Community groups in Montreal say urgent action is needed to 'save what's left of Chinatown'
With luxury condo towers going up nearby, many are concerned for the future of the area
In recent months, community groups in Montreal's Chinatown district have increased calls for municipal and provincial governments to protect the area from development.
While politicians have been receptive to these requests — a working group to come up with an action plan to protect the area was announced last month — some say a decision can't come soon enough.
"The urgency is the properties in Chinatown are being swallowed up by these big development companies," said Bryant Chang, vice-president of the Chinese Association of Montreal.
"We've been pushing the municipal and provincial governments to have Chinatown designated as a historical heritage site for two years now."
Giving heritage status at the municipal or provincial level is among the options being considered by the working group, which is composed of business owners, citizens and local officials.
However, it will take time for the committee to come up with recommendations and send them to Quebec's Culture Ministry.
Meanwhile development projects are being submitted by companies and historic buildings are being bought up.
Chang says that with luxury condo towers going up on the east and west sides of the neighbourhood, time is of the essence.
"The Chinese community feels that we are slowly being squeezed out," he said.
He added that with new development, property values will increase and current residents and business-owners in the area will be priced out.
"If they build all these condos, the rents are going to be sky high," said Chang. "The ordinary citizen living in Chinatown right now would not be able to afford to live there."
'It's a living neighbourhood'
Walter Chi-yan Tom, a spokesperson for the Hum Family Association, said groups like his are "scrambling like crazy ... to save what's left of Chinatown."
Tom's association, which dates from 1887, is among several in Chinatown that both own property and provide community services.
During a news conference on Sunday, Tom and others issued a "cry for help," saying that if the political will to help is there, they need action sooner rather than later.
He said that the "community has been consulted to death. At a certain time, you have to pass to action."
Tom and Chang are among a growing number of voices asking for a moratorium on new development, until they can seek more long-term protection for the area.
They also want to see specific protection for historic buildings and assistance programs for small-business owners.
And they are asking the Montreal Chinatown Heritage Protection Working Committee to meet immediately instead of only holding its first meeting on June 21. They want that committee to include residents who are affected by the new developments.
WATCH | Montreal seeks provincial heritage status for city's Chinatown district
"Many people think Chinatown is just for tourism, but it's a living neighbourhood," Tom said.
He added that when the neighbourhood was first established by Chinese immigrants, it was a "sanctuary" for people who weren't accepted elsewhere.
Tom says there's "already an existing ecosystem in Chinatown" and an influx of luxury buildings could lead to a mass exodus of residents and mom-and-pop shops.
"Chinatown is for everyone, but there's not going to be much left of it by the time that governments get into action. That's what's worrisome here," said Tom.