British Columbia

Search for Metro Vancouver's best neighbourhood: Burquitlam serves as hub for Korean-Canadians

A stretch of North Road on the Burnaby-Coquitlam border is the cultural epicentre for Korean-Canadians in the region.

Fried chicken, karaoke and supermarkets: Burquitlam is the cultural epicentre for Korean-Canadians

Coquitlam Councillor Steve Kim says when he moved to the area 40 years ago, 'there might have been one other Korean family.' (Ben Nelms/CBC)

CBC Vancouver is highlighting different parts of the Metro Vancouver region as part of the search for Metro Vancouver's best neighbourhood. 

When Kyu Kim's company, Hanin Investment Group, first bought the property now known as Hanin Village in Coquitlam, he said the site was nothing like what it is now.

"About 70 per cent was vacant here, empty," he said. "It was like a ghost town."

Almost 20 years later, Hanin Village, along with another plaza called Koreatown across the street, have become a vibrant cultural hub in Burquitlam for Korean-Canadians living and working in the Tri-Cities and beyond.

The beginning of Koreatown

The genesis of Koreatown dates back to 1998, when the HanNam Supermarket — which specializes in Korean grocery items — first moved in to what is now known as Koreatown, on the Burnaby side of North Road.

Jennifer Lee, office manager, and Jonathan Lee, store manager, are pictured at HanNam Supermarket in Burnaby. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"At that time there was no place we could call Koreatown and there was no Internet, no census or Statistics Canada for everybody, so [people] opened the Yellow Pages and they found whose last name is Lee, Park and Kim," said Jennifer Lee, office manager with HanNam Supermarket.

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"And they circled it and then they found out that they mostly lived in Coquitlam, Burnaby and Surrey ... So they tried to find the centre of those three, and that was North Road. And then HanNam came in."

After that, other businesses followed, making Koreatown the place for Korean immigrants to visit when they missed home, said Lee.

Hanin Village

Kyu Kim had a similar vision of bringing together Korean-Canadians. In 2001, his company bought the largely empty lot across from Koreatown, on the Coquitlam side of North Road, and invited H Mart — another large Korean grocery store — to move in. 

Kyu Kim says when his company bought the property that is now known as Hanin Village, the area was 'like a ghost town.' (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Soon after, other businesses also set up shop. Now, the two plazas known as Hanin Village and Koreatown are the epicentre for Korean restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores, and karaoke places in Metro Vancouver. Banks, hair salons, law offices and dental clinics have also moved in.

The business boom has drawn more people to move to the area, said Coquitlam Councillor Steve Kim.

"When I moved here, I think there might have been one other Korean family in 1981," he said. "And to see how this hub led to that expansion — it's been mind-blowing."

Sharing of culture

Steve Kim says as the community continues to grow, he hopes services to support seniors and young people will also be established.

Coquitlam Coun. Kim says the neighbourhood is not just for Korean-Canadians. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

But he notes the neighbourhood isn't just for Korean-Canadians.

As the search for Metro Vancouver's best neighbourhood continues, Steve Kim says the neighbourhood should be a contender because it is "definitive of diversity and inclusion."

"To have this area for everyone is truly what makes it even more special," he said. 

"It's about a sharing of cultural experiences and the only way this works is if it's very welcoming to others to come in to participate and experience it."

LISTEN: Koreatown in Burquitlam vies for best neighbourhood in Metro Vancouver.