The sign reading “Montreal Chinese Community and Cultural Centre” remains above the door to the Chinatown building, but these days that’s about all that remains of it.
May Chiu remembers a time the centre was a community hub, like the night of a big Chinese film premiere.
“The lineup from the Chinese community went all the way down the street,” said Chiu, a member of Progressive Chinese of Quebec.
She admits that the centre was poorly managed since its birth in the early 2000s.
“Due to bad management by the first board of the Cultural Centre, the centre was seized by a creditor, a non-Chinese creditor,” she explained at a press conference on Saturday.
The place was empty from 2014 until just a month ago. The Chinese community had hoped to buy the building, but before they could raise the necessary funds, the city allowed an expanding 200-student music school to move in.
“It hurts,” said Chiu. “It hurts to lose our cultural centre.”
She and other members of the Chinese community held a press conference on Saturday across the street from the centre to express their dismay.
“In December 2017, the city passed a resolution authorizing 60 per cent of the cultural center to be used by a music school, a for-profit enterprise,” Chiu exclaimed.
To the Chinese community, this shows evidence of a trend.
“In 10 or 15 years, we may lose more land and cultural space to non-Chinese,” said Fo Niemi, executive director of the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR).
It’s not just about the cultural centre. The Chinese community fears that Chinatown — as they know it — may soon disappear.
“Two condo towers are going up at the corner of Viger and St. Laurent. There’s a restaurant on de la Gauchetiere that’s not Chinese. There’s another non-Chinese restaurant on St. Laurent,” said Niemi.
The Chinese community wants the city to help them find a new location for their cultural centre.
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“You can’t just say, ‘Sorry, Chinese community, you have no place to go,'” said Chiu.
They also want to start a dialogue with city officials about the overall future of Chinatown itself.
“We want to make sure Chinatown is being developed in a way that’s going to respect the diversity of the Chinese community, and it’s not going to be all condos and shopping malls,” Chiu explained.
Concerns were also expressed about a number of artifacts that had been inside the centre, including thousands of books, a statue of Confucius and more.
Luc Lafontaine, the owner of the music school, explained to Global News that he has been doing his best to return the items to Chinese community members.
He said thousands of books were sent to the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ), and claimed other items were given to the centre’s former director, Pierrette Wong.
Lafontaine said he offered the Confucius statue to the Botanical Gardens, but they turned it down, and that the statue remains in the building.
In a statement, the city said the centre could have been returned to the Chinese community if someone had bought the building.
That was not the case, so another solution was discussed and voted on at council.
Ville-Marie city councillor Robery Beaudry explained that the agreement with the music school gives the Chinese community access to the centre on certain days throughout the year.
He said the city wants to to work with the Chinese community to preserve the social mix in Chinatown.