Editorial: Getting Chinatown recognized as a heritage site shouldn’t be a question

Chinatown should already be considered a heritage site. Graphic Carl Bindman

One of Montreal’s most frequented and beloved neighbourhoods—among tourists and locals alike—is Chinatown. The last neighbourhood of its kind in all of Quebec.

Located around some of the city’s busiest streets, such as René-Levesque Blvd. and St. Laurent Blvd., and running along de la Gauchetière St., Chinatown finds itself right in the city’s hub.

As it stands, the Old Port and Mount-Royal surrounding areas are some of the only neighbourhoods that are recognized as heritage sites. Despite being a prominent part of the city since the 1890s, Chinatown’s politics and concerns are often overlooked for its more attractive aspects, such as the boba shops and bakeries.   

We need the city to recognize Chinatown as a heritage site. It shouldn’t be this complicated, and it shouldn’t have taken the district’s first ever municipal debate for the discussion to finally happen.

Chinatown is home to many family-run businesses that have been open for decades. Every restaurant and veteran business that’s still open today are a testimony to how important the preservation of Chinatown is. They were originally places of gathering for Montreal’s Chinese community. Places to feel at home and reconnect with their culture when the rest of the city felt foreign and unwelcoming.  

The neighbourhood tells the story of past and present generations who found comfort, familiarity, and community in-between those narrow streets.

Now, one of the biggest issues encroaching on the neighbourhood’s survival is the gentrification of the area. Many businesses are shutting down and selling their buildings, which is a shame considering some of the previous owners had been active members of the community. Wing Noodles was one of those establishments.

Montrealers and out-of-towners that fell in love with the city love to talk about how diverse it is, but it’s not often that you’ll hear people talk about the many battles minorities have to fight in order to preserve their neighbourhoods.

Although Chinatown is a pleasant area of town to be around, as Montrealers we can’t forget the neighbourhood faces just as many injustices as any other in the city. It was only last June that discussions of an action plan to protect Chinatown emerged; an action plan that is part of a governmental push to restart the downtown area’s economic growth. 

Chinatown is a culturally important neighbourhood for all the Chinese communities living in the city, and its existence is rich in history. We need to honour it by preserving it as an unmovable force that makes or breaks Montreal.

Active members of the community, such as Jimmy Chan, have been pushing for the preservation of Chinatown for years. Saving Chinatown - The Rise of the Dragons—a recent documentary made by Chan—pushes for the patrimonial status of the neighbourhood, and anyone who understands what Chinatown represents for its community should too.