A look at the challenges ahead for Montreal’s Chinatown

Click to play video: 'A look at the challenges ahead for Montreal’s Chinatown'
A look at the challenges ahead for Montreal’s Chinatown
WATCH: Montrealers with roots in Chinatown fear there are still a number of issues threatening the future of the neighbourhood's Chinese culture and historical significance. – Feb 2, 2022

Montrealers with roots in Chinatown say there are a number of issues that place the future of the neighbourhood, with its rich culture and history, at risk, despite the area’s recently granted heritage status.

Jimmy Chan, president of the hundred-plus-year-old Chan Association, one of a number of family associations in the neighbourhood, said he and others have been fighting to secure their culture and traditions in Chinatown for years.

“It is important for me to carry on that tradition, that culture that our ancestors left behind,” he told Global News following scaled-down celebrations at the association’s office on de la Gauchetière Street for the Lunar New Year.

People in the area say it’s been hard to do, especially in the last few years, especially with the gradual shrinking of the quarter, just north of Old Montreal.

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“Our Chinatown used to extend all the way up to Sherbrooke Street,” said Karen Cho, a member of the Chinatown Working Group which is advocating for the area.

According to a City of Montreal account chronicling the history of the place, the community lost considerable ground in the ’70s when “the demolition of the Parc de la Pagode, three Chinese churches, several ethnic businesses and an entire residential area,” made way for the construction of the Ville Marie tunnel, Palais des congrès and the Guy-Favreau Complex.

“Chinatown is such a tiny area, and the more they build these mega structures, the more space that we lose,” May Chiu of the Progressive Chinese of Quebec, another advocacy group, pointed out.

She said the style of condos going up on Viger Street won’t fit the area, and that project prompted her and others in 2019 to demand action from the city.

“That the city gives us a Chinatown development plan in consultation with the Chinese community,” she explained, noting they also asked for heritage protection for the quarter.

Click to play video: 'Protecting Chinatown'
Protecting Chinatown

In 2021, Jean-Philippe Riopel also launched a petition to get heritage protection for Chinatown when much of a city block on de la Gauchetière and Coté Streets, where he lives, was acquired by developers.

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“It’s not a fight only for Chinatown itself,” Riopel stressed, standing in front of the building. “It’s a fight for the type of city we want.”

He says he wants a city that protects history and diversity.

When the province announced a week ago that it intends to protect certain buildings, Chiu was ecstatic but argued that heritage status has to include people.

“The people who live here, the people who work here, the seniors who reside here who are they carriers or our memories of struggle and hardship,” she explained.

She and others who’re fighting to protect the community want the city to invest in things like affordable housing and culture.

“Bring back the dragon boat,” said Chan. “We have lost it. Bring back the cultural centre, we have lost it.”

Their hope: to attract a younger generation to carry on the traditions.

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