Walking tours in Edmonton’s Chinatown aim to draw people to neighbourhood

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Walking tours aim to strengthen Edmonton’s Chinatown
WATCH ABOVE: A new walking tour through the city's Chinatown is hoping to help change the relationship between residents and the neighbourhood. It is aiming to re-introduce residents to the community and revitalize the area. Julia Wong explains – Jun 11, 2017

A new grassroots walking tour through Edmonton’s Chinatown is aiming to reintroduce residents to the neighbourhood, with the hope it will eventually help revitalize the area.

Sharon Yeo is a second-generation Chinese-Canadian who helped organize and create the Chinatown Walking Tour. She thinks back to Chinatown fondly.

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“My family and I would come to Chinatown on the weekends,” she said.  “We would do our shopping here – grocery stores, the meat shops, bakeries, the herb stores.

“What I remember is a really vibrant place.”

The tour starts at the Edmonton Tourism Centre on Jasper Avenue. Julia Wong/Global News
The tour's first stop was the Edmonton Chinese Benevolent Association. Julia Wong/Global News
Organizers Sunny Bong and Sharon Yeo speak to the group in front of the Harbin Gate. Julia Wong/Global News
Bong speaks to the group inside the Edmonton Chinatown Multi-Cultural Centre. Julia Wong/Global News

But Yeo said that coming back as an adult, Chinatown is now a different experience.

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“The streets aren’t necessarily as busy or welcoming. I would like to be a part of hopefully drawing some attention to an area that I think should be returned to some of its former prominence.”

She and fellow organizer Sunny Bong created the tour as a way to share stories about Edmonton’s Chinatown and make it more approachable for the average resident.

“[Some people walk] through Chinatown but didn’t really know where to stop, didn’t really have a reason to stop,” she said. “I have places that I frequent. I would like to introduce those to people who would like to come on a more frequent basis.

“It might encourage more commerce. It might encourage people to spend their money in this neighbourhood instead of a different one. If they’re in the downtown for an event, they might come to Chinatown first and then go on to their event.”

Yeo suggests the vibrancy of Chinatown may have been affected by urban sprawl over the years as former Chinatown residents and businesses moved to the suburbs.

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Bong cites issues with the city’s homeless population, multiple social services in the area and the illusion the neighbourhood is unsafe as contributing factors to its decline in vibrancy.

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On Sunday, the inaugural walking tour took roughly 20 people through Chinatown, stopping at the Chinese Benevolent Association, Harbin Gate and the Edmonton Chinatown Multi-Cultural Centre. During each stop, Yeo and Bong would discuss the origin of the landmark, the history and its relevance to the Chinese community.

Bong moved to Edmonton 30 years ago with his family from Brunei. Growing up, he lived on the north side of Chinatown. He currently lives, eats and works in Chinatown.

He says conversations on creating a Chinatown walking tour started earlier this year, partially inspired by how Chinatown seemed to be missing when he was taking guests around the city.

“This tour is about telling people the stories about the past people who started Chinatown,” he said. “We’re going to help them take it to the next millennium.”

Bong says it is now important for the Chinese community to ensure Chinatown is not forgotten by residents or the municipal government. The neighbourhood has undergone changes as a result of nearby Rogers Place opening up, conversations about supervised-injection sites proposed for the area and talk about development.

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With Chinatowns in major Canadian cities struggling to stay relevant, Yeo says Edmonton needs its Chinatown.

“They are the starting point of Chinese settlers in the city. The historical [and] cultural significance of that shouldn’t be overlooked,” she said.

The next walking tours take place July 9, Aug. 13 and Sept. 10.

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