the economic history of Canada

the economic history of Canada


GROUP NAME: Instructor GROUP MEMBERS: Christopher Willmore SITE: Chinese Hospital, 555 Herald Street RESEARCH QUESTION: Why did Chinatown build its own hospital?

PUBLIC WRITE-UP (449 words) Before moving to its current home in 1899, the ‘Chinese Hospital’ was a wooden hut on Fisgard street where poor, sick Chinese men were given rice, a bench and a blanket to wait out their illness. Recovery was rare, and local journalists referred to it as the ‘Chinese Death House’. The Fraser Valley gold rush, which lasted from 1858 to 1863, brought many Chinese immigrants to Victoria, as did construction of the first railways in British Columbia. When the gold ran out and the railways were finished, many immigrants found themselves out of a job and unprepared to face Canadian winters. The Chinese business community of Victoria established a Benevolent Society in 1884. One of its goals was to build a free hospital to take care of the needy sick. The wooden hut, or ‘Taipingfang’ (Peaceful Room) was their first attempt, and it soon became clear that it was not enough. Both the City of Victoria and the Chinese community wanted Chinatown to have its own culturally sensitive care. Victoria had its hospitals, but the staff spoke only English, and Chinese immigrants were unfamiliar with Western Medicine. Dealing with Chinese patients was difficult for English speakers. Frustrated, many of the sickest and oldest Chinese would go back to China for treatment. A proper Chinese hospital was finally built at the turn of the century. It was paid for by charging two dollars to every person who returned to China. After World War I, this source of funding dried up as Vancouver took over as the port of choice for Chinese immigrants. By 1930, the hospital owed more taxes than it could pay, and the City of Victoria took ownership of the building.


Even with government subsidies, it was challenging for the Chinese Hospital to provide the expected quality of care. Over the next few decades, control of the hospital changed from the Benevolent Association, to Victoria’s chief medical officer, and a ‘Chinese Community Hospital Society of Victoria’ in 1961. No one questioned that Chinatown needed its own care facility, but attempts to reinvent the hospital as a convalescent home, private hospital and community care centre all struggled. Renewal came in 1982. The same year that ‘E.T.’ thrilled audiences around the world, the Chinatown Care Centre was built with funding from the Ministry of Health. The immigrants of the 19th century had settled and integrated into Canadian society, and their Canadian-born children were fluent in English. This allowed a move away from acute care, which could be obtained at the Royal Jubilee and Victoria General hospitals, and toward long-term elder care. Today, the Victoria Chinatown Care Centre provides Chinese-language, culturally sensitive care to up to 30 residents at a time.

TECHNICAL WRITE-UP (584 Words) The history of the Chinese Hospital can be seen as the result of the constrained maximization of community health. Community health may be produced by Chinese health care, Western health care, or sick people leaving the community. The budget constraint is determined by exit fees, fund-raisers and city/provincial subsidies. The input mix varies as time goes by in response to changes in income, relative prices and the substitutability of inputs (due to ‘technological’ change). The Chinese community in Victoria is subject to a budget constraint that has changed over time in magnitude and regularity. In 1884, a $2 one-time Benevolent Association (CCBA) ‘foundation fee’ was used to pay for a Taipingfang on Fisgard Street. The same fee was used to pay for everything else in the CCBA, and the high opportunity cost of using these funds led to a ‘hospital’ that was little more than a wooden hut, wooden benches, a few blankets, and rice.


In 1893, a caretaker was added to provide herbal medicine, clean up and cart away bodies. This is consistent with an increased budget due to an increased Chinese population. After 1899, funding for continuing operations was obtained via a 2-dollar fee collected from any Chinese person leaving Victoria for China. This allowed operation of a permanent hospital on Herald Street. As alternatives to Victoria (e.g. Vancouver) opened up in the 1920s, and less people make the trip to China, this source of funding dried up. From 1920 onward, regular fundraisers were held to pay for major renovations, but these irregular, unpredictable payments weren’t enough to cover hospital salaries and maintenance. In the mid-1920s, the price of Chinese health care rose due to the hospital losing its tax-exempt status. This price fell dropped when the City of Victoria took control of the hospital property and started subsidizing rent and patient care. The issue of regular income wouldn’t be resolved until the establishment of the Victoria Chinatown Care Centre in 1982. Currently, in addition to provincial health subsidies, the 30 residents of the Centre pay up to 80% of their income to cover costs. The tradeoff between inputs also changed with time. At first, Western medicine was ‘expensive’ due to transaction costs including language barriers, discrimination and lack of experience with Western treatments. Returning the chronically ill to China was a relatively efficient way of improving the health of the remaining community. As immigrants integrated and built lives and families in Canada, this became less attractive. The establishment of the CCBA in 1884 strengthened community ties, organized the legal fight against discrimination and made the ‘move back to China’ option more costly. The local press publicized the Taipingfang’s poor condition and high mortality, leading the CCBA to publicly promise reforms. By 1899, it was clear that a permanent Chinese hospital was desirable, and the structure was built at 555 Herald Street.


The cost-effectiveness of the hospital fell sharply after the 1920s. Western medicine becames a more attractive input as Chinese immigrants and their children gained familiarity with both the treatments and the English language. City hospitals such as the Royal Jubilee were now an option for Chinese health care. This left the ‘Chinese hospital’ free to focus on the parts of care that most needed cultural sensitivity, and that were not well-served by existing Western health facilities. The most notable of these was long-term care for elderly Chinese. The once-hospital became a dedicated residential home in 1982. Currently, over 60% of the care facility’s 30 residents are over 85 years old.

REFERENCES USED (Alphabetical by Author) Note: References that were consulted but did not contribute to the final write-ups were not included.

1. SHOCKING STATE OF THINGS. (1892, December 24). The Victoria Daily Colonist, p. 8. Retrieved from mode/1up

2. THE CHINESE DEAD HOUSE. (1893, February 19). The Victoria Daily Colonist, p. 7. Retrieved from mode/1up Use (both): Provides phrase ‘Chinese Dead House’, documents poor conditions of original Taipingfang.

3. CHINATOWN PROUD OF ITS HOSPITAL. (1922, November 11). The Daily Colonist, p. 6. Retrieved from Use: Provides information on 1922 renovation, including the fact that the renovation was in a western style.


4. Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association. (1884, July 22). [Constitution

of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Assocation of Victoria]. 域多利(

即维多利亚)中华会馆章程 (Item ccbav_1_1_05_001, Identifier 1977- UVic Archives, Victoria, Canada. Retrieved from n2/id/14/rec/1 Use: Documents intent of CCBA to establish a hospital, and the original ‘wooden shack’ in particular (see Article 2: “Another wooden house is to be built as a hospital for poor and sick Chinese.”)

5. Your Health System In Depth [Website]. (n.d.). Retrieved from Use: Used for information on current residents of the care centre.

6. Lai, D. C. (2010). Chinese Community Leadership: Case Study of Victoria in Canada. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing. Use: Everything in the write-up is drawn at least partially from this source.

7. Victoria Chinatown Care Centre [Web page]. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Use: Used for information on the current centre.

  • ECON 321 SUMMER 2018
  • GROUP NAME: Instructor
  • PUBLIC WRITE-UP (449 words)
  • TECHNICAL WRITE-UP (584 Words)
  • The tradeoff between inputs also changed with time.
  • REFERENCES USED (Alphabetical by Author)
  • Use: Used for information on current residents of the care centre.
  • Use: Everything in the write-up is drawn at least partially from this source.
  • Use: Used for information on the current centre.

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