A symbol of Edmonton’s Chinatown is no longer visible from the street. Late Saturday night, the Harbin Gates were moved from 97 Street and 102 Avenue to a city storage facility near Commonwealth Stadium.
Dean Heuman, stakeholder relations manager for TransEd, said the feat of moving the 161,000-kilogram gate has never been attempted before in Edmonton.
“This is what they call a massive move, major move. We’ve brought in the professionals who do this, you know, however, this is the largest lift that’s ever happened,” he said.
“Taking it apart, and taking it apart so carefully — make sure every tile and every piece of it is held together — has been a huge challenge for our guys, the engineers and our construction crews.”
The gate, which must be removed for the Valley Line LRT construction, was prepped for the move Wednesday. It was broken free from its foundation Saturday afternoon, loaded onto trailers then travelled with a police escort to the facility in Cromdale.
“This is a very special gate,” Heuman said. “We want to do it as carefully as possible.
“We want to make sure there is as close to no damage or no damage whatsoever by the time we get it set down because we know there is a future for it and we hope it gets used in the future.”
But, as for right now, the future of the gate is uncertain.
Sandy Pon, of the Chinese Benevolent Association, said that it is still unclear whether the gate will be rebuilt. Pon and several dozen people gathered at the gate for a vigil late Saturday night.
Councillor Ben Henderson said the city has “every intention” for the gate to be put back up.
“We’d all be very upset if it was not put back up. There’s absolutely every commitment to put it back up and return it,” he said.
“I think there were a number of options we were working with the community about where the best place to put it back up was. Obviously it couldn’t go back up where it was but there was some desire to explore other places where it could go.”
Pon wants to see the gate relocated to 97 Street and Jasper Avenue, which is where Edmonton’s Chinatown originated more than 100 years ago.
“I think it makes sense to be in the vicinity of Chinatown. There is a lot of infrastructure — for example, the cultural centre, the library — there’s a lot of senior centres plus cultural associations.”
A city spokesperson confirmed the idea has been turned down by the sustainable development branch. The gate is too narrow for 97 Street, Claudia Wong-Rusnak said.
“If there’s a will, there’s a way,” Pon said.
“It can be done. If it has to be taller, wider, then let us know. We can plan around that, but give us a location so we can plan, budget, fundraise if we have to.”
Pon, who said the gate is symbolic and holds cultural and economic significance, adds that the murkiness around the gate is simply another woe for the city’s Chinese community.
In recent years, members of Edmonton’s Chinese community have said city hall has been neglecting the area, pointing to the approval of safe injection sites within the boundaries of Chinatown and what is perceived as little effort to help revitalize the area.
Henderson disputes that, saying the city has made commitments to Chinatown.
“We want to do whatever will make the most sense to make it work best for a strong and healthy Chinatown in the future,” he said.
The Harbin Gate was installed in 1987 and is meant to symbolize friendship with Edmonton’s sister city in Harbin, China.
The Valley Line LRT is scheduled to begin service in December 2020.
-with files from Scott Johnston, 630 CHED