Is Montreal’s Chinatown at risk of extinction?

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Is Montreal’s Chinatown at risk of extinction?

Montreal’s Chinatown is the last Chinatown in Quebec. But gentrification poses a threat to its future. This episode of Local 514 explores the gentrification of Chinatown and how this stems from systemic racism and the erasure of Chinese history in Canada.

Local 514 spoke with William Dere, activist and writer mobilizing to save Chinatown, Mei Chiu from the Chinatown Working Group, a group dedicated to sustaining the history and culture of Montreal’s Chinatown, as well as community members in Chinatown to understand their thoughts on the rapid gentrification of the area.

In the 1930s there were 25 Chinatowns in cities across Canada, today there are less than 12 remain.

There are threats of gentrification amidst developers recently buying up property in the neighbourhood pose concern for the future of Montreal’s Chinatown. However, this is not simply just gentrification, but stems from systemic racism and erasure of Chinese history in Montreal and Quebec.

The Chinese Working Group is trying to obtain heritage designation for the neighbourhood. This would allow for an economically viable approach to development, as a result, cultural heritage and the community of Chinatown would not be erased and continue to thrive. Heritage status has previously been granted in Montreal for the Old Part and Mount Royal.

The pandemic has affected the neighbourhood, as businesses have experienced anti-Asian racism, closures, and vandalism, as the area has been isolated as a result of the pandemic.

Gentrification is not something new to CT, as development has threatened the area since the 1960’s. The gentrification of Chinatown highlights the issue of the erasure of Chinese history in Canada, as Chinese immigrants notably build the Canadian Pacific Railway in the early 1880s. In the century following the railway, the Canadian government upheld systemic racism as they imposed a head tax on Chinese immigrants.

More than 15 thousand Chinese immigrants came to Canada in the early 1880s to build the most dangerous and difficult section of the Canadian Pacific Railway. They Worked in harsh conditions for little pay and they suffered greatly – it is estimated that at least 600 died working on the railway. Between 1885 and 1923, approximately 81 thousand Chinese immigrants paid the head tax, contributing millions of dollars to the federal government, collecting approximately $23 million through the head tax. This amounts to an estimated $1.2 billion in 21st century dollars. Following the Chinese head tax, Chinese immigration to Canada was completely banned. This legislation was kept in place until 1947, and its effect on Canada's Chinese community was devastating.

With the municipal election less than a week away, where do political parties stand on this?

Balarama Holness, leader of Mouvement Montréal proposed a plan to strengthen zoning laws which would prevent gentrification. He wants to propose mandatory consultation with businesses and stakeholders on development processes and establish a registry for Chinatown’s small businesses which will provide rent and wage subsidies

In October, Chinatown Working Group sent a survey to Ensemble Montreal and Action Montreal regarding where they stand on issues related to gentrification and the neighbourhood. No response was provided.The Chinatown Working Group said the parties’ silence “speaks volumes.”

Mayor Valerie Plante said saving Chinatown is crucial. This summer, Projet Montreal released a plan to protect Chinatown, including improving pedestrian access to the area from the downtown, making space for more parks and green spaces, maintaining and developing social housing, supporting businesses by initiating a local merchants’ association. encouraging initiatives to generate more visitors.

Plante also wants to partner with the Quebec government to create a working group which will develop strategies to protect heritage buildings in the area. Plante does not want to halt construction that will impose gentrification according to critics, but says she intends to work with developers to respect the community

Watch the full episode to find out how community members are recommending to mobilize and save Chinatown from gentrification.





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Video Upload Date: November 3, 2021

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