Montreal's Chinatown recognized as city's first historic site

Montreal's Chinatown, as well as the Faubourg Saint-Laurent neighbourhood, is being recognized as the city's first historic site.

"We wish not only to protect and enhance our history, but also highlight the contributions of the Chinese and Asian communities to the historical and cultural wealth of the city," said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante.

The Noyau-Institutionnel-du-Quartier-Chinois is also being classified as a heritage site, Culture and Communications Minister Nathalie Roy announced Monday.

Notices of intent have also been signed to designate the British and Canadian School, also known as Maison Wing, and the S. Davis and Sons building as heritage sites under the Cultural Heritage Act.

"This is a commitment to the preservation of Chinatown's built environment, intangible heritage and cultural practices," said Jonathan Cha, Chinatown task force member. "Together, these concrete actions will contribute to the revival and survival of Chinatown for future generations."

Part of the movement means the area's historical, architectural, urbanistic, emblematic and social values will be preserved and protected.

"The buildings now protected are part of our culture and history. We protect our heritage, we enhance it, we bring it to life and this is what we are doing," Roy said. "These assets, handed down by past generations, contribute to the enrichment of our living environments and our collective pride."

Some advocates point out this is just one of many potential strategies to bring life back to the neighbourhood.

"Heritage protection is not the only way to protect the soul of Chinatown, said Dr. Winston Chan. "It needs other means, such as supporting small businesses and affordable housing for Chinese seniors."

In a joint statement, both city and provincial officials say they recognize the importance of Chinatown in its historical support of local Asian businesses.

"This area is distinguished by the age of its buildings and the architectural elements, signs and inscriptions that bear witness to the presence of the Chinese community," officials note, saying it is the only significant historic Chinatown that has been preserved in Quebec and eastern Canada.

Plante says she also plans to propose an amendment to the city's urban plan that revises maximum building heights and densities in order to "preserve the spirit of Chinatown."