News / Edmonton

New tours of Chinatown spread culture, history — and passion

A group of tour guides is hoping Chinatown's younger generation will jump at the opportunity to be a part of revitalization.

Claudia Wong-Rusnak, City of Edmonton's Chinatown Project Manager, led the first tour in May.

Supplied photo

Claudia Wong-Rusnak, City of Edmonton's Chinatown Project Manager, led the first tour in May.

A group of young tour guides are on a mission to get people better acquainted with Edmonton’s Chinatown, as the city grapples with the future of the historic neighbourhood.

Kathryn Lennon is one of the local residents who recently started piloting the free walking tours, which she says were inspired by youth-led tours of historic areas in other cities.

“I was born and raised in Edmonton and I didn’t know much about the neighbourhood beyond, oh, it’s where I go to get haircuts or that’s where I go to get dim sum,” she said.

It was only as an adult that she attended a conference about the history.

“I realized I didn’t know any of this,” she said.

Not only did the Chinese community have a long history in Edmonton’s downtown—many got their start with laundry businesses—but the district was also home to Italian, Ukranian and Indigenous communities, Lennon said.

“It’s only by spending time in the neighbourhood that you start to observe and pay attention,” she said, “It shifts the way you think about the city.”

Now, she’s hoping other people have that same light bulb moment.

The two-hour tour starts at the Edmonton Tourism Office where guides point to the original location of Chinatown—near where Canada Place is now located—and talk about the history of Chinese gardens in the River Valley.

From there, the group makes its way into the centre of Chinatown, checking out local stores and restaurants along the way.

Part of the inspiration, Lennon said, is to get people thinking about the future of the neighbourhood as the city moves forward with revitalization.

Administration released long-awaited plans last week to rethink everything from infrastructure to crime prevention, following years of complaints from residents.

Lennon said it’s important that young people be included in the conversation about Chinatown’s future—and part of that is giving them a reason to get to know the area.

“With a cultural district like Chinatown, the ability to thrive is complex,” she said, pointing out it’s a cultural destination, but also a business hub and home to multiple communities.

Claudia Wong-Runsak, the Chinatown project manager with the city who also helped develop the tours, told Metro when the plan was released that young people will be key to the future of the area.

“It’s an essential ingredient,” she said. “To be honest, the old timers fighting for this aren’t going to be here much longer, and they acknowledge that, and they want to do some mentorship.”

Lennon said the younger generation is increasingly eager to step up to the plate.

“I think there’s an interest among young people that if we want to see this neighbourhood thrive we have to support it, we need to be here. And that’s why we started the tours, we need to start by educating ourselves.”

“These elders in our community, they’ve done so much to build and maintain community, and now they need a little bit of help, so we should show up.”

Free tours of Chinatown will be offered on the second Sunday of every month all summer. They’re free, but organizers ask that you register on Eventbrite.

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