the 1940s Vancouvers Chinese community was changing. The population had
declined from 13,000 in 1931 to 7,000 in 1941. The 1923 Chinese Immigration
Act of Canada had prevented any replenishing by new immigration. The economic
depression saw many Chinese returning to China. Though the population was still
mostly single men, the number of families was growing and that apparently had
an effect upon the residential centre of Chinatown. By the 1930s residents of
Shanghai and Canton Alleys were moving east of Main Street because of the crowded
conditions and health problems in the old complex. The business centre also
moved eastward to Main and Pender, as resource industry employment declined
and small businesses increased. Left behind, the Canton-Shanghai Alley complex
became only marginally a part of Chinatown. Between 1946 and 1954 the buildings
on the site were gradually demolished, to be replaced by warehouses owned by
In Chinatown a remarkable new generation was actively involved in community events and causes. A major contribution was made by the Chinese Veterans of World War II, fighting for Canada and thereby helping obtain voting rights for all Chinese.
Getting the vote also meant being able to enter previously barred professions in British Columbia, such as law, pharmacy, and accounting. This generation took advantage of these opportunities. But its education was bilingual, received in public and in Chinese schools, and many of its members retained strong interest in Chinatown. These were expressed through the Chinese schools and through theatrical and sports clubs.
The appearance of Chinese women’s organizations in the 1930s reflects the increasingly active role of Chinese women in community affairs. During Second World War Chinese Canadian women played an important and visible role as fund-raisers, often in collaboration with non-Chinese women.
The values of this generation of women are illustrated well by the Miss Queen of Cathay Contest of 1954. Though borrowed from the idea of North American type beauty pageant, this contest had other goals and methods. It was a fund-raiser for the Chinese Public School. Contestants wore Chinese dress, not bathing suits. They were not required to showcase physical attributes or personal skills. The winner was she who sold the most raffle tickets. The six contestants were strongly supported by their parents and the clan or other associations to which their families belonged. This successful contest was a community affair, with strong overtones of community service and self-help.
300 Chinese tenants are removed from several tenement buildings on Shanghai
Alley after the structures are declared unsanitary.
Chinese Canadians are called up for military service. Some are recruited
into Force 136 (a sabotage unit working in Southeast Asia), while others
are sent to Australia and India.
Chinese work in war industries and soon the Dock and Shipyard Workers
Union has 300 Chinese members and several Chinese stewards.
Racial bar against Chinese is lifted at Vancouver's Crystal Pool.
City Engineer requests the closing of Shanghai Alley - or the southern
section of it - to facilitate loading at the warehouses of Marshall
Wells (B.C.) Ltd.
Later in the year, City Hall gives the company permission to demolish
a block of long tenements and the seven-storey apartment building as
it needs that land for expansion, but not until the 200-400 aged Chinese
living there are relocated.
The Chinese Immigration Act is repealed and limited entry of wives and
children of Chinese Canadians begins.
B.C. Provincial Elections Act is amended allowing Chinese Canadians
to vote and enter previously barred professions such as pharmacy, accounting
and law. Once on the provincial voters' list, Chinese Canadians can
also vote in federal elections as Canadian citizens.
On November 29, a severe fire rips through Sing Kew Theatre, taking
four lives and causing about $40,000 damage.
The seven-storey brick apartment building at the entrance of Canton
Alley is demolished.
According to CENSUS OF CANADA, Vancouver has a Chinese population of
Jessie Lee is the first Chinese Canadian hired by the City of Vancouver.
CHINATOWN NEWS [WAH FAU JAP JI: HUA FU ZA ZHI], an English-language
magazine, is published (lasted until 1997).
Under an agreement between Marshall Wells Buildings of Canada Ltd. and
the City, Shanghai Alley will become private property.