Chinese Culture · Chinese Genealogy

The Chinese Canadian Museum (Victoria): a peek inside and a chat with Charlayne

In this post I explore the new Chinese Canadian Museum (Victoria) and hear a few stories from my host, Charlayne Thornton-Joe.

Before my visit, I knew Charlayne slightly from the Facebook group Chinese Community of Victoria.

Charlayne Thornton-Joe is a third-generation Victorian. Until recently, she served as a long-time city councillor, encouraged to run by her friend David Lai (see below). Today she’s the Visitor Experience and Facilities Coordinator of the Chinese Canadian Museum (Victoria) at 10-14 Fan Tan Alley, working with curator John Adams.

In our chat, Charlayne told me how she and her husband Phil voluntarily undertook the upkeep of the Chinese cemetery at Harling Point, mowing the lawns and caring for the markers. She’s working on funding to get new interpretative signs installed there. She’s the driving force behind Victoria’s Chinese zodiac crosswalks. She started the Facebook group. She’s done all this and much more. It is amazing what one person can do for a community. In 2001, Charlayne received the Honorary Citizen of Victoria award for her volunteer work.

In Oct 2021, Charlayne got word the new Victoria museum was a go but the space needed a major paint job. Say no more. Charlayne assembled a group of family and friends and together, over the Christmas holidays, they painted every inch of the space. The museum opened Thursday, February 17, 2022.

Charlayne describes herself as “… the goto person for weird stuff.” People will call her to say, “I’m getting rid of this thing – do you want it?” She always confers with John.

For example, this stunning gate depicting a dragon and phoenix.

Foyer and Reception, Chinese Canadian Museum, 18 Aug 2022, Fan Tan Alley, Victoria, BC. © Linda Yip. All rights reserved.

It came from Ming’s Restaurant (abt. 1974-2018), corner of Quadra and Johnson Streets. Families held their big event banquets there. When the building was demolished, the gate disappeared from view but was kept in a garage. Negotiations followed. Three days before the museum opened, the gate was delivered. It’s a crowd-pleaser and the number one photo op (as you can see from this blog’s cover shot).

And this safe.

Safe, Chinese Canadian Museum, 18 Aug 2022, Fan Tan Alley, Victoria, BC. © Linda Yip. All rights reserved.

It came from a local restaurant-cum-gambling-and-bootlegging joint. It’s a serious piece of history. As usual, Charlayne got a call. “Hi Charlayne? I have a safe in my garage. If you can get it out of my driveway, you can have it.”

Phil and Charlayne drove over, thinking they could load it into their car. Not a chance. This thing weighs over a thousand pounds. But Charlayne has contacts in the community: “Can anyone help me move a safe?”

The community responded. A driver with a truck-based crane showed up. You have to come see this for yourself: not only the safe and its paraphernalia but this whole story, including a photo of the truck and crane.

Here are a few more pictures but do go visit the next time you’re in the area. Ask Charlayne to tell you the story of the antique sign.

Or set up a game of mah jong – they’d be delighted to play.

Getting there

Location of Fan Tan Alley, Victoria

If you go, the museum is open Thursdays to Sundays, 11-5 pm. Admission is free. Click here for more information. The museum is located in Fan Tan Alley between Pandora and Fisgard Streets. Here’s the entrance at Pandora Street. Note that due to the times in which we live, the alley itself is locked outside business hours.

Chinese Canadian Museum sign, 18 Aug 2022, Fan Tan Alley, Victoria, BC. © Linda Yip. All rights reserved.

Thank yous

Thanks this week to Charlayne and Phil for making me welcome, for the tour and the chat. I so enjoyed our too-brief time together and I’ll be back soon.


Chinese Canadian Museum, 2022, website, Chinese Canadian Museum : accessed 11 Oct 2022.

Chinese Cemetery at Harling Point, undated, website, Old Cemeteries Society of Victoria : accessed 11 Oct 2022.

“Chinese Victoria: A long and difficult journey” book launch, 25 Jul 2022, website, Downtown Victoria : accessed 11 Oct 2022. Author, researcher, speaker John Adams also owns the history company Discover the Past.

In memoriam: David Chuenyan Lai, 12 Jul 2018, web page, University of Victoria : accessed 11 Oct 2022. Dr. David Lai (1937-2018) was an author and professor at the University of Victoria, BC.


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