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, 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.