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Please view the Chinatown Reimagined Virtual Exhibition
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Enter this interactive experience to explore some visions of Chinatown and how they’ve manifested into events and initiatives by the community, for the community.
Get a taste of what’s been made possible in Chinatown’s transformation process as you consider your own visions for the future of Chinatown.
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Chinatown is made up of various stakeholders and interest groups with different visions and goals for what the space could be -- like a dim sum table, where a variety of tastes and flavours coexist!
Sometimes these visions align, while other times they might diverge. But what makes Chinatown unique is the diversity of imagination and abundance of people striving to make it a better place.
Taste the flavours of Chinatown! When you are ready, click “Place Order” to enter our interactive dim sum experience. Each dish represents a vision brought to the table by actors in Chinatown. Click around to read more about initiatives and events happening in the space.
* Disclaimer: This project is meant to showcase the diversity of visions, values, and goals that exist in Vancouver Chinatown. The examples shown do not necessarily reflect the creator's values, nor are the creators choosing sides in any debate.
Read more below...
Chinatown’s Transformation Process formerly focused on the buildings and physical spaces - what was perceived to be the defining factor of cultural heritage. However, the City of Vancouver has recently recognized “the need to strengthen Chinatown’s intangible heritage and view tangible and intangible cultural heritage as synergetic.”
Read more about Chinatown's intangible and tangible heritage through our Interactive Photo Gallery.
As a result of the Historical Discrimination Against Chinese People (HDC) Initiative’s recommendations, Vancouver City Council established a Legacy Stewardship Group in 2017.
Made up of community representatives and stakeholders, they oversee Chinatown revitalization work and advise and guide the Chinatown Transformation Team on Chinatown’s transformation, including the development of a long-term Cultural Heritage Asset Management Plan (CHAMP).
In 2018, Vancouver City Council formed the Chinatown Transformation Team—a dedicated staff team to collaborate with the community on Chinatown work. One of the CTT’s roles involves co-developing a Cultural Heritage Asset Management Plan (CHAMP) with the community “to manage and grow Chinatown’s cultural and heritage assets.”
CHAMP is part of the “process towards a possible UNESCO World Heritage Site application for Chinatown,” and addresses the “social, cultural and economic development needs of the Chinatown community.”
Read more about the Chinatown Transformation Team and their work in Chinatown as a community-oriented space [Chicken Feet].
Learn more about the Cultural Heritage Asset Management Plan (CHAMP) through our dedicated virtual exhibit.
Intangible living heritage includes “the language, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, and specific knowledge, practices, and skills” which are plentiful throughout Chinatown.
Essentially, these are the aspects of culture that are embodied in the arts, languages, practices, traditions, knowledge and skills of (the people in) Chinatown(‘s community).
Tangible heritage includes the physical and easily recognizable elements of heritage, such as buildings and public spaces.
Read more below...
The City of Vancouver invited local artists with a relationship to Chinatown to create new, unique, original work(s) for properties in Chinatown. These works of art represent the living culture and heritage of the community, and the meanings and identities that are formed around Chinatown.
The 4 murals (2019) and utility box art wraps (2018) seen around Chinatown’s streets showcase aspects of Chinatown’s intangible cultural heritage through visual art: with illustrations of food, dried herbs, festivities and more. These pieces of public art not only add vibrance to Chinatown, but celebrate Chinatown through the eyes of those who love the space.
Enjoy the artwork and read more about the artists, their pieces and where you can find them in Chinatown: murals (2019), utility box project (2018).
Presented by On Main Gallery, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Garden, Vancouver Art & Leisure, and curated and produced by award winning artist Paul Wong. Pride in Chinatown promotes equality and justice by celebrating queer Asian-Canadian art and artists. Past events have included Cantonese opera, lion dances, drag performances, electronic music and more, at the intersection of new and traditional art forms in an Asian diasporic space.
Artists have included members of the House of Rice, like Kara Juku’s drag performance (2021), Maiden China’s “Quarantine Series” of self-portraits (2020), and many many more.
House of Rice, Vancouver’s all-Asian drag family, has been operating out of Chinatown since late 2019. As founders and co-producers of Ricecake, a queer and Asian dance party in Vancouver, their “stunning visuals and consistent advocacy for Asian visibility in queer communities” has been at the forefront of mingling modern queer culture with traditional artistry in Vancouver.
