Calgary’s Chinatown is the third largest in Canada, next to Vancouver and Toronto. As you will discover on this walking tour, this vibrant downtown community is filled with irresistible boutiques, unique culinary experiences and historical landmarks. Unwind and explore the heart of Calgary’s Chinatown. Click on the audio icon above to listen to the tour.
Start: Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre, 197 First Street SW
The Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre is an impressive landmark in Calgary’s Chinatown, modeled after the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. Before heading inside, stop to view the two carved marble lions guarding the centre. How can you tell which one is male or female? The female cub always nurses her cub with her left paw, while the male lion holds a ball, representing authority.
Thanks to generous donations from individuals, businesses, various levels of government and international donors, the centre was built for a modest sum of $10 million in 1992. Like the Temple of Heaven, the four red pillars are elaborately gilded in gold, representing the colours of the Emperor of China.
Stand in the middle of the lobby to enjoy a breathtaking view of the ceiling. The series of patterns may look simple but upon closer inspection, the detail and intricacy is stunning. Many of the outer tiles depict dragons, an important symbol and motif in Chinese art. The dragon is the spirit of change, unfolding himself from storm clouds and bringing life to earth. Take the steps to the second floor and get a closer look at the gold dragon in the centre ring. Head north on First Street SW to Riverfront Avenue.
Sien Lok Park, Riverfront Ave. & 1 Street SW
Unlike most Chinatowns in Canada, Calgary’s Chinese district has a large green space. The Sien Lok Park was built in 1968 after the Chinese community thwarted the city’s plan to construct a road through the centre of Chinatown. The name “Sien Lok” comes from a Chinese proverb “Wai Sien Gee Lok,” which means happiness is found in being charitable. During the summer, seniors from the nearby residence practice tai chi on the manicured grass.
South of the two lions guarding the park, stands the sculpture “In Search of Gold Mountain,” made from 15 tonnes of granite brought over from Hopei Province in China. The piece represents a rich and moving story of the Chinese immigrant experience in Canada. Look for a carving showing Chinese workers toiling on the railway. During the late 1800s, Chinese men counted for a large percentage of workers on the Canadian Pacific Railway projects. Head south to the Canton Block
Canton Block, Centre Street South & 2 Avenue
Built in 1910, the Canton Block is said to be the first permanent building built in Calgary’s Chinatown. Like most buildings that went up during the early 1900s, the stores housed in the building are long and narrow, most of them no more than six metres wide. The two-storey building stretches the entire length of the block. The building was a pivotal centre for commerce in Chinatown. When revolutionary Chinese leader Dr. Sun-Yat Sen visited Calgary in 1911, he toured the Canton Block and gave a moving speech to Calgarians.