Calgary"scheckered paper wristbands Chinatown is revitalized with new businesses, buildings

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Calgary is home to Canada"s fourth-largest Chinatown after Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. It celebrated its 100th year in 2010.

The first group of Chinese arrived in Calgary at least as early as 1883, after the CP railway was completed.

The present Chinatown was established in 1910. There is a red brick building in Chinatown where Chinese revolutionary leader Dr Sun Yat-sen gave a lecture to raise funds for the Chinese Revolution of 1911 that overthrew China"s last imperial dynasty (the Qing dynasty) and established the Republic of China (ROC).

The 1980s were a turning point for Calgary Chinatown. The area underwent huge changes as the population kept growing, new businesses opened and building construction increased.

"Chinatown now has become an international destination," said Danny Ng, chairman of Calgary Chinatown District Business Improvement Area, a self-help program by which businesses can jointly raise and administer funds to improve and promote their businesses.

"When you look at Chinatown, you see Japanese, Korea, Vietnamese, Filipino, even the local Canadians, all kinds of different nations that make Chinatown unique and diverse."

According to Ng, Chinatown Calgary has about 200 businesses and 80 percent of them are dominated by Chinese owners.

For many Calgarians, the Silver Dragon is Chinatown. Located in the heart of Chinatown, the restaurant has served authentic Cantonese and Szechuan cuisine for more than 50 years.

Jack Wong, founder of Silver Dragon,came to Calgary in 1954 from Guangdong, when Chinatown was not yet developed.

"There was discrimination to Chinese people, even when I went to school in 1960s, A lot of fighting between white people and Chinese," said Annette Fung, Wong"s daughter and current manager of the restaurant.

Wong"s family settled in Calgary in 1966 and opened the restaurant.

"The discrimination died down over the years with more and more Chinese businesses operating in Calgary. People eventually accepted and mixed with Chinese cultures," said Fung. "Right now a lot of local Canadians come to our restaurant. Our Chinese tradition is we come to a restaurant for a gathering of family and friends. I think it"s same for the local people as well."

Chinese newspapers in Chinatown used to arrive in Calgary from Hong Kong. Now they are printed and distributed here in the local community.

The Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre is a landmark and the heart of the neighborhood. It cost $10 million to construct in 1992 and is credited with keeping the historic area alive when it was threatened by a proposed land re-design through the downtown area in the 1980s.

The main part of the Culture Centre is the Dr Henry Fok Cultural Hall, modeled after the Hall of Prayers of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. The 70-foot-high ceiling is decorated with 561 dragons and 40 phoenixes. It is supported by four columns with gold ornamentation representing each season.

There is a museum on the lower level showcasing rare replicas of different Chinese artifacts. Every year, the museum receives thousands of students and tourists. Visitors can learn the history of the Chinese community in Calgary with an exhibition of "Our Chosen Land: 100 years of Development of the Chinese Community in Calgary".

"We"re a community center so we try to provide various services for the community," said Malcolm Chow, president and chairman of the Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre.