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The Dalles Chinatown

January 28, 2017 @ 5:30 pm – 8:30 pm
Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum
5000 Discovery Dr
The Dalles, OR 97058


The exhibit will be on display throughout 2017, but the Saturday, January 28 opening is sold out.

A Community Forgotten - Uncovering the story of The Dalles ChinatownYou are invited to the opening of a new exhibit, “A Community Forgotten: Uncovering the Story of the The Dalles Chinatown,” Saturday, January 28 at Columbia Gorge Discovery Center & Museum, 5000 Discovery Drive, The Dalles, Oregon. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Dinner will be served at 6 p.m., followed by the 7 p.m. program.

Priscilla WegarsProgram

The speaker will be Priscilla Wegars, PhD, on “Chinese Tunnels: Myth or Reality?” Wegars is an Affiliate Assistant Professor and Volunteer Curator of the Asian American Comparative Collection (AACC) at the University of Idaho.

Today, many communities in the American West, where Chinese people once lived, are rumored to have so-called “Chinese tunnels” under downtown buildings and streets. Alleged “Chinese tunnels” are believed to exist in cities such as Boise and Pocatello, Idaho; Baker City and Pendleton, Oregon; Seattle and Tacoma, Washington; and elsewhere. Can “Chinese tunnels” be substantiated, whether through documentary research, oral histories, or other sources? If so, where do they exist, how were they used, and what is the proof of their existence? If not, are they myths with some basis in fact, such as basements that were subdivided or partitioned into smaller areas for use as businesses, living quarters, or opium-smoking establishments? Or, are they stereotypes like others such as “Chinese ovens” and “Chinese walls,” wherein anything unexplainable, i.e., “mysterious,” is attributed to the Chinese? Wegar’s presentation investigates these questions, with the aim of providing a definitive answer to the question, “‘Chinese Tunnels’: Myth or Reality?”

Meet the exhibit curators, Kelly Molina, Eric Gleason, Jacqueline Cheung, Rick McClure and Marilyn Urness, who will be on hand with exhibit designers Chris Bolton and Kathy Purcell.


Dinner will be catered by Canton Wok, specialists in Cantonese cuisine. The menu includes Chicken Chow Mein, fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, egg roll and beef broccoli.

Tickets – SOLD OUT


Reservations are required and seating is limited.

A Community Forgotten: Uncovering the Story of The Dalles Chinatown

The exhibit tells the tale of the largely forgotten community of overseas Chinese immigrants who once populated First (Main) Street in The Dalles. The exhibit features artifacts from the time, and shines a light on the discriminatory laws once used for racial exclusion. The exhibit will be on display throughout 2017. The exhibit relates how and why the Chinese came to The Dalles, Oregon, beginning in the 1850’s on the heels of the gold rush and growing with the 1860’s railroad expansion. Companies wanted to hire Chinese workers because they were well known for having an excellent work ethic. In the 1890’s the Chinese laborers were hired to work in canneries and mills, including Seufert’s Cannery.

This exhibit strives to breathe new life into the rich and largely forgotten history of a small Chinatown in The Dalles, by bringing together stories found tucked away in archives, basements, and back rooms, and artifacts from under a layer of pavement at the site of old Chinatown on First Street. By combining the history and archaeology of Chinatown, we can now start telling the story of a people who made a new home in a place and country very distant and very different from their homeland; a people who experienced systemic and institutional racism, separation, and exclusion, but also found some degree of acceptance.

By the 1880s, this was a community dominated by Chinese merchandise stores that served a multitude of functions beyond just selling goods: they served as home to both transient and established residents, engaged in labor contracting and laundry work, and provided social diversions including gambling, and opium consumption. The initial archaeological excavations on First Street have begun to uncover the buried record of a time, place and people forgotten, at a site that still holds plenty of stories and secrets.

Laws targeting and taxing the Chinese were enacted by the Oregon Territorial Legislature. An anti-Chinese movement began in the late 1800’s, as Euro-Americans blamed the Chinese for unemployment. National and local laws were passed that discriminated against the Chinese, including the Exclusion Act, preventing Chinese laborers from entering and traveling in and out of the United States.

The Chinese community that lived in The Dalles contributed to and supported the growth and development of the city, and Oregon as a whole. The exhibit brings this forgotten story out of the shadows in recognition of  the overseas Chinese immigrants who played an important role in the development of the area.