The century-old Chinatown in Alberta’s capital city is close to many attractions, though it hasn’t always been a destination itself. But with more and more people living and visiting downtown, the community’s future looks promising.
WHERE TO EAT
Hot Pot: If cooking meat in simmering soup stock is your culinary calling, check out Kim Fat Market. Its expert butchers offer a wide variety of thin-sliced meats to make at home, along with cooked food to go. 10577 97 St. NW
Pork Buns: According to the Chinese zodiac, the Year of the Pig began on February 5. Celebrate with some bamboo baskets of char siu bao—plus a sweet treat or two—at Shan Shan Bakery. 10552 97 St. NW
Pho: Vietnamese fare also abounds in Chinatown—especially pho. The family that runs King Noodle House takes 14 hours to cook the broth for their beef and noodle soup, using a recipe that’s been passed down for generations. 10615 97 St. NW
Noodles: Pop into Cui Hua Gui Lin Noodle House for Cantonese fare that you won’t find any-where else in the city. One of the house favourites is stir- fried noodles with mincemeat and pickled vegetables. 10626 97 St. NW
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WHERE TO PLAY
Try your hand at China’s national sport: table tennis. At the Edmonton Chinatown Multicultural Centre, watch experienced players for free or pay the $5 drop-in fee to pick up a paddle yourself. The centre also offers ping-pong lessons, tai chi classes and a library, which holds Alberta’s largest collection of Chinese-language books. 9540 102 Ave. NW
Edmonton’s first Chinese immigrants started settling near Jasper Avenue and 97 Street more than a century ago. In the 1970s, an additional concentration of Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese businesses emerged a little farther north. Tour guide Sharon Yeo shares Chinatown’s colourful history—plus her favourite shops and eateries—on summer walking tours.
What are your first memories of Chinatown?
My family used to come from the suburbs to Chinatown on weekends to grocery shop and pick up things that weren’t available elsewhere in the city. I remember it being so vibrant.
What’s your favourite thing to do here?
Eat! I love the food! I live within walking distance so it’s easy to get my tofu or smoked meats. And a lot of my favourite restaurants are in the area—places like 97 Hot Pot, Pho Tau Bay and Lee House. I always order the japchae (stir-fried glass noodles).
What should people know about Chinatown?
Many of the businesses are family-owned and operated, so you should consider shopping in these smaller businesses that have been around for a long time. On our tours, we go into different places so you can put faces to names. I think when you’ve met the business owner you’re more likely to go back.
Why are more people coming to Chinatown nowadays?
With Rogers Place and the Ice District close by, plus the new Royal Alberta Museum just south of Chinatown’s commercial area, I think awareness is growing that you can stop and enjoy the restaurants and stores; spend some time and support many of the small businesses.
On the origins of Alberta’s Chinatowns
Chinese settlement throughout Western Canada traces to the 1858 Fraser River gold rush and, later, the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway in B.C. Upwards of 15,000 Chinese men built the line between 1880 and ’85; more than 600 died on the job.
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With the CPR completed, some workers headed east to Alberta. Others arrived during the turn-of-the-century boom years of Prairies settlement. By the 1920s, several thousand lived and worked in Chinatowns in Edmonton, Calgary and elsewhere.
In addition to granting residents a sense of community, these enclaves offered some shelter from a hostile environment. Racist sentiment was widespread at the time, as evinced by the government’s notorious head tax—and then a near-total ban on Chinese immigration from 1923 to 1947. It wasn’t until 1967 that Chinese were able to independently move here. In the half-century since, their inflow has been a boon to the vitality of communities across Canada.