Edmonton boasts a well-established and
culturally significant Chinatown. In fact, some suggest that Edmonton has
many Chinatowns. The oldest was established just prior to World War
I and created by a small community of generally male, Chinese immigrants.
It was a place for the unfamiliar newcomers to connect, build a support group,
and obtain products and services not generally found in their new homeland.
As this Chinatown grew and developed it saw the birth of clan or family-based
organizations, a political party, a benevolent association and
After World War II, as Chinese-Edmontonians prospered and became more accepted by
the larger community, many moved away from Chinatown to more affluent neighbourhoods.
Chinatown became home primarily to older males and new, single Chinese
immigrants. In this period the area witnessed a decline in population and
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the fate of Edmonton's first
Chinatown remained uncertain amid proposals for federal office
development and city expansion. However, organizations such as the
Chinese Benevolent Association, the Chinese Freemasons and the
Chinese Nationalist League worked to save the area, and, with the City of Edmonton,
they planned a new
Chinatown to replace its diminished predecessor. Known today as
Chinatown South, this second Chinatown was developed with
many much-needed community facilities and is symbolically marked
by a stunning Chinese arch. Although the subsequent residential
and commercial growth of Chinatown South has not yet met the
expectations of many, it continues as a cultural mainstay for many
While the fate of old Chinatown was being decided, the Chinese and
now Vietnamese communities continued to grow, and by the early 1980s, there
emerged a new and somewhat different, downtown commercial strip. Unlike the old Chinatown, there were no organizational or
residential buildings. It was, however, close to the old Chinatown and near
the homes of many Asian people. Just as the original Chinatown
was born out of a need to sustain cultural ways and find one's own place in Alberta, the new Chinatown reflected a changing population and changing community needs.
The development of the new Chinatown, or Chinatown North as it has
come to be known, continues. It boasts many businesses such as florists, bakeries,
restaurants and supermarkets. Additionally, there are several features
that distinguish it from Chinatown South. First, Chinatown
North represents a growing Vietnamese and Vietnamese-Chinese
population. As well,
perhaps because of its close proximity to residential areas,
Chinatown North has continued to expand as a community, developing
secular institutions, temples, churches, and community
Although different, both Chinatown North and Chinatown South are
essential elements of Edmonton's rich cultural make-up and remain
valuable links to Alberta's past, present and future.
For more information, see David Chuenyan Lai, "Three
Chinatowns" Bob Hesketh and Frances Swyripa, eds., in Edmonton,
The Life of a City (Edmonton: NeWest, 1995).