sunshine Fitness, magician Justin Louie and the Victoria Chinese Opera Club.

To accommodate the expanded celebration, Fisgard Street will be temporarily closed between Store and Government Streets, allowing guests to take in all the sights and sounds that Chinatown has to offer.

Event organizers are also encouraging attendees to help provide a visual diary of the festival, tagging Chinatown photos on Instagram with @chinatownyyj and #awakeningchinatown2023.

The Victoria Chinatown Museum Society was formed in 2020 to honour the history, culture and contribution of Chinese Canadians. Its goal is to develop a permanent museum that shares the stories of the Chinese Canadians who helped build Victoria into the city it is today, and to enhance the unique tourism experience visitors to Victoria’s Chinatown enjoy.

To learn more about Awakening Chinatown, visit