Exploring Vancouver: The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

In an oft overlooked corner of Chinatown in Vancouver, Canada, on the other side of an unassuming moon gate, lies an oasis of beauty and tranquility. The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is the first garden of its type outside of China. It’s based on a traditional Ming Dynasty scholar’s garden, and it is exquisite.

Not to be mistaken for the free garden just outside this one, which is also quite beautiful and worth exploring, this one is kind of an inner sanctum, and requires an admission fee. Oh, but it’s worth it. Especially if you take the tour, which explains things that you’d never realize yourself if you just took a casual walk through.

Nothing about this garden is random or unplanned. It’s all based on the Taoist belief in the tension and harmony of opposites, expressed in the Yin and Yang. It also incorporates the four Chinese elements of rock, water, plants and architecture. These elements, thoughtfully placed, mean that yin and yang energy is everywhere in this wonderful place. You can feel it all around you.

Yin and Yang. Light and Dark. Smooth and Rough. Feminine and Masculine. Round and Square. Water and Stone. All these things come into play in this garden, and the duality produces such a sense of beauty and peace that you’ll be sorely tempted to pitch a tent there and never leave.

As evidence of the thoughtfulness of the design, in subtle locations throughout you will see the bat symbol, because in one of the Chinese languages, the word for bat sounds like the word for luck. Also, they used a special clay in the pond to intentionally make the water a cloudy jade green to better reflect images back from the surface, and it also provides a nice contrast to the koi swimming below.

All the limestone rocks came from Lake Tai in China, a lake with acidic water that gives the rocks a magical, weathered appearance. Our guide said that this lake is considered so special that families will drop large blocks of limestone in there and note the location on GPS so that a few hundred years from now, their family will be able to retrieve these rocks for their gardens.

The designers of this garden were also very aware of the passage of time. They intentionally considered the changing seasons, the movement of the sun across the sky, and the differences of rainy vs. sunny days. You could go back there a hundred times and have a different view.

A delightful addition throughout the garden is the placement of Penjing, which is the Chinese equivalent of the Japanese Bonsai. These little artistically formed trees and rocks are fascinating. Little worlds of their own.

I could go on for hours about this amazing place, but you will simply have to go there someday to get the full effect. Below are a few of my pictures from my visit.

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2 thoughts on “Exploring Vancouver: The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

  1. What an extraordinary place! Thanks so much for writing about it. I need to learn more about Asian gardens. Seems like a lot of stuff in our country skews towards Europe (Britain, ahem). Like for example I just now, after all these years on the Internet, finally found a blog about how to cook Chinese food written by someone who is Chinese American. Hallelujah, I will finally have something to do with those canned water chestnuts besides eat them like chips (highly not recommended). But gardens are the same way, it seems. So many photos and articles and books about garden design lead back to Europe (the British, mostly). I look forward to the day that I get through all that and can start learning about how the rest of the world thinks and has thought about gardens.

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