YEG Chinatown Now Tour, Part Two
The 1980s to the present day.
Lan Chan-Marples, a well-known member of the Chinese community, recently led a fascinating and informative tour of Edmonton’s Chinatown. What follows is a brief summary of the second part of the tour. (The first part was described in the April-May 2022 issue of Boyle McCauley News_.)_
In the early 1980s, the federal government built its regional office, Canada Place, on the spot where Edmonton’s Chinatown had existed for almost a century.
In response to this dramatic change, the Chinese community launched several construction projects nearby: a mall that included a 600-seat restaurant for special events and dim sum, a multicultural centre, seniors’ housing, and association buildings. In 1987 in cooperation with Harbin, Edmonton’s sister city in China, the Harbin Gate was erected on 97th Street and 102nd Avenue.
It soon became evident that the property taxes in the area were too high for small retail businesses to pay. Only two remain: Double Greeting Won Ton House and United Grocers. Other businesses moved north on 97th Street, in the area of 107th Avenue. These included restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores, herbal stores, and a Chinese newspaper. The result is two Chinatowns – South and North. And North Chinatown is a blend of various cultures, including Korean, Vietnamese, Italian, and African.
Chan-Marples describes the story of Edmonton Chinatown as a “long history of tension and fighting a strong wind.” The community was renamed The Quarters, which she says is “an erasure of Chinese history.” Another blow was the removal of the Harbin Gate in 2017 to accommodate LRT construction. There are promises of its reconstruction in another location but nothing has happened to date. Also, the LRT track runs through the South Chinatown corridor.
Development of the Ice District has created parking restrictions in Chinatown North that affect businesses, some of which have been displaced and have moved further north. Chan-Marples cites other social issues affecting the area, including the increase in houselessness with the opening of several supervised injection sites. Finally, the pandemic has created great difficulty for Chinatown businesses, resulting in many closing or moving out of the area.
“The City’s decisions may be unintentional,” Chan-Marples says. The City’s plan does include mention of developing a Chinatown tourist district. As always, the Chinese community itself is moving ahead with increasing awareness of this special part of Edmonton – “making it the best it can be,” Chan-Marples says.
This tour of Edmonton’s Chinatown, produced by aiya哎呀! and Fallout Media, is available on STORYHIVE’s YouTube channel. The tour leader, Lan Chan-Marples, is a Chinatown advocate who has been researching, writing, and telling the story of Edmonton’s Chinatown past and present. She is a member of aiya哎呀! – an intergenerational group of artists and community members in Edmonton’s Chinatown.
Anita Jenkins is a retired writer and editor who lives in Boyle Street.