Chi­na­town, Hal­i­fax style

Early signs of Chi­ne­se­fo­cused busi­ness neigh­bour­hood emerge in N.S. cap­i­tal


HAL­I­FAX — In a cor­ner of Hal­i­fax’s his­toric south end, Man­darin signs have started to sprout up: They ap­point dumpling and dessert restau­rants, bub­ble tea cafés, ren­tal hous­ing and a bar­ber­shop.

They are the early signs of a fledg­ling Chi­na­town.

It’s very small, and as with Chi­na­towns else­where it’s not all Chi­nese — some of the smat­ter­ing of busi­nesses spe­cial­ize in Korean bar­be­cue, Viet­namese pho or In­dian gro­ceries. Com­pared to big-city Chi­na­towns, it’s a blip on the ur­ban land­scape.

But for a city more ac­cus­tomed to Ir­ish pubs and fish and chips, not to men­tion the don­air (the of­fi­cial food of Hal­i­fax, de­clared in De­cem­ber 2015), this tiny pocket of busi­nesses around where Bar­ring­ton Street turns sharply into Inglis Street tells the story of a steady flow of new­com­ers to Hal­i­fax from China.

As more stay — rather than re­turn­ing to China or mov­ing west to Toronto or Van­cou­ver — a crit­i­cal mass of Chi­nese ex-pats is slowly form­ing, po­ten­tially en­cour­ag­ing oth­ers to put down roots.

“It’s more busy than be­fore,” said Mai Duong, co-owner of Ca-Hoa Gro­cery, a fam­ily-owned Asian re­tailer that has been sell­ing fresh pro­duce and pack­aged foods on the cor­ner of Vic­to­ria Road and Queen Street since 1981. “There are still a lot of Chi­nese stu­dents, but now more fam­i­lies, too.”

The ag­ing prov­ince is in desperate need of new­com­ers. From 2011 to 2016, the num­ber of peo­ple aged 15 to 64 dropped pre­cip­i­tously in At­lantic Canada, while the pro­por­tion of se­niors in­creased sharply, Sta­tis­tics Canada 2016 cen­sus data showed.

Nova Sco­tia is ag­gres­sively try­ing to tackle its pop­u­la­tion crunch by at­tract­ing skilled work­ers, and calls China a “key mar­ket” for both im­mi­gra­tion and trade.

China is the top source of in­ter­na­tional stu­dents to Nova Sco­tia, and the third big­gest source of im­mi­grants over­all, ac­cord­ing to the pro­vin­cial govern­ment.

Most of those new­com­ers ap­pear to be set­tling in the pro­vin­cial cap­i­tal, pop­u­la­tion 400,000 and home to sev­eral uni­ver­si­ties.

The city’s English-Man­darin news­pa­per, Dakai Mar­itimes, has seen its cir­cu­la­tion jump to 35,000, up from 5,000 when it was launched five years ago.

Meng Zhao, founder and ed­i­torin-chief, started the pa­per af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Mount Saint Vin­cent Univer­sity to help bridge the gap be­tween Chi­nese new­com­ers and lo­cals.

“When I moved here the Chi­nese pop­u­la­tion was quite small,” she said, “and I wanted to con­nect them to each other and the larger com­mu­nity.”

While work­ing long hours on the news­pa­per — which has since part­nered with The Chron­i­cle Her­ald, the prov­ince’s big­gest daily — Zhao and her hus­band started a fam­ily and now have a one-year-old and a three-year-old.

“Be­ing a par­ent is chal­leng­ing on its own no mat­ter what coun­try you’re in, but when you’re away from your fam­ily and cul­ture it can be hard,” she said.

Zhao joined a WeChat group for new Chi­nese moms liv­ing in Hal­i­fax, shar­ing advice and offer sup­port on­line, and also meet up for play dates at lo­cal li­braries and parks to talk about the ex­pe­ri­ence of rais­ing a fam­ily in Nova Sco­tia.

“I’ve been here long enough to in­te­grate into the lo­cal cul­ture and life­style, but for some who don’t speak the lan­guage flu­ently or have sup­port it’s re­ally dif­fi­cult,” Zhao said. “We help each other out.”

Yao Chen moved to Hal­i­fax in 2008 to study at Saint Mary’s Univer­sity and re­cently be­came a real es­tate agent.

While he said there are ways to en­cour­age more Chi­nese grad­u­ates to set­tle here — in­clud­ing im­prov­ing im­mi­grants’ abil­ity to bring their par­ents — he said the city’s real es­tate in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties go a long way to mak­ing the city at­trac­tive to for­eign­ers.

“The real es­tate mar­ket in Hal­i­fax hasn’t been as ap­peal­ing as other cities like Toronto or Van­cou­ver,” Chen said. “But that was be­fore other gov­ern­ments in­tro­duced for­eign buyer taxes.”

Since then, Chen said Chi­nese new­com­ers are start­ing to rec­og­nize that prop­er­ties in Hal­i­fax are more af­ford­able and the qual­ity of life bet­ter than in bigger cities.

When I moved here the Chi­nese pop­u­la­tion was quite small, and I wanted to con­nect them to each other and the larger com­mu­nity.”

Meng Zhao


Meng Zhao, founder and editor-in-chief of Hal­i­fax’s English-Man­darin news­pa­per, Dakai Mar­itimes, poses with her hus­band Frank Zhang and child Zachary Zhang and youngest child Wesley Zhang in Wind­sor, Ont.


Yao Chen, a lo­cal real­tor, is seen at Bai Wei Grill Bar in Hal­i­fax.

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