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"Save Chinatown": The Struggle to Protect a Neighbourhood

02 juin 2017

In the 1970s, leaders of Montréal’s Chinese community rallied to save a large part of Chinatown from the threat of demolition.

Complexe Guy-Favreau

Le Complexe Guy-Favreau en construction, vu de la rue De La Gauchetière. En arrière-plan, l’Église catholique chinoise.
Brian Merrett。拯救滿地可(Sauvons Montréal)系列文章。
Montréal’s Chinatown has always been the social, spiritual, and commercial hub of the city’s Chinese community, whose presence in Montréal goes back to the late 1800s. And yet Chinatown’s population declined significantly in the second half of the 1900s, from 3,000 residents before 1960 to just 441 in 1985. Why this sudden shrinkage? One factor was the construction of a series of urban mega-projects during this period, signalling a turning point for the neighbourhood.

On March 26, 1972, the federal minister of public works, Jean-Eudes Dubé, announced the construction of Complexe Guy-Favreau. Plans for the high-rise towers encroached on the area in which Chinese Montrealers lived and worked, as did a number of other major redevelopment projects begun in the 1970s and ’80s: the Ville-Marie Expressway (1970s), Complexe Desjardins (inaugurated in 1976), and the Palais des congrès (completed in 1983). These initiatives, which the government hoped would promote the eastward expansion of Montréal’s downtown core, threatened to eliminate one-third of Chinatown. A large residential sector, several Chinese businesses, a school, cultural associations, and three Chinese churches were all slated for demolition. In 1981, Pagoda Park came under threat as well as the city set out to expand rue Saint-Urbain.

Sauvons Chinatown (article du journal Le Jour)

Le mouvement Sauvons Montréal s’oppose à la construction du Complexe Guy- Favreau dans cet article du journal Le Jour, du 5 mai 1976.
Archives de la Ville de Montréal.
The situation made headlines. Three pastors from the Chinese community, Fathers Tou, Chan, and Ngai, joined forces to draft a submission to the government and municipal authorities. It called for preservation of the Chinese churches, not only as spiritual centres, but as sites of language and cultural transmission for hundreds of children. But while the neighbourhood’s religious leaders were united in their fight, the Chinese community remained divided. Pro-China and pro-Taiwan factions had difficulty overcoming their differences, and some merchants welcomed the prospect of modernization. Much of the neighbourhood was demolished. Pressure by the movement’s leaders, however, succeeded in saving one important building: in 1977, the Chinese Catholic Church at the western end of rue De La Gauchetière was designated a historic monument, just in time to escape destruction. 

A new beginning

Sauvons Chinatown (vm94-b259-025)

Vue du chantier du Complexe Guy-Favreau, avec l’église catholique chinoise au bout de la rue De La Gauchetière.
Photo by Philippe Dumais. Archives de la Ville de Montréal. VM94-B259-025.
The survival of only one of the three Chinese churches could hardly conceal the loss of one-third of the area once covered by Chinatown. This reduction in size was coupled with significant demographic decline: some 1,000 Chinese families left Montréal between 1975 and 1977 in reaction to the controversial Charter of the French Language (Bill 101). Meanwhile, a new wave of Chinese immigrants chose to make their homes elsewhere, particularly in the off-island suburb of Brossard. In the early 1980s, however, community leaders refused to leave Chinatown to its fate. The Montréal Chinese Community United Centre (MCCUC) and the Montréal Chinatown Development Association (MCDA) were formed to develop an action plan for the area’s revival. In 1982, several new projects were proposed, including the conversion of rue De La Gauchetière into a pedestrian street and the installation of two large arches over boulevard Saint-Laurent. Affirming the community’s cultural symbols and identity, they marked the beginning of the revitalization of Chinatown as we know it today.

Pagoda Park

Pagoda Park

Vue du Parc de la Pagode, inauguré en 1967, avec en arrière-plan le Complexe Desjardins. 1978.
Adrien Hubert. Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec. E6,S7,SS1,D780878.

For nearly fifteen years, from 1967 to 1981, Pagoda Park was a significant visual symbol of the Chinese community’s presence in Montréal. Built in 1967 to celebrate Canada’s centennial, the small green space featured a decorative pagoda donated by the owners of Wing’s Noodles. Before the construction of the landmark Chinese arches in the late 1980s, the pagoda was one of the area’s defining features.

Références bibliographiques :

CHA, Jonathan. « La représentation symbolique dans le contexte de la mondialisation : L’exemple de la construction identitaire du quartier chinois de Montréal », Journal of the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada / Journal de la Société pour l’étude de l’architecture au Canada JSSAC /JSÉAC 29, nos 3, 4, 2004, p. 3-18. Également disponible en ligne : patrimoine.uqam.ca/upload/files/publications/CH.pdf

CHAN, Kwok B. Smoke and Fire: the Chinese in Montreal, Hong Kong, The Chinese University Press, 1991, 330 pages.

CHUENYAN LAI, David. Chinatowns: Towns Within Cities in Canada, Vancouver, University of British Colombia Press, 1988, 382 pages.

DEMERS, Clément. « Le nouveau centre-ville de Montréal », Cahiers de géographie du Québec, vol. 27, n° 71, 1983, p. 209-235.

MORRISON, Val M. Beyond Physical Boundaries: The Symbolic Construction of Chinatown, Mémoire (M.A.), Montréal, Université Concordia, 1992, 117 pages.


1970年代,唐人街受到几项大型兴建工程的威胁,如Guy-Favreau联邦大楼、Complexe Desjardins购物商场、Ville-Marie高速公路和蒙特利尔会议中心。为了应对此危机,众多海外华人及其盟友组织了大规模的社区行动以保护唐人街。尽管众人付出了很大努力,最后只有中华天主堂幸存下来,其余的大片住宅区、多家华人商店、一所学校、数间文化协会及两座教堂通通被拆除了。


Traduction en chinois simplifié : Serena Xiong et révision (chinois simplifié) : Philippe Liu.


1970年代,唐人街受到幾項大型興建工程威脅如Guy-Favreau聯邦大樓、Complexe Desjardins 購物商場、Ville-Marie 高速公路和滿地可會議中心。為了保存唐人街,眾多海外華人及其盟友組織了大規模的社區行動以保護該地區。儘管衆人付出了很大努力,最後只有中華天主堂倖存。大型住宅區、數家華人商店、一所學校、數間文化協會和兩座教堂通通被拆除了。


Traductrice : Wai Yin Kwok.