British Columbia

World Heritage status would make Vancouver's Chinatown permanent symbol of resilience, B.C. says

The city and province are pushing for Vancouver's Chinatown to be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, saying it should serve as a reminder of the crucial contributions of Chinese-Canadians.

Province and city to push for UNESCO designation after formal apologies

Vancouver's Chinatown dates back to the late 1800s and is the largest in the country. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The city and province are pushing for Vancouver's Chinatown to be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, saying it should serve as a reminder of the crucial contributions of Chinese-Canadians.

Premier John Horgan and Mayor Gregor Robertson signed a memorandum of understanding Monday morning at Vancouver's Chinese Cultural Centre, pledging to push for the designation in the wake of two recent apologies for historical wrongs against Chinese-Canadians.

"Vancouver's Chinatown is a powerful symbol of the resilience, determination and courage of generations of the Chinese community and people who have helped build this province," Horgan said in a press release.

"The contributions of early Chinese immigrants, and their descendants, touch every corner of our province. We're working to honour this legacy and protect historical sites for generations of British Columbians to come."

The ultimate authority to nominate a site for consideration by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization lies with the Canadian government.

Formal apologies

World Heritage designation recognizes sites considered to have "outstanding" cultural or natural value for the world, and protects them from being damaged or destroyed.

Vancouver's Chinatown dates back to the late 1800s, and is the largest in Canada, as well as one of the oldest.

The Millennium Gate on Pender Street greets visitors to Vancouver's Chinatown. (Google Maps)

Earlier this year, the city formally apologized for past discrimination against Vancouver's Chinese community, including denying Chinese-Canadians the right to own property and to choose which neighbourhood they wanted to live in.

The B.C. government made a similar move in 2014, apologizing for 160 racist policies imposed in this province, including the head tax for immigration from China and denying Chinese immigrants the right to vote.

The two levels of government say World Heritage designation would preserve Chinatown as a permanent reminder of the discrimination levelled against a community that was instrumental in building this country.

"This signals a new chapter for Chinatown with an important opportunity to invest in this extraordinary community and highlight the many positive contributions that generations of Chinese-Canadians made to Vancouver," Robertson said in a press release.

Last year, Canada nominated B.C.'s Hecate Strait and the Queen Charlotte Sound glass sponge reefs for designation. The province's current World Heritage sites include the national parks of the Rocky Mountains and SGang Gwaay Llnagaay, a Haida village site on Haida Gwaii.

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