The Chinese Cemetery is a rare, tangible link with Nanaimo's Chinese heritage. The Chinese, almost wholly single men, came to Nanaimo as early as the 1860s to work in the mines or to open businesses.
Perceived as unfair competition because of their willingness to work for lower wages than white employees, the Chinese were the source of much labour conflict during the 19th century. Initially, the Chinese settled in what is now downtown Nanaimo but in the 1880s they were removed, by the coal company, to the outskirts of town in an effort to reduce tensions.
By 1908, a new Chinatown, one of the largest in North America at that time, was established near the western edge of the city. This last Chinatown was destroyed by fire in 1960, although much of its population had already dispersed.
Because there is so little other tangible evidence of the Nanaimo's Chinese heritage, the Chinese Cemetery is especially significant.
Built in 1924, the Chinese Cemetery is a very good example of an ethnic cultural landscape. In addition to grave markers with Chinese inscriptions, the cemetery features traditional Chinese elements including ornate, brightly painted entry gates, a pagoda structure, an altar and a shrine. Although the cemetery is no longer exclusively Chinese, it retains, through the presence of these elements, a distinct Chinese character.
The Chinese Cemetery's striking entrance gates and its location on a main thoroughfare make it a highly visible neighbourhood landmark.