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Heritage Matters: Calgary's Chinatown

by Christine Hayes - 0 Comment(s)

AJ 0509

Chinatown, along Centre Street, 1967

Alison Jackson Photography Collection, AJ 0509

We have been very lucky to be the host of some excellent programs in the Heritage Matters series. The next one may be the best yet. On Thursday June 2 during the lunch hour we will be hosting Mr. Victor Mah, the Honorary Chairman, Calgary Cultural Centre and Chinatown Centenary Community Champion.

He will talk to us about the history of Chinatown and the plans for its future development. Our Chinatown is the fourth largest in the country and has been an integral part of the city since the beginning. It has recently celebrated its 100th anniversary – but that was only the anniversary Chinatown in its current location. There has actually been a Chinese area in Calgary since it was a NWMP fort when unemployed railway workers, denied the money to return to China, set up restaurants, grocery stores and laundries roughly where the Glenbow is now.

Calgary’s second Chinatown was on the other side of the railway tracks in the area around 1st Street and 10th Avenue SW. This one didn’t last either. As Calgary boomed in the early part of the 20th century, the railway depot was put up on 9th Avenue SW and the price of land in the area skyrocketed. Because the Chinese were tenants, not owners, they had the land sold out from under them. It was then that the land around Centre Street was purchased by Chinese merchants and the Chinatown we now know and love began to develop. It was not without controversy, however, as the racism that was evidenced in the 1890s during the smallpox epidemic had not diminished. Cooler heads prevailed (the police chief and the medical health officer, for example) and the Chinese were allowed to remain.

This wouldn’t be the only challenge faced by Calgary’s Chinatown, but over the years, it has continued to flourish and today is a vibrant reminder of the Chinese pioneers of Calgary.

So join us in the New and Notable area on the Main Floor of the Central Library at noon on June 2 for Mr. Mah’s presentation. You can register in person, by phone at 403-260-2620 or online at

(You can read about the history of Calgary’s Chinatown in Paul Yee’s book Chinatown: an illustrated history of the Chinese communities of Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary… well as other titles. Find them by searching the catalogue using the terms Chinatown Calgary history)

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Dragon Float in Chinatown, 2008

Judith Umbach Photography Collection, JU 000923-8


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