‘Historic gesture’: Montreal’s Chinatown officially registered as heritage site

“A first step,” said Yuyuan Robert Chen, from Chinatown Youth Montreal, when speaking about Montreal’s Chinatown becoming the first neighourhood to be granted heritage site status by the city. Gareth Madoc-Jones reports.

By News Staff

Montreal’s Chinatown has officially become the city’s first sector designated as a heritage site.

Mayor Valérie Plante called it a “historic gesture,” adding it was part of a global strategy to promote the sector’s history and recognize the contribution of the Asian community.

Montreal utilized Quebec’s Cultural Heritage Act to identify Chinatown as a heritage site, making it part of the province’s Directory of Cultural Heritage.

“In addition, this registration creates a lever for cultural and tourism development, for example by encouraging the development of activities for citizens, as well as tourists,” the city said in a news release.

“I think it’s a great way to highlight the contribution of the Chinese communities, especially the first Chinese immigrants in Canada,” said Winston Chan, an entrepreneur engaged in the revitalization of Chinatown, adding, “by designating Chinatown as a historical site, I think it will create a lot of opportunities in terms of educational and also interpretation of the history of Chinatown.” 

Winston Chan, entrepreneur engaged in the revitalization of Chinatown.
Winston Chan, entrepreneur engaged in the revitalization of Chinatown. (Photo: Gareth Madoc-Jones/CityNews)

Montreal’s Chinatown is the only French-speaking Chinatown in America, the city says.

Montreal’s Chinatown on July 25, 2023. (Martin Daigle/CityNews)

In 2021, a committee was formed at the request of the mayor of Montreal and the Minister of Culture and Communications, in response to the concerns of the community and heritage organizations regarding the impact of real estate pressure on the heritage character of Chinatown.

The goal was to figure out the tools to be deployed for the protection of the authenticity of heritage, identity, characteristics, specificity of the attractions and cultural practices of Chinatown.

Later that year, the committee made five recommendations, including adopting identification regulations to recognize Chinatown and the former Faubourg Saint-Laurent as a historical place.

Last year, the Quebec government designated Chinatown as a provincial heritage site protecting nine buildings from major alterations or demolition. With the recent municipal declaration, the hope from many in Montreal’s Chinatown community is that both Montrealers and tourists will learn more about their history.

“We had the head tax by the Canadian government. And also in 1923 there was the Chinese Exclusion Act that really separated families to be able come to China. And also, later, there was also a tax for the laundromats owned by Chinese,” explained Chan. 

Mei-Li Roy, communications coordinator, Chinatown Youth Montreal.
Mei-Li Roy, communications coordinator, Chinatown Youth Montreal. (Photo: Gareth Madoc-Jones/CityNews)

“We should add it in the curriculum of schools so that they know that it happened,” said Mei-Li Roy, communications coordinator for Chinatown Youth Montreal, adding, “at one point in Montreal and Quebec, there were the exclusionary laws that banned Chinese immigration for many years. So I think it’s not something that we can just forget about.”

Yuyuan Robert Chen, finance coordinator, Chinatown Youth Montreal.
Yuyuan Robert Chen, finance coordinator, Chinatown Youth Montreal. (Photo: Gareth Madoc-Jones/CityNews)

“I think in this case it is definitely a first step to many that the city at least recognizes the Chinatown as a heritage site. Now, I’d like to see this information being propagated and being basically educated everywhere as well,” said Yuyuan Robert Chen, the finance coordinator for Chinatown Youth Montreal.

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