Discover a neighbourhood: Montréal’s Chinatown
When visiting any city, guidebooks and locals will give you the rundown of what kind of activities to do, which hip and happening restaurants to dine at, and what attractions to see. In most major cities, you’ll find a “Chinatown”, where Chinese businesses, restaurants and stores are concentrated in one area. Here’s a look at Montréal’s Chinatown and how to explore this colourful neighbourhood.
The basics: location and history
Montréal’s Chinatown or Quartier chinois is situated in the Ville-Marie borough. Chinatown occupies roughly one big block bordered by Saint-Dominique Street to the east, René-Lévesque Boulevard to the north, Viger Street to the south and Jeanne-Mance Street to the west. Most of commercial activity is concentrated along Saint-Laurent Boulevard and on de la Gauchetiere Street, which is a pedestrian-only zone. Each of the four corners of the district are marked by large, ornate paifang gates, ornamental archways that mark the entrances. In fact, Montréal has more paifang gates than any other Chinatown in Canada.
The four gates are located at:
- Saint-Dominique and de la Gauchetière (east gate)
- Jeanne-Mance and de la Gauchetière (west gate)
- Saint-Laurent and René-Lévesque (north gate)
- Saint-Laurent and Viger (south gate)
Montréal’s Chinatown, one of the oldest Asian communities in North America, slowly started to emerge in the early 1890s as Chinese immigrants who had worked the mines and railroads in the west moved east. Several Chinese stores and laundries set up shop on de la Gauchetière Street. Throughout the years, Montréal’s Chinatown has survived expropriation and redevelopment.
While it was first recognized as a tourist attraction in the late 1960s following Expo 67, the first real initiative to revive the area was the installation of a pedestrian mall on de la Gauchetière Street in the 1980s. This was followed by the construction of the Chinese Catholic Community Centre, low-rent housing complexes with reserved floors for seniors and low-income families, and the construction of the first all-Chinese hospital in Canada, the Montréal Chinese Hospital, in 1999.
Things to see in the neighbourhood
This is a neighbourhood steeped in history, with an abundance of historical sights to see. The best way to discover Chinatown is on foot, with a leisurely stroll through its colourful streets. Here are a few highlights.
“May an Old Song Open a New World” mural
Stunning and Instagrammable, this mural by Gene Pendon and Bryan Beyung, who are both of Asian descent, adorns a building near the north gate, at the corner of René-Lévesque and Saint-Laurent. The mural was produced by MU, whose mission is to beautify Montréal by fostering the creation of murals that reflect the character of local communities.
The Wing Building
Located at the corner of de la Gauchetière and Côté, The Wing building is one of the oldest edifices in Chinatown. It was built in 1826 by James O'Donnel, the architect of the iconic Notre-Dame Basilica in Old Montréal. Over the years, the Wing building has housed a military school, a paper box factory and a warehouse. Wing Hing Lung (“Wings” for short) is known for their fresh noodles and were the first manufacturer to make bilingual fortune cookies!
Place Sun Yat Sen
Situated in the heart of Chinatown at the corner of Clark and de la Gauchetière, this public square is named after the ideological father of modern China. Constructed by eight commissioned craftsmen from Shanghai, this park was created using traditional methods and materials. The north wall features a large grey slate carving and to the east a traditional decorative Chinese structure featuring exposed wood beams, joists and lintels that houses a souvenir shop.
“Benevolent Associations” or Tongs (which translates to “hall” or “gathering place”) were founded where members of the same families would congregate to provide support and counseling to newly landed Chinese immigrants. Montréal’s Lee Family Association (90 de la Gauchetière West) as well as Wong Wun Sun Association (75 de la Gauchetière West) are among the oldest in the country. They invite visitors to admire artifacts and photos on display from over the years – some are over 100 years old!
Pedestrian mall on de le Gauchetière
This pedestrian-only strip of de le Gauchetière sees street festivals during the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival and storefronts extending into the street in the summer, selling sweet treats and souvenirs.
Where to shop and eat
Although Chinatown began with small grocery stores, diners and restaurants, over the years, business in Chinatown has grown to reflect a mosaic of Asian ethnicities that make up this vibrant neighbourhood. The Hong Kong Chinese, Mainland Chinese and Chinese refugees from South-East Asia are all represented in Chinatown.
Behind the souvenir stands and trinket shops are businesses that local Asian-Montréalers patronize to source specialty imported items. You’ll find Asian pharmacies (herbal teas and ointments anyone?) and you can savor some of the most authentic Chinese and other Asian cuisine the city has to offer.
Literally translated to “touch the heart”, these small delicate plates of food that often consist of dumplings, steamed sweet or savory buns and stir fry are a weekend brunch favorite. Head to Restaurant ChinaTown Kim Fung or Restaurant Ruby Rouge for all your dim sum favorites.
Tantalize your taste buds at Kanbai, where fiery Szechuan cuisine will leave you wanting more. If you’re down for a quick show with your meal, visit the noodle pullers at Nouilles de Lan Zhou or NUDO, where the loud claps of dough being slapped to form fresh noodles welcome you as you walk through the door.
Visit some of the city’s most authentic “cha chan tengs”. Literally translated as “tea restaurant”, these Hong Kong style diners serve snacks, small meals and coffee- or tea-based drinks. Dobe & Andy and Restaurant Ethan are your best bets. Enjoy succulent roasted pork and duck noodles, classic macaroni with ham soup and deep-fried “French toast” and wash it all down with a cold and creamy sweetened milk-tea.
A trip to any Chinatown would not be complete without devouring some Chinese pastries. Head over to Pâtisserie Harmonie and build yourself a box of baked goods, sweet buns with red bean paste or creamy custard egg tarts. Don’t forget to visit the Dragon Beard Candy stall for this traditional confectionary. Made to order, the candy master pulls sugar taffy over and over to produce thousands of strands of “dragon’s beard” and wraps it all up over a peanut and sesame filling.
Whether you want to take in history or fill your belly, everyone is welcome in Chinatown!
Jason Lee, blogger
Jason is a food eater and picture taker. As the blogger behind Shut Up and Eat, he covers everything food, from recipes to reviews. Jason has vowed that he will not stop until he has officially eaten his way across Montréal. It’s a big claim, and it’s one he’s making.
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