Instagram: @thatshaydior&@queenmaidenchina; Shay Dior & Maiden China, House of Rice, Chinatown Stories, vol. 3
Prioritizing the voices and practices of Indigenous and underrepresented artists, the Massy Arts Society is a community hub that “provides a forum for qualified artists to exhibit, present, or perform their artistic works.”
This not-for-profit society produces public events in the realms of performing, literary and visual arts, and provides a space where “readers, writers, and artists can come together.”
Visit their new gallery space at 23 East Pender Street, Vancouver, BC.
Owned and operated by Vancouver Native Housing Society (VNHS), Skwachàys Lodge and Gallery offers an Artists in Residence program “that houses, supports and provides Indigenous artists with a place to live and create.” They platform indigenous art and culture while supporting indigenous artists and their personal and professional development.
Check out their art gallery and visit them at 31 West Pender Street, Vancouver, BC.
This community driven commemorative mural and story-telling project celebrates the women who helped shape Vancouver’s Chinatown community. Inviting Chinese Canadian women with a relationship to Chinatown to participate in a mail-art project, they ask: “What have you learned from a woman elder in your life that connects you to your cultural heritage and/or identity?”
Read more below...
Legacy businesses are shaped by a shared history, contributing factors to the city’s identity, and embodiments of the values that are significant to how people “view and experience memory and identity in that area.”
The Legacy Business Study was conducted by the City of Vancouver to identify businesses that are of importance to those who live in, work in and/or visit Chinatown. The findings help support and protect the very aspects that make legacy businesses indispensable to the community and the city as a whole.
This volunteer board of property owners and landlords is a non-profit association that helps “promote and improve the economic vitality” of Chinatown. With roots in the Vancouver Chinatown Merchants Association (VCMA), this Chinatown business community has been instrumental in the development and promotion of business alongside their work promoting Chinatown, maintaining public spaces and branding Chinatown’s identity and character.
The Chinatown pop-up market leveraged the potential of public space as an opportunity to showcase small-scale vendors, support entrepreneurialism and renew neighbourhood connections in the summer of 2018.
Located in the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen courtyard, the market was anchored by projects such as the hua foundation’s Choi Box Program and Edible Project’s tofu dessert popup.The activated the public courtyard space encouraged connections between small-scale culturally appropriate food vendors and the local community.
To see more examples of utilizing public spaces to support the local community, view our Interactive Photo Gallery on the heritage value of the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Courtyard and other corners of Chinatown.
Businesses in Chinatown play an essential role in the community’s way of life and provide culturally appropriate goods and services. They are crucial to how we experience the neighbourhood while creating economic and employment opportunities for business owners, employees and larger distribution networks.
Support some local businesses today:
Please note that these are [only] some of the businesses in Chinatown. Keep in mind that the borders of Chinatown blend with neighbouring communities (ie. DTES) so there are many services outside of the Chinatown zoning that are still part of Chinatown.
Watch more videos created by the Chinatown Reimagined student film team in our video gallery or on YouTube.
Read more below...
Public spaces in Chinatown, like the Chinatown Memorial Plaza or the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen courtyard, celebrate the special experiences you can only have in Vancouver Chinatown. These spaces provide opportunities to build community connections, celebrate heritage, and centre the history, culture, identity and people in the community.
The Hot+Noisy Mahjong Socials are a series of recurring community events in Chinatown’s Memorial Plaza, organized by the Youth Collaborative for Chinatown. Two times a month, the space becomes “hot and noisy (熱鬧)”, filled with lively banter; friendly competition; and cross-cultural, intergenerational interactions.
The Chinatown Transformation Team (CTT) is a dedicated staff team formed in September 2018 to work with the community and key partners on Chinatown-related work.
The CTT, in collaboration with the community, will develop a long-term Cultural Heritage Asset Management Plan (CHAMP) which will propose priority projects, actions, partners, and resources to foster a vibrant Chinatown. It's also a key component of the overall process towards a possible UNESCO World Heritage Site application for Chinatown.
The Chinatown Transformation Team’s kickoff in community engagement was a meet and greet in their office at Chinatown House. The team listened to people’s thoughts on the future of Chinatown and how they want to be involved.
The Chinatown Transformation Team hosted a Community Ideas Workshop to invite, engage and ask community members how they would like to work together moving forward with Chinatown’s transformation process.
Here are the initial takeaways and idea garden from the event.
The team hosted a dialogue to discuss the role of public art in Chinatown, once again engaging the community to discuss the relationship between public art and heritage and how public art can reflect the values of Chinatown. Read more about the values of Chinatown legacy in English and in Chinese.
