Nearly a hundred people gathered yesterday in Chinatown to discuss ways to preserve the quickly-disappearing built and intangible heritage of Chinatown.
A panel discussion was held at Centre A in Chinatown, with a crowd from all ethnicities and cultures. Although the event was packed, many people gave up their seats for the elderly and stood near the back. Architect Joe Wai was under the weather, so his brother Hayne Wai represented him, speaking about the history of Chinatown and efforts made in the past to preserve the area, including the freeway protests so that Chinatown would not be torn apart by highway ramps. Joe believes that today’s protests against 105 Keefer Street and other high rises are successors to those movements in the past.
Former City planner Nathan Edelson reflects upon the battles that Chinatown has endured throughout planning history, he even brings up the fact that the Workers’ Memorial in the triangular corner of Keefer Street was almost never built. The original idea was to place a public art piece in that location. Because of the work of community activists, the monument was placed there to commemorate Chinese labourers and veterans for their contribution to Canada. Today’s opposition against the a condominium tower beside the monument is inexplicably linked to this piece of history.
Edelson also supports prioritizing low-income Chinese seniors housing in Chinatown, and dismisses the idea of “racial profiling”. He believes that providing seniors housing will build a foundation in the community. Seniors’ children and grandchildren will visit Chinatown and be able to support local businesses and participate in cultural activities together. This is how Chinatown’s cultural heritage and history can be passed down to the younger generation and be revived.
Edelson suggests that the community enter into broad discussions to find a common ground, working towards protecting unique local Chinese retail shops, whether it is a wonton noodle or a BBQ meats shop. These are important elements to educate people on protecting Chinatown’s culture.
Doris Chow, who has organized many activities surrounding opposition against the 105 Keefer proposal, believes that density does not equal revitalization. Developments should be appropriate. She points out that Chinatown offers Chinese food and space for cultural activities. Being born and raised in Vancouver, this neighbourhood has not only has allowed her to appreciate her own Chinese Canadian history, but promotes Chinese culture to people of other ethnicities too. Many people have fond memories of tasting roasted pork during a visit in Chinatown, and supports Chinese heritage and education.
Another young woman spoke about the forced eviction of her parents’ Chinese herbal store, which they have operated for over ten years. She tells the audience that although she believes in western medicine, she also frequently witnesses first-hand the health benefits of Chinese medicine. She introduced her parents as people who cared first and foremost about the customers and their health, and would never use any greedy business tactics. They will take care to save even low-margin products for old-time customers who only visit once every few months.
The young woman hopes that these Chinatown stories can be collected and shared here like a library, and can continue for generations.