The enigmatic riddle that is Vancouver's Chinatown has of late been unraveling in a decidedly un-chinese turn - the invisible knots of clandestine activities, the blank doors of self-protectionist secret dens, the survival commerce of basic needs, the resourceful stealth of a long marginalized and ill-treated race have all been slowly dissolving in the face of changing demographics and rising property value.
The Chinatown of old that had bordered on a swamp and been ghettoized in hostile restriction to a few square blocks grew inwards and upwards in ways that slyly mocked the building bylaws - what is not seen did not exist was the modus operandi.
Over a hundred years since its beginnings, while revealing a quaint and half-heartedly presentable face to tourists, there are still hidden layers to be found even as erosion due to age and neglect has continued. One such esoteric zone has long been obscured by a loss of customers and the lack of will to take it back from the drug dealers and addicts who scuttle in the shadows.
Market Alley was once a thriving collusion of a laneway between East Pender and East Hastings Streets and stretching two blocks from Carrall Street to Main Street, comprising of opium factories [the entrance of one such was at No. 34], gambling dens, covert restaurants, and assorted tinsmiths, tailors and shoemakers.
I recently joined a walking tour of this still grimy yet curious alley to learn more about Chinatown's guarded history and below are some of what caught my excitable savage eye [albeit in the safety of a group]...
[the smidgen of leftover green paint indicates where the infamous Green Door Restaurant was located - the Green Door had been a gambling den that also fed its denizens and eventually became a cheap and popular insider's chinese restaurant for the young and the stomach-hardy in the 1960's-80's]
[The Chinatown walking tour was led by John Atkin through the Vancouver Heritage Foundation]