The community’s input at these events help inform the City of Vancouver’s Chinatown transformation work to ensure that community voices are heard, valued and centered throughout this process.
Find the Chinatown Transformation Team’s Community Engagement Report here.
BC Artscape Sun Wah provides an affordable and secure space to support the work of artists, cultural producers and community groups in Vancouver’s Chinatown. It’s a space to foster community building and connectedness while collaborating with the local community in which they operate.
Hot and Noisy
熱鬧 [Canto: yeet naau; Mando: re nao] -- lively
Read more below...
“As the first ever loud and proud queer event in Vancouver’s Chinatown, Pride in Chinatown creates visibility for new queer pan-Asian art and artists.” As a means of claiming public space, which belongs to everyone, Pride in Chinatown makes Chinatown a safe space for LGBTQ2+ people and allies in a space historically known for its resistance against racial discrimination.
Read more in Celebrating the Creative Spirit of Chinatown [Shrimp Dumplings].
Using Chinatown as a model for similar cultural hubs in Vancouver, the Food Security Report considers how municipal policies can better reflect the importance of cultural food assets for the food security of racialized communities. Not only are cultural food assets significant to Vancouver’s local food system, but they demonstrate the tangible and intangible culture of food and the essential role it plays in “cultivating healthy communities.”
Many low-income seniors in Chinatown face barriers that make it difficult to access basic needs. The Yarrow Society offers translation programs that help seniors access healthcare services. During COVID-19, they also offered culturally appropriate grocery delivery services to Chinatown seniors, to help keep them safe and fed.
Watch more videos created by the Chinatown Reimagined student film team in our video gallery or on YouTube.
Chinatown advocacy groups (Vancouver Chinatown Legacy Stewardship Group, Yarrow Intergenerational Society for Justice, the SRO Collaborative, the Vancouver Second Mile Society, Bảo Vệ Collective and hua foundation) are leading the effort to get Chinatown seniors immunized, by setting up vaccine clinics that are accessible and equipped with translation support.
In 2017, “the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation purchased the May Wah Hotel... to secure affordable housing in Chinatown and preserve the neighbourhood’s cultural heritage.” While single-room-occupancy units (SROs) were defining features in bachelor societies of Chinatowns across North America, today SROs offer affordable housing for low income seniors and tenants.
Unfortunately, many of these SROs are “nearing the end of their useful life cycles” while also facing financial pressures from management, upkeep and market costs. Accordingly, the Downtown Eastside SRO Collaborative Society organizes SRO tenants and aims to improve safety, housing conditions and management practices, and secure housing through rent control in privately-owned SROs in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and Chinatown.
Also see Housing Vancouver’s SRO Revitalization Action Plan (2017)
Hogan’s Alley was the home of Vancouver’s historic Black community. It was demolished and displaced in the 1970s for the construction of the Georgia and Dunsmuir Viaducts. Now, the HAS is a non-profit that is committed to highlighting the historic Black presence in Vancouver. One of their major ongoing projects is working with the City of Vancouver in developing a Black Cultural Centre that would showcase Black Canadian culture and empower Vancouver’s Black communities.
The Vancouver Native Housing Society (VNHS) aims to provide safe, secure and affordable housing with a portfolio of almost 900 housing units in Vancouver. Formerly focused on the needs of the urban indigenous community, their operations are now inclusive of “non-Indigenous people, seniors, youth, women at risk, persons living with mental illness and the homeless and homeless at-risk populations.”
VNHS also runs the Skwachàys Lodge and Gallery located in Vancouver’s Chinatown. With an Urban Aboriginal Fair Trade Gallery, boutique hotel and Artist in Residence program (read more in Celebrating the Creative Spirit of Chinatown [Shrimp Dumplings]), their Social Enterprise model is used to fund supportive housing, subsidize the Indigenous artists who live/work there, and “ensure that Aboriginal artists are paid fairly for their work.”
Who lives in Chinatown? See the Chinatown Demographic Profile (Bilingual, 2016)
City of Vancouver’s Chinatown Neighbourhood plan (June, 2012).
Cross Cultural Walking Tours - “Celebrat[ing] the rich layered history of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood: Jewish Strathcona, Hogan’s Alley, Chinatown, DTES and Powell Street.”
Cultural food assets
make important contributions to Vancouver’s local food system by promoting the food security of its citizens while providing spaces that support the maintenance and transmission of culture.”
