$2.2 million in provincial funding to restore Vancouver Chinatown's historic neon lights and storefronts

May 13 2023, 3:19 am

The provincial government is making an investment into improving Vancouver’s Chinatown’s public realm by restoring the charm from its former glory.

Premier David Eby announced today an investment of $2.2 million to the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation’s upcoming efforts.

This will be dedicated towards restoring storefronts and historic neon signs, lighting upgrades for Chinatown businesses, and infrastructure improvements for the Chinese Cultural Centre, which recently suffered several suspected arson-induced fires in its laneway.

Chinatown is a strong community today and it’s also a living part of the shared heritage of this city, province and country,” said Premier David Eby. “It’s part of our past, our present and thanks to the commitment of community leaders like the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation, it will be a vital part of our future for generations to come. Our government is proud to support this good work.”

The funding was announced during a press conference held at the Chinatown Storytelling Centre, which opened in late 2021 as one of the most recent major projects of the Vancouver Chinatown Foundation.

vancouver chinatown storytelling centre david eby

Press conference held at Chinatown Storytelling Centre on May 12, 2023 for the provincial government’s funding announcement to support Chinatown’s revitalization. (Submitted)

“Vancouver’s Chinatown is more than just a neighbourhood. It symbolizes the city’s resilience, perseverance and pride,” said Carol Lee, chair of Vancouver Chinatown Foundation.

“With the contribution from the Province of British Columbia, we will be able to undertake projects that honour the past, embrace the present and create a thriving community for future generations.”

Lee also has a separate personal project on reviving and reopening the legendary Ho Ho Restaurant in its former building space at the Sun Ah Hotel at 102 East Pender Street.

In December 2022, Vancouver City Council approved a $50,000 facade grant to restore and repair the building’s facade in preparation of the restaurant’s reopening, including new neon signs and other signage that replicate the historic signage that no longer exists. Renovations on the building are well underway.

Existing condition of the former Ho Ho Restaurant/Sun Ah Hotel building:

ho ho restaurant sun ah hotel102 East Pender Street

Existing condition of the Ho Ho Restaurant/Sun Ah Hotel building at 102 East Pender Street, Vancouver. (Google Maps)

Future condition of the former Ho Ho Restaurant/Sun Ah Hotel building:

ho ho restaurant neon sign 102 East Pender Street restaurant

Artistic rendering of the restoration of the Ho Ho Restaurant/Sun Ah Hotel building facade, including the neon lights, at 102 East Pender Street, Vancouver. (Lung Kong Kung Shaw Limited)

ho ho restaurant neon sign 102 East Pender Street restaurant

Artistic rendering of the restoration of the Ho Ho Restaurant/Sun Ah Hotel building facade, including the neon lights, at 102 East Pender Street, Vancouver. (Lung Kong Kung Shaw Limited)

In the 1950s, Vancouver was the neon capital of North America, with over 19,000 neon signs — more than Las Vegas at the time.

But public attitudes quickly shifted on the presence of these signs and the vast majority of these signs were later dismantled.

Over the past two decades, there has been an attempt to preserve and encourage more neon signage and other creative lighting within the Granville Entertainment District and Chinatown, which were the main clusters for neon lighting.

Chinatown’s neon lights on East Pender Street looking west from near Main Street in the 1960s:

vancouver chinatown neon lights east pender street west of main 1960s f

Neon lights of Vancouver’s Chinatown district in the 1960s on East Pender Street, looking west from Main Street. (Rolly Ford/Heritage Vancouver Society)

East Pender Street today looking west from near Main Street:

east pender street looking west main street chinatown vancouver

Current condition of East Pender Street in Vancouver’s Chinatown, looking west from near Main Street. (Google Maps)

The provincial government’s new public realm improvement funding to Chinatown adds to its $50-million investment to date towards the new Chinese Canadian Museum, which will officially open on Canada Day 2023 within the former Rennie headquarters office and museum space.

The provincial government has also provided funding to support the cost of hosting major public events and festivals that draw visitors to Chinatown in 2023 and 2024.

Earlier this year, the federal government set aside $1.8 million to perform upgrades to Chinatown attractions, including the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the Chinese Cultural Centre, and the Chinatown Storytelling Centre, as well as funding to support this year’s Light Up Chinatown Festival.

As for the municipal government’s role in supporting Chinatown, earlier this year, Vancouver City Council approved a $2.2 million “Uplifting Chinatown Action Plan,” including about $600,000 in direct measures specifically for the Chinatown area. This provides funding for greatly enhanced street cleaning, feces collection, and garbage collection, with local businesses and organizations noting there has been a dramatic difference in cleanliness ever since the program went into effect in April.

On June 1, following City Council’s direction, on-street, curbside vehicle parking rates within Chinatown will see an overall drop to $2.00 per hour, as another measure to support Chinatown by encouraging more visitors to support the area’s businesses.

“There is a positive synergy happening throughout the community and co-ordination across all three levels of government,” said Lorraine Lowe, the Executive Director of the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden, commenting on the various recent government funding announcements.

“It is refreshing to witness the Yin-and-Yang principle of a classical Chinese garden with the balance of forces working together to create harmony, longevity and prosperity in our neighbourhood. I am confident we will see remarkable improvements with this funding.”

Jordan Eng, the President of the Vancouver Chinatown Business Improvement Area Society, added: “This funding acknowledges the importance of Chinatown and will help support businesses today and give the next generation hope that people and governments genuinely do care about Chinatown and its future.”

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