British Columbia

The oldest Chinese temple in Canada is at risk of closing — unless it raises enough money for major repairs

According to the Yen Wo Society, the Tam Kung Temple's roof and windows are leaking, parts of the floor are held together by masking tape, and a seismic upgrade is needed.

Built in 1912, the temple needs about $600,000 worth of repairs

Canada's oldest Chinese temple may have to shut down

7 months ago
Duration 2:28
Featured VideoThe Tam Kung Temple, located in Victoria, may have to shut down if it can't raise $400,000 for necessary repairs to the building, which was built in 1912.

The oldest Chinese temple in Canada, located in the country's oldest Chinatown, may have to shut down if it can't raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for necessary repairs. 

The Tam Kung Temple on Government Street in Victoria was built in 1912. 

But its history goes back even further, according to Nora Butz, president of the Yen Wo Society, which manages the temple. 

Butz says the property has housed a Chinese temple since 1876, but the building that stands there today was built after the first building was destroyed in a fire in 1911.

"The community came together to build this," said Butz, who has been going to the temple for 60 years, since she first immigrated to Canada as a child. 

A building on a street on a sunny day.
The Tam Kung Temple, located on 1713 Government Street in Victoria, is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Entrance is by donation. (Justine Beaulieu-Poudrier/CBC)

The temple also survived a fire in the 1980s, where the statue of the deity Tam Kung — brought to Victoria from the Guangdong province of China in the 1860s — was left unscathed. 

But the temple now needs extensive repairs. Butz says the roof and windows are leaking, parts of the floor are held together by masking tape, and the building needs seismic upgrading. 

Their cost estimate for the repairs is over $600,000. 

Nora Butz is pictured in the temple with decorative wall hangings in the back.
Nora Butz, president of the Yen Wo Society, says the community came together to rebuild the temple after a fire in 1911. The structure they built still stands there today. (Justine Beaulieu-Poudrier/CBC)

Butz says the Victoria Civic Heritage Trust has offered to provide $200,000 in funding, and the society is now trying to fundraise the remaining $400,000. 

"We need a lot of work to try to preserve it for future generations," said Butz. 

"We're asking people to please help us ... preserve this little piece of history, in the oldest Chinatown, the oldest temple in all of Canada."

'A place of worship and refuge'

Jackie Ngai, a board member of the society, says the temple was built by her great grandfather, Ngai Sze. 

"He wanted a place of worship and also a place of refuge for many of the bachelor men that came across the ocean and worked on our Canadian Pacific Railway," said Ngai. 

A statue is pictured surrounded by candles and intricate carvings.
The Tam Kung statue was brought to Victoria in the 1860s by a Hakka man from the Guangdong province of China. (Justine Beaulieu-Poudrier/CBC)

The lower floors were previously used as a dormitory to house labourers, Ngai says, adding it provided a safety net for men in need, such as those who couldn't find work or were injured. 

It also provided a social network for immigrants at the time — an open-door policy remains today, providing a community for many newcomers, Ngai says.

"It started by people, for people, and over the years it has provided a sanctuary, a place to go, a place to belong," said Ngai.

A room is pictured with an old stove, bell, and other decorative and spiritual objects.
Part of the interiors of the Tam Kung Temple. Jackie Ngai says certain items, including the stove and bell pictured, have been in the temple for over 100 years. (Justine Beaulieu-Poudrier/CBC)

People come to the temple if they have an important decision to make, be it about relationships, investments, travels, and everything in between, she adds.

"We welcome everybody and anybody." 


Michelle Gomez is a writer and reporter at CBC Vancouver. You can contact her at

With files from Justine Beaulieu-Poudrier