A last look at the South Chinatown Mall shortly before it was demolished. Paula E. Kirman
Members of the Chinese community are saddened by the loss of the Chinatown Mall (reported in the February 2019 issue of Boyle McCauley News). Lan Chan-Marples and Grace Law, members of aiya!, an artist collective addressing cultural erasure in South Chinatown, recognize that the mall had become derelict and could not be saved. However, they are disappointed that an atmosphere of celebration accompanied its demise.
“It was hurtful for me, as a child of Chinese immigrants,” says Law. “I would have hoped for more sensitivity and respect. I have fond memories of Mirama restaurant. I spent much of my childhood weekends there celebrating over food with my family. Growing up in Edmonton, I did not always feel my culture was understood and accepted.”
Chan-Marples says the exceptionally large size of Mirama provided a place for Chinese people from all over Edmonton and beyond to gather for weddings and parties, and for weekend dim sum. “It was always packed, with people lining up outside to get in,” Chan-Marples says.
The Chinatown Mall had bold yellow and red architectural features. “It was iconic,” Chan-Marples says. Inside the mall, Mirama restaurant had traditional Chinese interior decorations. There was also a stage for speeches and performances. The strip mall at the east side was a big draw as well. It included a barber shop, grocery store, jewelry shop, specialty gift store, and herbalist.
Chan-Marples and Law hope new development will recognize Chinatown’s current presence in the neighbourhood, and that it will have design connections with the Chinese buildings nearby – the seniors lodges, multicultural centre, and Chinese associations. Chan-Marples notes that the area is Edmonton’s second Chinatown community. The first was displaced by Canada Place. More than 100 years ago, Edmonton’s Chinese community began with laundries opened by men who had helped build the railroad and with residences for Chinese people.
aiya! wants to work with the community and developers to honour the history of the place and the presence of the current community. “I want to keep our cultural safe spaces alive,” Law says, “so that diverse groups of people have a sense of belonging. When it is time to say goodbye, let’s come together to remember the full memory of the place.”
Anita Jenkins is a retired writer and editor who lives in Boyle Street.