Six new outdoor exhibitions in the busiest areas of Montreal’s Chinatown are as much a celebration of the city’s Chinese heritage as a way to keep the culture alive.
“Chinatown and Chinatown stories have been rendered invisible and have been largely erased, from the collective memory and from the history of Quebec,” argued Parker Mah, curator and artistic director of the exhibition.
The displays feature historic photographs as well as stories of prominent places and events and testimonies from community members. Four times a month there will be cultural mediators at the exhibits with whom visitors can discuss the area’s past.
The project is a collaboration between the City of Montreal and the Centre des mémoires montréalaises (MEM).
“It’s a great way — another great way — to rediscover Chinatown and to remember the importance of this neighbourhood and its 200 years of history,” Ericka Alneus, Montreal Executive Committee head of culture and heritage told reporters during an event to launch the show.
This project is one more step by the city since the public consultation office made a number of recommendations last fall to protecting Chinatown. Residents had asked the city to intervene out of fear that planned real estate projects threatened the neighbourhood’s identity.
“Since 2019 we did a lot of things to make sure that we can protect it,” Alneus pointed out.
In 2022, the Quebec government announced plans to grant heritage status to the institutional core of the area.
The neighbourhood also faced challenges because of the pandemic, from vandalism to fewer visitors because of lockdowns.
“It’s still difficult,” Mah pointed out. “Chinatown is still struggling. It’s suffering with all the same issues that are happening all over Montreal.”
Challenges include increased drug use and even violence, and with business finally starting to pick up this tourist season, merchants like Dobe and Andy restaurant owner Eric Ku worry clients could be scared away.
“We just need the city to do something about it, man. Please,” he pleaded.
Elected officials hopes projects like the exhibit will help revitalize the area but those who live and work there are calling authorities to do more.
The exhibition, titled Lieux de mémoire du Chant, will be shown until Oct. 15, 2023.
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