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For the love of Chinatown

The Story

It was once a Chinese ghetto - Chinese immigrants lived there because they weren't welcome elsewhere. Non-Chinese residents wouldn't dare go there. But now Chinatown is attracting non-Chinese visitors who fall in love with the area. In this 1968 CBC Radio clip, journalist Hilda Mortimer discusses her affection for Chinatown - the sights, the sounds, the smells, the people. It's the first place the former Vancouverite visits whenever she comes back to Vancouver. "Vancouver without Chinatown is just unthinkable," she says. 

Medium: Radio
Program: Between Ourselves
Broadcast Date: March 6, 1968
Reporter: Hilda Mortimer
Duration: 5:56

Did You know?

• A 2000 This Magazine article discusses how Canada's Chinatowns began to be portrayed as places "of exotic romance" during the Second World War. A 1943 Vancouver Sun article remarked on how Chinatown's "wicked," dangerous image had changed - "Or perhaps, how we, under the impact of World War Two have changed. China is now our ally and visitors look at Chinatown through new eyes. Chinatown! Chop Suey houses where delicious foods are served with wooden chopsticks. Chinese theatres with their sing-song voices and their twanging instruments."

• Chinatowns became major tourist attractions after the war, and municipal governments began to take notice by taking steps to preserve their distinctive character. In 1971, for instance, the City of Vancouver declared Chinatown a historic district. This meant all old buildings had to be preserved, and any new development was strictly controlled.
. Vancouver's Chinatown is the largest in Canada. It's the second largest Chinatown in North America, with San Francisco's being the largest.

• A 1961 CBC Television documentary called Gum Sahn (Gold Mountain) discussed the fact that Vancouver's Chinatown had become a very trendy nightspot for Vancouver's non-Chinese residents by the 1960s. "There's a Vancouver custom of going on to Chinatown after you've been somewhere else - to the theatre, or a party, or even another restaurant," explained the narrator. Late at night, he said, you're likely to hear someone say: "Let's wind up in Chinatown, I could do with some egg foo yung."

• Across Canada, there are currently vibrant Chinatowns in Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal. Several newer, more suburban Canadian Chinatowns have also developed as Chinese populations expanded during the late 20th century. These include Richmond, B.C., and the Toronto suburbs of Scarborough, Markham and Richmond Hill.


Chinese Immigration to Canada: A Tale of Perseverance more