Chinatown and Employment

As you stand at the corner of 97th and 106th Ave, you will be listening to the history of China town and how it all came about. Chinatown began to emerge in downtown Edmonton in the early 1900s after a few Chinese merchants established their businesses at the intersection of Namayo Avenue (now 97 street) and Rice Street (101A Avenue) to cater for the growing Chinese population.

Edmonton’s current Chinatown consists of two parts, Chinatown South is the older part, easily recognized by the presence of the Harbin Gate and other Chinese-themed street furniture. Chinatown North lies just to the north of its older counterpart.

Chinatown North also includes a large Vietnamese presence, and blends into the multicultural “Avenue of Nations” (107 Ave) which runs east-to-west along the northern edge of both Chinatown and Little Italy.

In her Centennial Lecture to the University of Alberta, Senator Vivienne Poy concluded that “[because] there weren’t that many Chinese resident in Alberta they were generally not viewed as competition as they were in B.C. with the exception of incidents such as the smallpox outbreak in Calgary [during which they were targeted by mob violence], their existence was generally tolerated by the white citizens until the end of the First world War.”

Following the passage of the Immigration Act of 1923, often called the Chinese Exclusion Act, few Chinese immigrants were allowed into Canada. Until its repeal in 1947, most married Chinese men were unable to send for their families and lived an isolated existence as they worked at their businesses.

In 1939 there only were 26 Chinese women in Edmonton. During the Great Depression relief payments were discriminatory, half of that for non-Chinese. What emerged in the Boyle Street area was a distinctive community in which many Chinese men worked in laundries, cafes, restaurants, and other businesses, but this group would not become an identifiable presence in any publicly significant way until 1967, when a point system was introduced, removing racial discrimination in most cases.

The development of the new Chinatown, or Chinatown North as it has come to be known, continues. It boasts many businesses such as florists, bakeries, restaurants, and supermarkets. Additionally, there are several features that distinguish it from Chinatown South. Chinatown North represents a growing Vietnamese and Vietnamese-Chinese population.

As well, perhaps, because of its proximity to residential areas, Chinatown North has institutions, temples, churches and community associations.

As the Mustard seed, we work with the community around China town to see that its kept clean and we do this through the employment program. I have Mike, one of our folks who is currently in the program.

“The biggest benefit, I guess, is just learning a new skill. I never really did, like, ground crew cleanup before this job; I was mostly in the restaurant industry in my previous jobs. So I think the biggest benefit is just learning a new set of skills and just being with an organization that has the patience to accompany somebody who has never done this before.

I’ve never been in an employment program like this before, I’ve never done any kind of clean up job at all, so I think that probably the biggest benefit is, I mean, of course the income is great, it always helps; but my biggest benefit is just learning a whole new set of skills.

People, the staff here, are very understanding, they’re very open, they’re very flexible with your schedule, ‘cause I have kids and I have a wife who is on AISH so she stays home a lot so sometimes I need to be there for her too. Sometimes stuff happens and, you know, you need to cancel a shift the day before; they’re very open, they’re not upset, they don’t retaliate by giving you less shifts.

It’s a very great, open staff and they’re very accommodating to whatever your background is, whatever your learning speed is. Whatever you have troubles with they will address them and not only do they give you an employment opportunity, they also help you with your next job too, so they do resumes, they help you with your job interview skills.

So it’s great because not only do they help you with employment now, but they will help you with employment in the future as well.”

As you continue walking West along 106 Ave towards 99 Street, notice the activity around you.  What do you hear? Are there other people around? What do they look like, and what are they doing?