News Local

Big trouble in Little Saigon

By Erica Bulman, 24 Hours Vancouver

A stretch of Kingsway will be renamed Little Saigon, much to the ire of several non-Vietnamese business owners. (CARMINE MARINELLI, 24 HOURS)

A stretch of Kingsway will be renamed Little Saigon, much to the ire of several non-Vietnamese business owners. (CARMINE MARINELLI, 24 HOURS)

As the Vietnamese community prepares to celebrate the creation of "Little Saigon" in Vancouver Saturday, not everyone in the area is happy with the designation.

Many feel the branding is misleading about what the Kensington-Cedar Cottage community offers, and will push out non-Vietnamese businesses.

Several people spoke to 24 hours but didn't wish to be identified because it's such a thorny issue.

"It's not just a Vietnamese shopping area," said a business owner. "We have lots of Chinese people on the street doing business, German people.

"Not all businesses will fit into a Little Saigon."

In October, city council approved the designation - with special street signs, banners and commemorative plaques singling out the area as a distinct cultural neighbourhood within the Kensington-Cedar Cottage neighbourhood.

Coun. Kerry Jang, who put forward the motion, said a petition signed by more than 3,000 people showed overwhelming support for Little Saigon's creation.

But many non-Vietnamese locals weren't consulted.

"Our anchor tenants were flabbergasted. Something just happened and now it's too late," said a business owner.

Jang said the city would consult with the community in January to decide what stretch along Kingsway, between Nanaimo and Fraser streets - will be designated Little Saigon.

Kensington-Cedar Cottage is one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in east Vancouver. The corner of Fraser and Kingsway, for example, is home to Caribbean, Russian, Filipino, East Asian and French establishments, among others.

The designation has also been a topic of much social networking discussion.

"I am happy to support any business that actively participates in and improves our community, and I would encourage area residents to do the same," wrote one poster.

Others were not so supportive.

"I love the multicultural fabric of this neighbourhood. And no offence to my Vietnamese neighbours, but I really do not want to see one ethnic group singled out before another," said one resident's post.

Another asked, "If I got enough people of English descent together could I apply to call it Little England? Although I came here from England, I would be offended by the very idea."

The Vietnamese community argues it's not trying to hijack the neighbourhood.

"We'd be happy with anything given to us. One block, two blocks, the more the better, but we want to make everyone happy," said Hue Truong of the Metro Vancouver Vietnamese Canadian Business Association. "We're not here to take away pieces of land. We want to share our culture, contribute something back to society."

However, many business owners complained the Vietnamese community didn't participate when the neighbourhood's city plan was hammered out a decade ago. Little Saigon goes against the area's vision worked out long ago.

Jang predicted the designation would promote business.

According to his motion, Vietnamese began arriving in Canada in the mid-1970s. The community is now the fifth largest in Vancouver with some 30,000 residents and "a significant portion residing in the Renfrew-Collingwood, Norquay and Mount Pleasant neighbourhoods." However, there was no mention of Kensington-Cedar Cottage.

"Why not focus on a neighbourhood they actually have history in?" asked a resident.

The Vietnamese business association outdoor celebration starts at noon Saturday at 1068 Kingsway. Performers include Khac Chi and Ngoc Bich Ensemble.