Chinatown’s grand Revival

3 minutes

Chloe Machillot

Already in the midst of a slowdown in recent years, the economy of Montreal’s Chinatown was particularly affected by the pandemic. But seve­ral projects already underway should enable it to become a strong player in the relaunch of the downtown core.

An action plan to develop Chinatown was unveiled by the city at the start of summer 2021. Mayor Valérie Plante also affirmed through her Twitter account that she was “determined to protect [Chinatown] and to highlight the area as part of the relaunch.”

Mobilizing retailers

“The centrepiece of the plan for the relaunch is, in my opinion, the creation of a merchant association,” notes entrepreneur Winston Chan. “Implementing it is challenging—retailers need to be mobilized—but it is this alliance and its sound governance that will make the revival of this neighbourhood possible and incite Montrealers to revisit it.”

“The association would help retailers by guiding them in the creation of their own websites and their requests for subsidies, as well as through consulting services,” explains Chan. These efforts will enable them to strengthen their financial situation and at the same time will breathe new life into Chinatown in a commercial sense.

Undeniable potential

“More and more entrepreneurs and retailers have noticed the efforts made in the area and want to move there,” notes Eva Hu, co-owner of the Coq Frit restaurant chain. “It’s a good neighbourhood for families, culture, tourism, and above all, it’s the only francophone Chinatown in North America—its potential to attract people is undeniable!”

The entrepreneur explains that she participated in creating the relaunch plan with the city. She also knows a few future independent retailers who are already enthusiastic about the idea of establishing themselves in Chinatown and getting involved in the ecosystem there.

“Montreal’s Chinatown is a cultural and strategic location that connects to downtown’s Old Port while adding its own specific historical identity to the city,” adds David Schmidt, restaurateur and owner of the bar Le Mal Nécessaire. “I strongly believe it deserves to be preserved and honoured, and I support the initiatives [by the city] targeting its eco­nomic relaunch.”

Eva Hu, entrepreneuse et Winston Chan, entrepreneur

Preserving its heritage

One particular issue has however mobili­zed every resident of Chinatown: finding a balance between preserving the old and creating the new. “What is needed for economic survival in Chinatown has been identified, but this sector has something in particular that needs to be preserved: its rich
heritage,” confirms Jonathan Cha, a Montreal urbanologist and Chinatown expert.

In his opinion, big development projects can be a threat to preserving the identity of the area. He suggests adopting urban regulatory tools to ensure that future changes in the district respect the autonomous, living nature of the neighbourhood while at the same time promoting the development of independent business.

“Being vigilant is really important because Chinatown is also a residential neighbourhood,” emphasizes Chan. “Many are fearful of gentrification, since it’s the site for a lot of social housing, residences for the elderly, and residential streets.”

The city recognizes the importance of preserving its heritage, and many Chinatown stakeholders are happy with the action plan it has developed.

However, everyone is impatiently waiting for the return of tourists and an increase in traffic to the area’s businesses so that this emblematic district of Montreal can once enjoy its well-deserved place in the spotlight.

Initial installation complete

Other than the retailer association project, the relaunch plan also provides for resident consultation workshops, heritage preservation measures, and improvement projects for public areas. The development of Place des Souhaits, at the corner of Saint-Laurent and René-Lévesque Boulevards, is a good illustration of these efforts.
The premises were created by a team of designers and artists from Montreal’s Chinese community. An evening art market is held there regularly during good weather and a traditional Buddhist wish-granting tree, reminiscent of those located next to Buddhist temples, was erected in the centre of the space by artist Karen Tam.