The Victoria chapter of the Chinese Freemasons celebrated their anniversary on August 17th and I was there to witness it for the first-time. They were established in 1876 and are considered to be one of the oldest Chinese Freemasons in Canada. To have such distinction is reason enough to celebrate on a grand scale. People who attended the celebration under the gaze of the Gate of Harmonious Interest were not only treated to a Fo Shan lion dance but also martial art demonstrations by students of the Wong Sheung Hung Fut Kung Fu Club.
And for the curious tourist, there were two tours offered to take them into a glimpse of one of Canada’s oldest Chinatown. Lucky visitors were able to receive rare glimpses into buildings that are not normally accessible to many people throughout the year.
Part of the ceremony allowed people to follow the lion dancers as they made their way through the streets, stopping at businesses that hung cabbage and a red envelope on a string from their doorway; these envelopes contained money and they are gifts to the Freemasons. The cabbage, of course, were gifts to the lions. The leaves were devoured by these marvellous beasts and as they left, firecrackers made a loud noise in their wake, much to the delight of the audience. During Chinese New Year celebrations, the purpose of these noise makers are meant to scare away the bad spirits so the good can come in. In other times of the year, the intent more or less stays the same.
After every business was visited, people were invited back to the heart of Chinatown to witness all that the Kung Fu Club had learned in martial arts training over the past year. And what was displayed were at times beautifully choreographed dances that emanated discipline and focus.
The celebration is not only a treat for visitors but it is also a boon to the local businesses. During the day of celebration people can browse the shops and purchase goods from trusted names like Fisgard Market. And if filling a stomach instead of a bag is what shoppers want, many restaurants remained open. One could even join friends for dim sum at eating establishments like Shanghai City.
When the day is done, there were many things to be experienced in Victoria’s Chinatown. Most folks, myself included, most likely saw that there was a strong sense of community spirit that exists in this little Chinatown. The Gate of Harmonious Interest only shows that this feeling is shared to all who cross its pillars.