Fan Tan Alley is named after a gambling game that reached the height of its popularity in this location in the early 1940s.
Fan Tan Alley is a very narrow lane, three to six feet wide and 240 feet long, that runs between Fisgard Street and Pandora Avenue (formerly Cormorant Street). It came into being between 1885 and 1920 as Chinese and Western landowners initially constructed buildings fronting on Fisgard and Cormorant, then over time filled in the spaces behind with new buildings. This was a popular location for opium factories, housed in wood-frame buildings behind the street-front brick buildings, and owned by Tai Soong, Kwong Lee and Shon Yuen. Until 1908, it was legal to produce opium in Canada, largely because municipal and federal governments could collect license fees and taxes. Around the turn of the twentieth century, moral reformers began to voice their concerns about opium use in Canada. As a result of actions by Western reformers and the Chinese Anti-Opium League, as well as a report by future prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, opium was made illegal in Canada in 1908 and factories were shut down.