Initially a collection of crude wooden huts, Victoria's Chinatown rapidly evolved into a dense neighbourhood of businesses, theatres, schools, churches, temples and a hospital. It did gain a dark reputation however, because of opium factories, gambling dens and brothels. Chinatown grew steadily over the years until its peak in 1911, at which time it occupied an area of about six city blocks in the north end of downtown Victoria. This area included two blocks of Herald Street, two blocks of Fisgard Street, and two blocks of old Cormorant Street. The block between Store Street and Government Street has since been renamed Pandora Street, and the block between Government Street and Douglas Street is now part of Centennial Square.
In 1911, Victoria's Chinatown housed 3,158 people, almost more than the entire population of downtown Victoria (including Chinatown and Harris Green) in 2001.
Victoria's Chinatown suffered a period of decline between the 1920s and the 1970s, shrinking dramatically both in size and in population. In the 1980s, significant revitalization efforts were undertaken, most notably the construction of the Gate of Harmonious Interest on Fisgard Street (at Government Street). Ongoing revitalization over the years has included the introduction of coffee shops, cafes, studios, and workshops, as well as a small condominium development in Dragon Alley.
Victoria's revitalized Chinatown is a popular area for tourists as well as for the artistic community. The focus is the 500-600 block of Fisgard Street, including famously narrow Fan Tan Alley, the old Chinese School and a small selection of historic buildings and Chinese businesses. Many historic buildings have been well preserved in Chinatown and also in the larger area it once occupied along Government Street, Herald Street, Store Street, and Pandora Avenue. The modern Chinatown continues to be a key component of Downtown Victoria with many tourist attractions, hotels, bars, restaurants, theatres, services, and shopping areas nearby. The district was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1995. It was considered as potential addition to Canada's Tentative List of nominations to become a World Heritage Site, but has yet to be nominated.
Some of the tourist attractions of Chinatown are the previously mentioned Fan Tan Alley (originally a private walkway, now home to offices and retail shops), and its ornate gate, The Gate of Harmonious Interest, which was built in Suzhou, one of Victoria's sister cities.
Many of Chinatown's most historical and important places are out of public view, like the Tam KungBuddhist Temple, which is the oldest of its kind in Canada.