Advocates for Chinatown areas in six Canadian cities say the economic and social impacts of the pandemic and a rise in anti-Asian hatred across the country need to be addressed and must be a national priority.
A group of community leaders representing Chinatowns in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver is calling for federal supports to set up a national action plan to help revitalize the country’s Chinatowns.
During a virtual press conference on Wednesday, the Chinese leaders put forward their recommendations to address economic, social, cultural and infrastructure needs exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Calgary’s representative in the group, Teresa Woo-Paw, said the city’s Chinatown area has been in need of revitalization for many years.
“So this action plan is very timely for us,” Woo-Paw said. “Calgary’s Chinatown, like many others in Canada and North America, has gone through the stages of relocation, development, recent threats by urbanization and gentrification and Calgary is one of those that managed to survive.”
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Woo-Paw formerly served as an MLA in the Progressive Conservative governments between 2008 and 2015 and founded the group Action Chinese Canadians Together.
B.C independent Senator Yuen Pau Woo, who lives in Ottawa’s Chinatown, also took part in the call to action. He said the rise in anti-Asian hate throughout the COVID-19 has been personally distressing.
According to a report from the Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter, there have been 1,150 incidents of anti-Asian racism in Canada throughout the pandemic.
Many of those incidents involved people physically attacking, spitting at or coughing on Asian Canadians, the report said.
“Chinatowns across the country are going through various degrees of crisis and we need a national strategy,” the senator said. “All of this is of heightened importance given the rise in anti-Asian racism.”
Calgary’s Chinatown was established in 1910 and is currently home to about 2,500 people.
One of those residents, Grace Su, also manages a seniors residence in the area.
She said the appeal of the community is the safety and familiarity, especially for the elder populations.
“Most people come to Chinatown because of the community, not specifically because of any particular building,” Su said. “Whether that is a bakery or a bank, a restaurant or even a salon that they can freely go and say what they want and people can understand them and provide them with a service.”
Su said she supports revitalization in the area and said security and accessibility must be two key features in any future plan.
Security is one of several recommendations being put forward by the group of the nation’s Chinatowns, along with attracting businesses, tourism, affordable housing and beautifying the community.
“Asian Canadians have been targeted and scapegoated with implications and disproportionate adverse impacts at the personal, social, community and economic levels,” Woo-Paw said Wednesday. “We must take an inclusive approach in the overall rebuild plan, significant cultural spaces and communities must have equitable access to resources, jobs, and social opportunities.” ‘
According to the Calgary Chinatown District Business Improvement Area, COVID-19 and the health measures that saw businesses forced to close for dine-in throughout the winter has had widespread economic impacts on local Chinatown businesses.
“Businesses cannot rely on consistency in terms of revenue, therefore, consistency in terms of staffing,” Chinatown BIA president Terry Wong said. “Staffing right now is one or two people working part-time working with the owners’ family; that’s not business sustainability.”
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Wong said the revitalization of Chinatown would hopefully attract more people to visit the area, and in turn, help drive business. He added that a plan has been in the works with the City of Calgary through the Tomorrow’s Chinatown initiative.
“It’s a unique cultural enclave that should be celebrated by all in Southern Alberta,” Wong said. “We need to have them come here but we need to give them that destination for them to come.”
Calgary’s mayor said federal support is welcome as the city is currently working with the community and businesses in Chinatown to determine funding and projects in the area.
“We’re very lucky because we’ve got this vibrant Chinatown which is an integral part of downtown Calgary and an integral part of the community; there has been Chinese-Calgarians as long as there’s been Calgarians,” Nenshi said. “Certainly if the federal government is willing to make an investment nationally in our Chinatowns, we would really welcome that, because this is exactly the moment that we’re making decisions on how to invest.”
There’s no word on how much a national revitalization plan would cost but advocates say they will be speaking with federal officials to determine those details.
– With files from Christa Dao, Global News
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