Ed­mon­ton’s Chi­na­town gate un­der seige

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By PAUL WELITZKIN in New York

They are col­or­ful sym­bols of Chi­nese her­itage and cul­ture, a sign to thou­sands of new im­mi­grants from Asia that they were wel­comed in their new en­vi­ron­ment.

And now the Chi­na­town gate in Ed­mon­ton — a gift from Ed­mon­ton’s sis­ter city in China, Harbin —is spark­ing de­bate among res­i­dents and businesses. The is­sue comes down to: What to do with it. The choices are: take down and rebuild the gate at a new lo­ca­tion or con­struct a new gate at the new lo­ca­tion.

Built by Chi­nese ar­ti­sans in 1987, it runs across 102nd Av­enue and 97th Street. An ex­pan­sion of the city’s ligh­trail tran­sit sys­tem threat­ens the sta­bil­ity of the gate, ac­cord­ing to to Wal­ter Tro­cenko, man­ager of real es­tate, hous­ing and eco­nomic sus­tain­abil­ity for Al­berta’s cap­i­tal city.

“The prob­lem we have is, we don’t know what is go­ing to hap­pen once we start to pull it apart,” Tro­cenko said. “It‘s a lot like tak­ing down a house – you re­ally don’t know the con­di­tion of ev­ery­thing un­til you get in there. I am con­cerned that we may not be able to rebuild it 100 per­cent. Maybe we need to talk to of­fi­cials in Harbin and see if we can build a new one.”

Where the gate will be lo­cated af­ter the light-rail con­struc­tion is com­pleted will ul­ti­mately be de­cided by Ed­mon­ton’s city coun­cil.

At a hear­ing in April held by the city’s ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, re­tired Univer­sity of Al­berta pro­fes­sor and his­to­rian Brian Evans ex­plained that the gate was con­structed when Ed­mon­ton was twinned with Harbin, a city in north­east China, in 1987. It was built near the site of the first Chi­nese busi­ness in the city, which opened its doors 124 years ago.

Chi­na­town has shifted since its be­gin­ning.

With a pop­u­la­tion of about 60,000, Ed­mon­ton’s Chi­na­town is the third-largest in Canada. The cur­rent Chi­na­town con­sists of two parts. The gate marks the en­trance to the first Chi­na­town, Chi­na­town South, es­tab­lished in the late 19th century by Chi­nese men im­mi­grat­ing to Canada to help build the Cana­dian North­ern Rail­way.

Chi­na­town North, is lo­cated not too far from its older coun­ter­part and also in­cludes a large Viet­namese pres­ence and blends into the mul­ti­cul­tural “Av­enue of Na­tions” lo­cated along 107 Ave which runs east-to-west along the north­ern edge of both Chi­na­town and Lit­tle Italy.

The main strip is lo­cated on 97th Street be­tween 105A Ave and 108A Ave, but also in­cludes the blocks 107A Ave and 101 Street that sur­round the main strip.

“The con­di­tions which saw the es­tab­lish­ment of the China gate in 1987 have changed dra­mat­i­cally,” said Evans.

When the gate first went up, a plan to es­tab­lish Chi­na­town east of it was put forth but has since failed. Evans said keep­ing the gate where it is would be draw­ing at­ten­tion to that fail­ure but be­lieves it should stay near the area.

Mei Hung is the chair­woman of the Chi­nese Benev­o­lent As­so­ci­a­tion in Ed­mon­ton. Her group wants to put the gate back where the orig­i­nal Chi­na­town be­gan at 97th and Jasper Av­enue.

It lasted un­til the 1970s when the con­struc­tion of the Canada Place govern­ment build­ing forced many businesses to re­lo­cate four to five blocks away into an area that was also be­ing pop­u­lated by Viet­namese.

The orig­i­nal Chi­na­town is now a her­itage area and con­tains se­nior-cit­i­zen hous­ing and a multi-cul­tural cen­ter.

Hung and her group be­lieve a re­built or new gate at 97th and Jasper will serve as a gate­way land­mark to both Chi­na­towns.

“This will not only be a re­minder of our his­tory, it can also serve as a foun­da­tion for both Chi­na­towns and help to bridge the gap be­tween the two,” she said. Hung also en­vi­sions spe­cial­ly­de­signed street­lights and other land­scap­ing to help give the area a dis­tinct feel and at­mos­phere.

The prob­lem with mov­ing the gate to 97th and Jasper is that it has a dif­fer­ent lay­out than the gate’s cur­rent home.

“The road­way has more lanes and I’m not sure it can be mod­i­fied to fit the lo­ca­tion,” said Tro­cenko. “I don’t know if we can mod­ify the ex­ist­ing road­way and side­walks to ac­com­mo­date it.”

But not ev­ery­one wants the gate at the orig­i­nal Chi­na­town site. A study done by the city showed the ma­jor­ity of non-Chi­nese businesses near 97th Street op­pose the Chi­nese-themed en­vi­ron­ment be­cause they feel there aren’t enough Chi­nese businesses there to jus­tify it.

Hung still be­lieves that lo­cat­ing the gate at the orig­i­nal Chi­na­town will serve as a ral­ly­ing point for the com­mu­nity.

“Chi­na­town was very im­por­tant for the com­mu­nity. Many years ago it was an area where new­com­ers could feel at ease while ad­just­ing to liv­ing in Canada,” she said. “It was also an area where non Asians could ex­pe­ri­ence our cul­ture, food and mu­sic. I think that can hap­pen all over again.”

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Be­cause of light-rail con­struc­tion, the Chi­na­town Gate at 102nd Av­enue and 97th Street in Ed­mon­ton will have to be torn down.

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