Thousands of Calgarians took in dazzling displays of martial arts and athletic prowess, alongside the culinary tastes and musical culture of Calgary’s Chinese Community.
The Chinatown Street Festival returned on Aug. 20, after a two-year pandemic break. It marked the return of the annual festival that has regularly drawn upwards of 30,000 people in years past.
Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong, and former executive director for the Chinatown BIA, called the return of the festival extremely important for Chinatown and the Chinese community.
“The pandemic was hard for the community, especially because in our Chinese community we actually took the quarantine very seriously. People actually stayed home and very rarely went out unless it was to take food to their families,” he said.
“So now that we we’re actually opened up again… this is our first great celebration.”
The festival was opened with speeches by politicians from all orders of government, representatives from the the Chinatown and Crescent Heights BIAs, and a representative from the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office.
Opportunity to get together again
Grace Su, Chairperson for the Chinatown BIA, said that the festival was an opportunity for the community to get together again.
“You really can enjoy the culture, enjoy the fun, the smell of food and the merchants coming together, and the different community partners—and we’ve been missing it for two years,” she said.
“It’s still so nice to have it back, and I’m seeing everyone coming together in big numbers, so I’m very thrilled.”
Su said that the amount of work to get the street festival off the ground for this year was considerable. She laughed about the community being a little rusty after the hiatus.
She cited continuing supply chain and logistics issues as a barrier that made the festival more difficult to pull off for 2022, but said that the community volunteers stepped up to make it happen.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek called that rebuilding of community spirit important for the downtown core.
“Anytime you are adding vibrancy in a community, particularly in downtown which saw so much hollowing out during the pandemic—having events like this is incredibly important, huge sense of togetherness, and it really demonstrates the diversity and the strength of our city.”
The Chinatown BIA will be holding another event on Sept. 9, with the 2022 Chinatown Lantern Festival. More details on that event can be found at www.visitcalgarychinatown.com/lanternfestival2022.
Festival a family-friendly event that highlighted diversity of Chinatown offerings
Community members put on performances using traditional Chinese instruments, including the guhzen and the ehru. Members of the martial arts communities performed lion dances, dragon dances, and put on displays of traditional Chinese weaponry.
The festival also featured a wide number of vendors and activities, including a volleyball tournament. Participants had a chance to hand paint paper lanterns in a lead up to the Chinatown BIA’s 2022 Lantern Festival, taking place on the evening of Sept. 9.
Chinatown BIA executive director Brian Wong joked with the crowd during the opening ceremonies about what Chinatown could offer visitors.
“If, for example, if my battery runs out, I go to the cell phone place to get new cell phone—just a brand new cell phone.”
He said though, more seriously, that the BIA has been working to better tell Chinatown’s story. One of the ways Chinatown is planning to entice more visitors is through an enhanced mobile website that would allow the BIA to share promotional coupons from merchants.
Chinatown remains must-visit destination
Coun. Wong said the festival highlighted the message that Chinatown continues to be a must-visit destination for Calgarians.
“It’s not just here to come down for a quick bubble tea and go away. There’s a lot of things that go on here,” he said.
“It’s not just about the restaurants, it’s not just about the clothing, but also the Chinese Cultural Centre’s amazing museum. The most important thing is it’s a family thing, a gathering, and that’s what tomorrow’s Chinatown is all about: creating a gathering space for families.”
Su said that the celebration of the culture and 145 years of history of the Chinese community in Calgary were both things that the BIA wanted to share via the street festival.
“We have such a long history in Calgary and the contributions that we have done to Calgary, but also we are communities that are very inclusive.”
“We are Calgary, we are Calgarians, and we want to make sure that we celebrate our culture with everybody in Calgary.”