Building bridges to relaunch Montréal’s Chinatown

Letter co-signed by Michel Leblanc, President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal, Winston Chan, Former Chair of the Board of the Regroupement des jeunes chambres de commerce du Québec, and other signatories.

Montréal’s Chinatown has been part of the landscape of downtown for more than a century. A historic place of welcome, gathering, and solidarity for immigrants and Montrealers of Asian origin, it also offers rich heritage and culture, lending vitality to downtown. As a centre for tourism, gastronomy, and the economy for the city, it makes a major contribution to Montréal’s visibility on the international stage, in addition to being a favourite spot of Montrealers.

In May, we issued a plea for the survival of Chinatown, which has been badly shaken by the pandemic. The absence of tourists and customer traffic and the increase in acts of anti-Asian racism have had a major impact on Chinatown – the oldest in North America – and its communities. The magnitude of the situation prompted an open letter, signed by over 20 actors from the business community and Chinatown.

In the wake of this, the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal and its partners held the Strategic Meeting on the relaunch and future of Chinatown, bringing together Montréal leaders of Chinese origin to initiate an important dialogue between actors in the Chinese and Asian communities and the business community. At the end of this event, which highlighted the historic, economic, and social contribution of communities to the development of Chinatown, a clear call emerged for engagement and mobilization to ensure its sustainability and prosperity. Solutions were proposed to strengthen Montrealers’ sense of belonging to Chinatown. Urgent action was needed.

Several initiatives were developed to increase cooperation between the Chinese and Asian communities, the different levels of government, and many downtown actors. One of these was the Asian Public Market, which saw the Place des souhaits Oasis brimming with energy all summer long and attracted fans of Asian street food. This project was made possible through a partnership between the Marché de Nuit, La Pépinière I Espaces Collectifs, and the Quartier des spectacles Partnership, with the support of the Ville-Marie borough, Tourisme Montréal, and the Ministère du Tourisme.

In addition to being a great chance for Montrealers to reconnect with Chinatown, the Asian Public Market also increased traffic to the area, which had been deserted for months because of the pandemic.

It is time for action. We need to show our solidarity for Chinatown and its commercial fabric through an even more concrete effort.

Recently, the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal launched the crowdfunding campaign “Together for Chinatown,” an initiative supported by the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec and the Government of Canada, to support the relaunch of businesses and merchants in Chinatown. For every $30 coupon purchased via the La Ruche platform, the Chamber added a further $20 to spend at some 50 participating businesses. In one week, the coupons had sold out. The tremendous success of this campaign shows Montrealers’ affection for Chinatown and its merchants, and the importance placed on its vitality, which is part and parcel of the vitality of downtown and the entire city. This is another example of a successful collaboration that we hope will inspire other efforts.

We would like to send a clear message to anyone within the boundaries of Chinatown and downtown: more than ever, we need to collectively commit to its future and prosperity. We hope that the intercultural bridges built by this type of initiative will inspire business communities in other Canadian cities, such as Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Vancouver, in their response to the relaunch of their own Chinatowns. The crisis caused by the pandemic offers us an opportunity to build a society that is united, inclusive, and prosperous. Let’s rise to the call.

Michel Leblanc, President and CEO, Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal

Winston Chan, Former Chair of the Board, Regroupement des jeunes chambres de commerce du Québec

L’honorable Steven Guilbeault, Member of Parliament for Laurier–Sainte-Marie and Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Me Ponora Ang, President of the Montréal Chinese Hospital Foundation

YiFang Eva Hu, Owner of the Le Coq Frit banner and Co-founder of the Asian Night Market and Asian Market

Emmanuelle Legault, President and CEO, Palais des congrès de Montréal

Charles Milliard, President and CEO of the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec (FCCQ)

Benny Y. W. Shek, President, Quebec Association of Chinese Restaurants and Owner of Kim Fung and Dynastie restaurants

Monique Simard, Chair of the Board of Directors, Quartier des spectacles Partnership

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