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Chinatown in Edmonton

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 cultural clubs. 

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 businesses. 

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 Chinese-Albertans  

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 associations.

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).
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