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When East Meets West: Chinese New Year in Vancouver

Ring in the year of the dragon and experience the best of Chinese culture

By Kristina Urquhart

The grounds at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Photo by KK Law

Think big. That’s our advice for the auspicious year of the dragon, which kicks off Jan. 23 and lasts until Feb. 9, 2013. Dragons are symbols of power, good fortune and lofty ideas—and the world could use some of each after being encouraged to pause and reflect during the peaceful year of the rabbit in 2011.

The Chinese New Year adheres to a lunar and solar calendar and usually falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice; what follows are days of decorating, exchanging gifts and passing lucky red money packets. The festivities culminate in the spectacular two-hour Chinese New Year Parade on Jan. 29, which starts at the ornate Millennium Gate, an imposing entrance to North America’s third-largest Chinatown. Expect to see colourful lion dances and martial arts demonstrations making their way through the red-lamppost-lined neighbourhood.

While in Chinatown, stop for a photo at the Sam Kee Building, the world’s narrowest commercial building with a base measuring only 1.5 m (4.9 ft) wide. Nearby, the high walls of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden ensconce a replica of a Ming Dynasty scholar’s residence and courtyard—so authentic that National Geographic recently named this urban oasis one of the world’s top 10 city gardens.

For other ways to welcome the dragon, take part in the Cultural Fair at Sun Yat-Sen Plaza on Jan. 28 to 29, where traditional performances get you into the New Year’s spirit. CIBC’s LunarFest lights up the nights from Feb. 1 to 5 with lantern displays and concerts, and several Asian malls including Aberdeen Centre and Parker Place feature live music and dancers from Jan. 22 to Feb. 9. The International Buddhist Temple, Canada’s largest, hosts a flower market from Jan. 20 to 22.

Gung Hay Fat Choy!
Happy New Year!

Performers at Chinatown's Chinese New Year Parade. Photo by Tom Ryan courtesy Tourism BC


  • We can’t resist hunting for these items in Chinatown:
  • Trinkets and souvenirs at Bamboo Village
  • Antique curio cabinets and screens at furniture emporium Peking Lounge
  • Traditional silk wear at Ochi
  • Loose-leaf tea and terracotta teapots at Treasure Green Tea Co.

Condé Nast Traveler rated Metro Vancouver’s Chinese cuisine the best outside China. Dining options abound in both Chinatown and Richmond, a quick SkyTrain ride away, where Asians make up over 65 per cent of the population. Expect traditional New Year feasts at most Chinese restaurants during the festival period, including a variety show and dinner at 1,000-seat Floata Seafood Restaurant on Jan. 29. We sharpen our chopsticks for these local eateries:

  • Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant, for dim sum
  • Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie, for flavourful small plates and the ever-changing fried rice
  • Wild Rice, for modern Chinese dishes
  • Jade Seafood Restaurant, for both traditional favourites and Western-inspired items
  • Kirin Restaurant, for elegant dining and elaborate set menus

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