Cultural food assets in Chinatown include: “greengrocers, fishmongers, barbecue meat stories and butcher shops, Chinese dry goods stores, and food service retailers (i.e., restaurants, bakeries, and cafes).” (p. 8)
is defined by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization as “a situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life." (p. 33)
Cultural food security
expands upon the United Nations definition by emphasizing food security as a state where people are ‘able to acquire food in ways that are culturally acceptable, [empowering], and personally dignifying.’ (p. 33)
Read more below...
In 2017, the City of Vancouver approved recommendations by the HDA to pursue a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation for Vancouver Chinatown. The process of preparing the nomination included increased commitment and collaborative efforts to honour the space’s heritage and legacy, including through the creation of a Chinese Canadian Museum and development of CHAMP. This is an ongoing effort that is jointly supported by UBC’s Initiative for Student Teaching and Research in Chinese Canadian Studies (INSTRCC) and the Chinatown Transformation Team.
This volunteer board of property owners and landlords is a non-profit association that helps “promote and improve the economic vitality” of Chinatown. Part of their work involves creating the branding of Chinatown’s identity and character. In 2010, the BIA introduced Chinatown’s mascot, Van Van. You may recognize him on the banners in Chinatown and at community events across the city!
Alongside branding efforts for Chinatown, the BIA’s work includes the promotion of Chinatown, development of businesses, and maintenance of public spaces.
Have you ever noticed the colourful banners, painted lamp posts, and iconic dragon light fixtures in Chinatown? These design elements make Chinatown a recognizable space and helps define the neighbourhood. Van Van: Muse the bear is Chinatown’s mascot, who adorns banners and event posters, hoping to attract more business and visitors into the space and acting as a symbol of Chinatown’s revitalization efforts.
Read more below...
Chinatown Today started as an online platform to share all the news and stories of Chinatown in one easily accessible place.
Their series, Chinatown Stories, is a grassroots magazine that invites community members, activists and writers to share their art and personal stories of Chinatown. You can find Volume 2: Aunties, Elders & Ancestors and Volume 3: Storytelling of Active Resilience for free online or Volume 3 in print at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and Chinatown Wonders.
To support local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, Chinatown Today created a COVID Chinatown Business Map to highlight businesses that are currently in operation and offering takeout or delivery.
In 2018, the youth groups met with the City to work on summer programming that would animate public spaces in Chinatown - the Chinatown Memorial Plaza and Dr. Sun Yat-sen Courtyard.
To make these events possible, they created an umbrella brand, Chinatown Summer Events, as a Shared Marketing programme, and a Shared Equipment programme to share community infrastructure and build the capacity of smaller organizations to promote and host events.
As an experienced non-profit organization, hua foundation has empowered youth through their workshops, tools and resources, and supported “emerging, not-yet-registered organizations” and projects that aim to advance social change. Alongside their mission of empowering youth in Asian diaspora, their racial equity work and support also extends across all racialized groups to share support and guidance, and build the capacity of youth organizations for initiatives to come.
Reports like the Shape the Courtyard Report, Chinatown Summer Events Report and Food Security Report make knowledge accessible to all! These include event feedback, logistics, research findings, outcomes and recommendations that can be used for future events, research and initiatives as a means of resource sharing and support.
Eastside Movement for Business and Economic Renewal Society (EMBERS) is an income generation hub operating in the Downtown Eastside with the goals of helping low-income folks attain economic and employment opportunities. By assisting community members in “rediscovering hope and self-sufficiency,” they build their capacities to become economically self-sufficient.
“I’m glad I have Eastside Works. The people here are amazing, they support each and every one one of us stewards. I was able to grow through this program. Without Eastside Works I would have been something different. I know about the realities of the Downtown Eastside, because I lived it. I’m drug free. I’m alcohol free. I’m way beyond who I thought I was. In my lifetime, I went through a lot of challenges, and I wasn’t able to have a real job per se. When Eastside Works opened, it was my opportunity to get better, to get healthier, and to get working. I’ve accomplished that because of Eastside Works. This is my family here.”
- Sue Pastorcic, EMBERS Eastside Works, Chinatown Stories vol. 3
Apart from the resource sharing programs created by organizations for the community, residents and volunteers in Chinatown also participate in their own informal resource sharing networks.
For instance, during 105 Keefer volunteers would drive seniors to and from hearings, offer translation services, live tweet for folks who couldn't participate in-person, and deliver food for people who were there all day.
On the other hand, while many seniors live on their own in Chinatown, the informal networks within Chinatown foster systems of companionship and mutual aid for those living apart from their families.
