Walking Vancouver: The Tour Guys’ Chinatown and Strathcona Tour

Vancouver's Millennium Gate in Chinatown

Vancouver’s Millennium Gate in Chinatown; Image by Lesley Mirza

One of the best ways to really get to know a city is by getting outside and walking. And in Vancouver, due to its fabulous “walkability,” you don’t need a car to explore some of the best sights our beautiful city has to offer.

Whether you’re hoping to gain a sense of our rich history, spot our stunning architecture, learn more about a particular topic, or discover where the best grub is, we highly recommend taking a guided walking tour — and there are lots of great ones to choose from.

Each month, we lace up our über-comfy walking shoes and explore Vancouver with one of the city’s top walking tours. Last month, we learned about Vancouver’s slightly seedy past during the “prohibition” years with the popular walking tour company, Forbidden Vancouver. This month, we joined a small group of locals and tourists to explore historic Chinatown with the Tour Guys.

Tour Guys was founded by buddies, Steve Woodall and Jason Kucherawy in 2010, with city specific tours running in both Toronto and Vancouver. What sets this guided tour company apart from its competitors, is that their tours are free. Yup, no charge. The experienced and extremely entertaining guides work for tips, similar to street performers. At the end of your tour, if you’ve enjoyed their “performance,” they hope that you’ll show your appreciation of their hard work with a donation.

On a very chilly Sunday morning, we met our walking tour guide, Leni, at the Centennial Fountain outside of the Vancouver Art Gallery. A world traveller and lover of Vancouver history, Leni has been a “key” guide for the Tour Guys for four years.

When I asked where she gained all of her vast Vancouver knowledge (she’s an American who was raised in Australia), she said that she reads a lot. Two of her go-to books for background on Vancouver are Paul Yee‘s Saltwater City: Story of Vancouver’s Chinese Community and Chuck DavisHistory of Metropolitan Vancouver.

Beatty Street Murals

Leni at the Beatty Street Murals; Image by Lesley Mirza

As we walked towards Chinatown — North America’s third largest Chinatown by population, we were introduced to some fabulous street art that we didn’t know existed: The Beatty Street murals. The painted block was commissioned by the Steve Nash Foundation in 2007 and depicts many Canadian icons, such as Captain George Vancouver, Terry Fox, and surprisingly, Jimi Hendrix. Did you know that Jimi was actually raised by his grandparents in a now non-existent part of Vancouver, Hogan’s Alley, and he went to high school here?

Over the almost two-hour tour, Leni shared with us the rich history of Vancouver’s Chinatown area that began in the late 1800s with the arrival of immigrants from China to work on B.C.’s railroads and in the mines, to present day.

East Pender Street

Image by Lesley Mirza

We learned about the “Great Vancouver Fire” of 1886, that leveled the city; spotted the oldest building in Chinatown; found out that East Pender Street was previously named Dupont Street — that’s an interesting story; and explored Shanghai Alley, one of the oldest streets in the district, and was the original epicentre of Chinatown, where a series of eight panels talk to the history of the Vancouver Chinese community.

Shanghai Alley

Shanghai Alley; Image by Lesley Mirza

This tour is full of fascinating yesteryear morsels that will delight, shock, and captivate you. It’s a definite must-do.

Cost: Free (tips are gratefully accepted)
Tour length: 110 minutes
What to bring: Rain jacket and an umbrella on inclement days. In the summer, a bottle of water is a good idea.
Tip: Do use the restroom before heading off with the tour as you may not get a bathroom break.

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