Manitoba

Winnipeg Chinatown businesses add their voices to call for national revitalization plan

Businesses in Winnipeg's Chinatown are joining peers in five other Canadian cities in calling on Ottawa to fund the revitalization of traditional inner-city Chinese neighbourhoods.

Chinatown leaders in Winnipeg and 5 other cities make the case for federal help

Chinatown business leaders are calling for a national Chinatown revitalization plan. (CBC)

Businesses in Winnipeg's Chinatown are joining peers in five other Canadian cities in calling on Ottawa to fund the revitalization of traditional inner-city Chinese neighbourhoods.

For decades, Chinatowns at the heart of Canadian cities have lost businesses, buildings and people while investment has fuelled fast growth in Chinese-Canadian neighbourhoods in suburbs and exurbs.

In few cities has this been more apparent than in Winnipeg, whose traditional Chinatown north of downtown is blighted by vacant lots while a newer de facto Chinatown in Fort Richmond sees more Chinese-Canadian businesses open every year.

"The only foot traffic you see during the regular days is people who park their cars in Chinatown. They work in the nearby offices, they come pick up their cars and their leave. So there really is no traction," said Jonathan Wu, who grew up in Chinatown, where his parents run two restaurants.

Not enough people live in Winnipeg's Chinatown — an official city neighbourhood, 0.1 square kilometres in size — to spark a renaissance, he said.

"They have no purpose to come to Chinatown anymore, whether they know it exists or not. They can do their shopping in the south end. They don't need to come to Chinatown to get their specific goods."

On Wednesday, Chinese community organizations in Winnipeg, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal called for the creation of a national plan "to build back Canada's Chinatowns."

The 15-point plan calls for financial relief for Chinatown property owners, investment in cultural spaces and the establishment of tourism offices in traditional Chinese neighbourhoods, among other plans.

"Chinatown has been ignored for a long time and has deteriorated with no plans to restore it," said Jennifer Chen, who took part in the national call.

Funding could be used for something as simple as streetscaping, said Michelle Young, whose family runs Kum Koon Restaurant on King Street.

"Some cleanup and you know, sort of revamping our buildings and things like that, just to make it more attractive for people to want to come to Chinatown," Young said.

Wu said he would like to see more people in Chinatown to increase the perception of safety.

"There have been car break-ins. Even though it's not human-to-human interaction and violence, it's still worrying. People don't want to come to Chinatown and have their cars broken into, right?"

The federal government reacted to the call by noting it already supports businesses, including those in Chinatown, with pandemic wage and rent subsidies.

"The government will continue to be there for Canadians and businesses — as it has been since the start of the pandemic," Finance Canada said in a statement.

Businesses in Winnipeg's Chinatown say beloved neighbourhood is deteriorating

CBC News Manitoba

4 months ago
2:06
The businesses describe empty lots and old buildings downtown — a problem they say existed long before the pandemic. 2:06

With files from Peggy Lam

now