‘We’re going to lose Chinatown’: community group wants city to protect historic neighbourhood

“We fear that we’re going to lose Chinatown,” says Bethany Or, founder of the Chinatown Working Group on the gentrification of the neighborhood and the recent call by the Mayor to grant it heritage protection. Brittany Henriques reports.

By Brittany Henriques

MONTREAL (CityNews) — Community groups and defenders of Montreal’s Chinatown say the city needs to take direct measures to ensure the neighbourhood is not lost forever.

The Chinatown Working Group is one of several groups worried about the future of the neighbourhood after developers bought up several of its historic buildings.

On Thursday, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante called on the Quebec government to designate the city’s Chinatown as a heritage site. But it will take much more than that, say members of the community.

“By making this resolution and at the same time approving projects that go against these resolutions, we’re going to lose Chinatown,” said Bethany Or, the founder of Chinatown Working Group.

The mayor’s demand to protect the neighbourhood under the Cultural Heritage Act comes after developers Brandon Shiller and Jeremy Kornbluth bought a section of the oldest part of Chinatown that includes Wings Noodles, an establishment that has been there since 1897.

“Certainly we are very pleased with the mayor and elected officials for taking that step and I think it’s a very strong and symbolic gesture, however at the very same time we know that there are preliminary measures being made by Shiller and Kornbluth,” said Or.

“We are aware that they’re finalizing their plans for developments at 1000 Saint-Urbain and at the same time at the corner of St-Laurent and de la Gauchetiere. There will be a reading for their plans on Sunday and on Tuesday it will be approved or disapproved.”


Community groups say the developments are ramping up and nothing is being done to stop what they call the destruction of Chinatown.

“We fear that without the city taking their own tools and mechanisms and doing what they can at the municipal level, we fear that we’re going to lose Chinatown,” said Or.

“In the city’s own document, it says ‘immediately start the processes to recognize heritage.’ This is what, 15-16 months ago? It says ‘draw the plan to implement actions for mobility and build the environment. Start taking lines of action today.’ It was not implemented, and we see the consequences of that now.”


Cathy Wong, city councillor for Montreal’s downtown Ville-Marie borough, says an action plan is being developed to preserve the neighbourhood and should be published in a few weeks.

“I think it was in last March the Ville-Marie borough adopted its own heritage plan,” said Wong. “And in the local heritage plan, the Ville-Marie borough recognized Chinatown what we call an exceptional territory, which means that we recognize the history and contribution to the history of Montreal, which gives Chinatown an extra status in order to protect. For example when there are demolitions or change of zoning, we have to consider this exceptional territory.

“Of course I’m worried also. I’m worried also that it’ll be too late. And we’re doing everything we can and using all the tools that we have — and there’s not only one tool, we’re using all the tools — and hopefully it’s not going to be too late.”

The Chinatown Working Group says those efforts have not stopped work from already getting underway.

“A contradiction with the administration or bureaucracy, and it’s almost as if the head doesn’t know what the tail is doing,” said Or. “Meanwhile we have elected officials and city councillors working tirelessly trying to achieve heritage status meanwhile we have plans going into approval.”

A similar push to have Chinatown recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site has been ongoing in Vancouver.

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