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Conference Explores Chinatown

The Honourable Dr. Vivienne Poy, the first Canadian senator of Asian ancestry, was a keynote speaker. Paula E. Kirman

“Edmonton Chinatown Unveiled” was the theme for the first ever Edmonton Chinatown Conference, a successful new event which examined the past, present, and future of Edmonton’s Chinatown.

An all-star cast from Edmonton, Vancouver, and Toronto presented speeches, illustrated lectures, panel discussions, and a bus tour that all added up to a lively, diverse discussion of what makes up the Chinese-Canadian heritage and experience in Edmonton, and of where Edmonton’s Chinatown is going next.

“Edmonton is truly a global village. People from all over the world have settled in Edmonton. By sharing our history and stories, we created understanding and harmony,” said Lan Chan-Marples, chair of the conference, which was presented May 4 and 5 by the Chinese Benevolent Association in conjunction with the Edmonton Heritage Council and a number of Chinese community organizations.

Conference participants explored the challenges and hopes of generations of Chinese Canadians and new immigrants. They examined topics of civic involvement, politics, arts, culture, sports, and economic development and looked to the future.

Keynote speakers The Hon. Dr. Vivienne Poy and Marty Chan reminded the conference of the realities and responsibilities, both serious and lighthearted, of growing up and living as Chinese-Canadians. Dr. David Chuenyan Lai spoke in several sessions about the history of Chinatowns in Edmonton and across Canada. Dr. Lai was instrumental in revitalizing Victoria’s Chinatown in the 1970s and has since gone all across Canada as an advisor to cities and Chinese cultural communities who are trying to create vital and forward thinking Chinatown neighbourhoods. He has received the Order of Canada for his work, as has Dr. Brian Evans, an Edmonton Sinophile (someone with a deep interest in Chinese culture) and scholar who presented the history of Edmonton’s Chinatown and followed up with a bus tour for conference participants.

The many speakers and panelists represented a diversity of scholarly and community groups and centres, including Simon Fraser University’s David See-Chai Lam Centre for International Communication, the U of A’s China Institute, Community Studies at NorQuest College, the Edmonton Public School Board’s Chinese Bilingual Program, Chinese Benevolent Association, ASSIST Community Services, Edmonton Heritage Council, Royal Alberta Museum, Edmonton City Archives, and many more. They were joined by city and provincial political figures, business leaders, and cultural experts.

The award-winning documentary film Lost Years, a film about Chinese-Canadians and the Chinese diaspora of the 20th century, was shown to an enthralled audience. The film includes an Edmonton component, as it was co-produced by Edmonton filmmaker Tom Radford and Edmonton Chinese community members such as Allen Mah and Games Choi were part of the production team. Peter Wong curated a photo exhibition which drew on family and public collections to present Edmonton’s Chinatown past and present.

The several hundred attendees enjoyed a banquet at the Emperor’s Palace and were entertained by traditional Chinese music on the many-stringed guzheng, sometimes called the Chinese zither.

“Albert Einstein said, ‘Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow’, and it is in that spirit that we hope to contribute to the heart of Edmonton and the future of the city with the Edmonton Chinatown Conference,” said Lan-Chan Marples. She plans to build on the success of the conference with a speaker’s series.

Meanwhile, those who attended are hoping that the conference could become a regular event, as the Edmonton Chinese cultural community looks for ways to combine respect for the past with a vibrant future.

Candas Jane Dorsey lives in Boyle Street.

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