The Business Improvement Area has been contracting United We Can to help with lane cleaning in Vancouver’s Chinatown. United We Can uses environmental initiatives to create economic opportunities for people living in the Downtown Eastside. “All 60+ people employed in the program have lived or continue to live in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver and are largely DB2 disability identified.”
The DB2 disability designation “generally refers to people with long-term or permanent disabilities,” as opposed to the DB1 designation “intended for those with temporary or short-term disabilities.” These designations have since been repealed by the Employment and Assistance Act for Persons With Disabilities (2002) which recategorized most people with the DB2 designation to “People with Disabilities” (PWD).
Read more below...
Yarrow Society focuses on cultivating relationships between youth volunteers and the low-income seniors in Chinatown. Some of their programs include providing translation support for seniors to help them meet their basic needs, and the Sticky Rice Collective which organizes intergenerational events in Chinatown.
Youth Collaborative for Chinatown - 青心在唐人街 - practices, shares and celebrates the living culture and heritage of Vancouver’s Chinatown. Their experiential programs connect place and people across generations and have been recognized with 2020 BC Heritage Awards. Their annual “Hot+Noisy” Chinatown Mahjong Social activates public space through mahjong and cultural games play among young and old; and their Cantonese Saturday School teaches the heritage language using the neighbourhood's historical streets and spaces as classroom.
Launched in 2007, the Initiative for Student Teaching and Research in Chinese Canadian Studies (INSTRCC) at UBC engages and empowers students to conduct community-based research relevant to Chinese Canadian communities. INSTRCC seeks to gather and share the stories and histories of Chinese Canadians and has had a close working relationship with Vancouver Chinatown.
Past and ongoing INSTRCC projects in Chinatown include the Chinese Canadian Museum, works at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and Chinese Canadian Museum programming for grade school students and this Chinatown Reimagined project.
The INSTRCC team, led by Dr. Henry Yu, develops collaborative educational programming that funnels back to Chinatown organizations and businesses; and facilitates meaningful youth engagement in Chinatown alongside partners such as the Asian Canadian and Asian Migration Studies Minor program (ACAM) at UBC.
The Asian Canadian and Asian Migration Studies (ACAM) minor at UBC “is a multidisciplinary program that explores the history, culture, and contemporary development of Asian communities in Canada, and global Asian migrations.” Responding to community issues and concerns, ACAM offers mentorship, training and community engagement opportunities to students - equipping them with real-life experience in community-based and intercultural research.
“One of my favourite memories and also most valuable experience is being introduced to the INSTRCC student team through some of the courses I had to take as part of my ACAM requirements... Through my role at INSTRCC I was able to work on various short films that were screened at the 'A Seat At The Table' exhibition in Chinatown and at the Museum of Vancouver, as well as working on programming for both exhibitions and future UBC courses. Everything was a learning experience for me and I am very grateful for this opportunity and for the individuals I have met through this experience.”
Kristy Lin, ACAM Class of 2021 Graduate
Alongside these events and programs that have fostered intergenerational relationships, Vancouver’s Chinatown is a space where grandparents and parents (consciously or subconsciously) share their cultural heritage and identity with their grandchildren and children. Grocery shopping and dim sum on weekends, running errands across Chinatown, annual Lunar New Year celebrations or Chinese school, martial arts and painting classes make Chinatown a safe space for families to bond and celebrate their heritage. As these grandchildren and children grow up, it becomes a place to return to with their grandparents and parents to treat them to a culturally-relevant experience they can only find in Chinatown.
hua foundation (Read more in Chinatown as an equitable and inclusive space [Spring Rolls] and Resource sharing and capacity building in Chinatown [Garlic Pea Sprouts]).
Return to Table
If you’ve ever experienced the beauty of dim sum, you would know that everyone comes to the table with different tastes and there are a variety of flavours in the dishes to be shared. Chinatown Reimagined Dim Sum encourages visitors to explore some of the existing visions in Chinatown and how they’ve manifested into transformative events and initiatives. Through different mediums for online storytelling, we hoped to reflect some of the diverse voices and countless visions that exist in the space -- all the while allowing our visitors to pick and choose according to their own tastes. Considering the collective efforts, creative thinking and conscious decisions that have gone into the Chinatown transformation process, we’ve found inspiration in the potential of community-based activism and the importance of community-oriented work. It goes to show how individual voices can be valued and community members can come together to protect, transform and reimagine a Chinatown that sparks passion and holds an assortment of meanings for all.