The Chinese made their first appearance in this district in 1865 – 22 years before the first claim in Rossland was staked. They were the bulk of the labour force on the construction of the Dewdney Trail. They deserted Dewdney when they reached the Columbia River, to try their luck at gold panning. Their camp was set up at the mouth of what is now called China Creek. They probably drifted back to the coast from the China Creek camps.
It is quite likely the Chinese filtered back to Rossland with the first rush of the miners, shortly after the camp sprang into existence in 1890. An issue of the “Rossland Miner” – September 23, 1897 reports that there were 200 male and one female Chinese residing here at that time. They were employed as cooks or house boys, several ran wash houses, cultivated truck gardens or raised pigs. A few were merchants and at least one was a fan tan expert. Another issue of the local “Rossland Miner” of 1897 reported the arrest of a Chinese man for the selling of opium without a license – the fee for such a license being $250.00.
Though the Chinese did drink, partake of opium and gamble, they contributed much to Rossland’s history particularly with their agricultural efforts known as the” Chinese Gardens”.
These truck gardens supplied Rosslander’s with fresh produce for over 50 years. This area has now mostly given way to the Rossland – Trail County Club.
They were kind to their non-Chinese friends at Christmas and their New Year, bringing gifts of handkerchiefs and other articles made of China silk, lily bulbs, candied ginger, lychee nuts, and firecrackers.
On October 12, 1903 the Chinese Masonic lodge, with a membership of 100 was opened with great ceremony, and celebrations which lasted for two days.
Chinatown in Rossland occupied a distinct area most of which was destroyed by fire in the early 1920’s. The buildings that survived the fire gradually fell into disuse and eventually disappeared. The last landmark was the Chinese Masonic Temple which was torn down about 1950. All traces of Chinatown have now disappeared and the site is now a residential area.
Written by: James Heidt