Just two months ago, Montreal’s Chinatown was granted heritage designation in order to protect its rich history from commercial development.
But now, another threat is looming: the REM de L’Est.
The REM de L’Est is a much anticipated transit project that will connect the Eastern part of Montreal to the downtown core.
One of its 32 stations is planned to be built at the corner of René Lévesque and Saint-Laurent Boulevards, on Chinatown’s last vacant lot.
In addition, the transit project passing through the area would be above-ground.
Winston Chan, a committee member of Inclusive Revitalization: Present and Future of Chinatown argues it’s a bad idea.
Chan believes the structure would cover up the area’s emblematic arches and the mural that make the area instantly recognizable.
“It’s a slap in the face,” said Chan.
“The Chinese community has been marginalized since the beginning, so having a second ‘Great Wall of China’ and hiding the arch, and also hiding the Chinese opera singer artistic mural, it’s an insult.”
Chan added the new infrastructure would also hurt the area’s ‘mom and pop’ shops and those who live in Chinatown because rent prices would go up.
Chan says the committee wrote to the REM to open up discussion about the issues but received no response.
He believes the community should be included in the planning.
“If they would hear the concerns of the community, they wouldn’t put a REM station in Chinatown,” Chan said.
Chan and other activists have been fighting to protect the area for years but he believes the newly-received Chinatown heritage status won’t help.
“It’s obsolete because what is the meaning to have a protection of Chinatown when you have a REM station in Chinatown and when there is no consultation with the Chinese community?” Chan asked.
The city also wants a seat at the table so it can make sure those concerns are addressed.
“Whatever happens with the REM, we need to make sure that everything we worked for and everything we need to do to protect that area is done,” said Montreal mayor Valérie Plante.
TheCaisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ Infra), who is responsible for the project says plans are not final.
“What we’ve presented is the overall concept, the overall idea,” said Christian Ducharme, the vice-president of engineering at CDPQ Infra. “Now we’re ready to go into more details with different communities including the Chinatown Working Group.”
Ducharme says an underground infrastructure is not possible in the area because of technical reasons and they are aware it’s a sensitive area, so will make sure to seek all necessary permits with Quebec’s Ministry of Culture and Communications and get the community’s input.