by Phoebe Ho
TORONTO, Oct. 19 (Xinhua) -- The Chinatowns of eight cities across Canada are hallmarks of the sacrifices and work of Chinese-Canadians for more than a century, but this history is lost to many young and new Chinese-Canadians, according to an expert.
That is why David Choi, co-chair of the Chinese Canadian History Project Council at Vancouver's Simon Fraser University, initiated a project called "A Brief Chronology of Chinese Canadian History: From Segregation to Integration" to retrace the steps of Chinese-Canadians and their gradual integration into society.
Part of the project are inserts called the "Canada Chinatown Series," which documents the changes of Chinatowns in each Canadian city.
Choi believes it is essential to get new Canadians more involved in order to boost their community. While the project profiles the history of Chinese immigrants, Choi said it was also about continuing and preserving the efforts of Chinese-Canadian ancestors, who had paved the way for the younger generation.
"It has to embody the past history of Chinatowns, the continuation of the older generation of Chinese-Canadians. It is to honour them, to continue Chinatown as a thriving Chinatown, but we also have to bring in the younger generation's enthusiasm in the participation of a Chinatown that is evolving, that is suited to them," Choi told Xinhua recently.` There are no blanket policies in Canada dictating how each city's Chinatowns should be run, according to Choi, which is why each one is unique to it's city.
"Canadian Chinatowns are all in different steps in history. The earliest Chinatown that is still surviving today is Victoria Chinatown, which started in 1858; Toronto, 1878; Vancouver, 1886; and then Ottawa, which does not have a Chinatown," he said.
Choi noted that, while some Chinatowns are on the slide, others are flourishing. The ones that are growing are the result of the involvement of either the local government or the influx of new Canadians.
Citing the Chinatown in Ottawa, the capital of Canada and the second largest city in Ontario, Choi said it is the perfect example of the power these Chinese-Canadian populated centres could have for the community.
"When I was there, the local city government was very enthusiastic about wanting to start a Chinatown gate, and why?" he said. "It is because the power centers in the world are shifting and China has risen in terms of economic power, and Canada is seeing a huge influx of Chinese tourism, and Ottawa of course is quick to grab on to this new opportunity."
According to statistics, Canada saw an increase of 24.4 percent in trips by Chinese travellers in 2011 over the previous year. And this is expected to increase, as the Canadian Tourism Commission forecast China's growth in outbound tourism could generate an additional 300 million Canadian dollars (about 305 million U.S. dollars) a year in tourism revenues for Canada by 2015.
But whether the government is involved or not in either building or revitalizing these Chinese-centric neighborhoods, Choi said Chinatowns in certain cities were still on the rise because they had managed to attract the younger generation to operate their businesses there.
"We are beginning to see Chinese bistros, opened and operated by the third generation Chinese that were born in Canada, that have travelled, that are integrated in the mainstream, that were attracted back to Chinatown to open bistros," Choi said. "Roughly 70 percent of their clientele are Caucasians and not Chinese, so they are bringing something very unique."
Using this project as a starting point, Choi is hoping to reach out to the general public through schools, libraries, and even online, to spark interest and get people talking.
But in order to revitalize their Chinatowns, or to take its growth to the next level, Choi believes Chinese associations and Chinese-Canadians need to take things into their own hands and actively seek new ways to attract, not only those in their own cultural group, but reaching far and wide with new ideas to attract Canadians and international travellers.
"I see a very different possibility of Chinatowns in Canada in the future," he said. "What I see is that Chinatown is symbolic and could become symbolic icons in each of the Canadian cities where they exist."
To achieve this, Choi said there were three main steps. The first was for communities to initiate change, and the second was for individuals and groups to come up with innovations that could achieve both maximum growth in the Chinatowns while still preserving and respecting their history. The last step was to invigorate these communities to shake things up.
There is still some work to do, but Choi believes the future for Canada's Chinatowns is bright.