Keeping Edmonton’s Chinese culture thriving for generations to come
Since the 1890s, when the first Chinese citizens arrived in Edmonton, the city has been home to a large and growing Chinese community. Over the years, Chinese families and businesses have shaped the city’s development through arts and culture, while also driving economic growth. Today, through the Edmonton Chinese Cultural Legacy Fund, three Chinese-born Edmontonians hope to continue that growth, building bridges across generations and cultures.
As a young professional who has lived and worked around the world, Keren Tang has a keen appreciation for multiculturalism. Born in Chengdu, China, and raised in Connecticut, she taught Indigenous youth in New Mexico and worked as a community organizer in Montreal before moving to Edmonton in 2012. Since then, her community-building efforts have included supporting refugee and immigrant families through the Edmonton Multicultural Coalition, helping to create government policy that encourages community health, and even running for Edmonton city council.
“My focus has always been very multicultural. The city I want to live in, and that I want to raise my family in, recognizes and celebrates all the different elements of different populations,” she says. “As a newcomer myself, I’m also very keen on building bridges between cultures and generations. It benefits the whole community when those connections exist.”
In 2018, eager to continue driving positive change in the city she now calls home, Tang joined Edmonton Community Foundation’s (ECF) board of directors. As part of her new role, she travelled to Victoria for a conference hosted by Community Foundations of Canada to learn more about what other foundations across the country are doing to meet the evolving needs of their communities.
“I’m pretty new to philanthropy so there was a huge learning curve ahead of me,” she says. “At that conference, I met the board chair of the Victoria Foundation, who was Chinese-Canadian, and she had recently started the Victoria Chinese Cultural Legacy Fund. That conversation really got the wheels spinning.”
Tang returned to Edmonton, still processing the concepts she’d learned in Victoria. She wanted to create a similar impact, finding a way to celebrate and promote Chinese culture, heritage and history. She began reaching out to friends and contacts in the local Chinese community to discuss the idea of developing a fund.
“We’re lucky to live in a city with a strong, growing, local economy. It’s what has attracted so many of us here in the first place,” she says. “For generations, people have been moving to Edmonton for the jobs and putting down roots because they’ve fallen in love with the city. I wanted to find a way to give back.”
While talking to local businessman Ning Yang, the idea for the Edmonton Chinese Cultural Legacy Fund began to take shape. Yang then shared the idea with Dr. William Han, a family doctor working in Edmonton’s south side. By December 2019, their idea became a reality.
“I like it here in Edmonton. I like that we treat everyone equally. Newcomers, refugees, white-collar, blue-collar, everyone has a chance here,” says Yang. “When Keren told me about ECF and what we could do, I thought, ‘Of course! It’s a great idea.’”
Yang, who moved to Edmonton in 2009, was born and raised in Jiangsu province in eastern China. His experience living and working in cities around the world was similar to Tang’s, and he also shared the desire to promote and preserve Chinese culture.
“In the Chinese community, most people are working so hard, they spend lots of time and money on their kids, lots of time at work, everyone has two or three jobs. As we build our lives here in Edmonton, and build businesses and start to be successful here, we have a responsibility to give back,” he says. “With the fund, we hope to do good things. We want our community to understand that this is an option that exists [for giving back], and that it can support our community in ways that we choose.”
For Han, supporting the fund was also an easy decision. As a family physician, he works with a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals, taking a holistic approach to health. In his view, celebrating heritage and culture is an important part of well-being.
“The fund is a great way to support overall health. Arts, culture, entertainment, language — these things are all important parts of a community’s identity and, therefore, its overall well-being,” he says. “I will be very proud to see the impact this fund will have as a long-term legacy in our community.”
For all three donors, the most exciting feature of the fund is the potential for a generational impact.
“I have a daughter and for me, it’s very important that she be able to keep this cultural part of her identity and be proud of it. I know when I was growing up I was ashamed of it, but I want it to be different for her,” says Tang. “I want her to be part of a supportive community, and this fund is just one way I’m hoping to help create that.”
Food is perhaps one of the most important expressions of culture, connecting people across oceans, borders and generations. We asked these donors to share their favourite traditional restaurants and dishes.
SOUTH SILK ROAD RESTAURANT (5552 Calgary Trail)
“I really enjoy the South Silk Road. They specialize in Yunnan cuisine, which is the province just south of Sichuan — it’s very hard to find proper Sichuan cuisine in Edmonton,” says Tang. “Their spicy wontons are the perfect combination of sweet and spicy.”
LIUYISHOU HOT POT (168, 9700 105 Ave.)
“Hot pot always feels very ‘homey‘ to me, and Liuyishou Hot Pot does a great job of it. The flavour here is close to the recipes I grew up with so it’s very familiar and comforting to me,” says Tang.
LUCY’S SWEETS AND HAZELDEAN BAKERY (9627 66 Ave.)
“The Hazeldean Bakery has been around for a long time, Lucy took over just a few years ago. They have all kinds of breads, buns and desserts, but what they’re best known for is their donuts. Every year they win awards for those donuts — they’re so good!” says Yang.