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Vancouver Chinatown Lunar New Year parade gears up for 50th anniversary

More than 100,000 people are expected to visit Vancouver’s Chinatown next month for the annual Lunar New Year Parade and the streets will have some extra illumination to mark the 50th anniversary of the popular celebration.

According to Global News archival footage, the first Lunar New Year Parade wound through Chinatown on Jan. 26, 1974.

Five decades later, the city and the Vancouver Chinatown BIA are preparing to usher in Year of the Dragon with new neon street banners.

The LED banners feature a five-clawed dragon in magenta, blue, yellow and white neon and were installed overnight in the unit and 100 blocks of East Pender Street.

The locally-designed neon street signs are more than two years in the making and were stalled by the pandemic, according to Fred Kwok, who helped create them.

“For the last two years, people keep asking me where’s the dragon sign, you said there’s a dragon sign, where is it, I want to look at it,” said Kwok, who also serves as chair of the Chinese Cultural Centre.


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Kwok believes the neon dragon banners are the first of their kind in Canada, and he hopes they will bring tourists to Chinatown.

The five-clawed dragon was a symbol for the emperor in many Chinese dynasties, representing high energy and high status, he said.

“In the old days, only the emperor was allowed to use a dragon with five claws,” Kwok said.

Graphic designer Chris Chan, who serves as vice-president of the Vancouver Chinatown BIA, also helped design the neon dragon banners, which are expected to stay up for at least six months.

“Chinatown used to be filled with neon lights and so we really wanted to bring that back,” Chan said in an interview.

Kam Wai Dim Sum owner William Liu, who put neon lights on his business to brighten up the neighbourhood, said he would love to see the neon street banners stay up permanently.

Liu said he feels a deep connection to the history his East Pender Street establishment sits on this milestone Lunar New Year.

Five decades ago, the building housed the Kwangchow Restaurant, and he said there are still pots and pans from the old eatery in his basement.

Today, Kam Wai Dim Sum continues providing the neighbourhood with affordable comfort food.

“It’s amazing that I’m able to serve some of the same people that frequented Kwangchow restaurant when it was here,” Liu said.

“It’s really fulfilling for us to be here in Chinatown. I would not have it any other way.”

Vancouver’s mayor recalls attending the 1974 Lunar New Year parade as a three-year-old with his parents.

Ken Sim said he still remembers hearing the firecrackers and watching the lion dancers.

“They would go shop to shop to shop and they would go after the cabbage,” the mayor said. “The neighbourhood was incredibly vibrant and it was packed.”

This year’s celebrations start Saturday, Feb. 10 with the parade taking place on Sunday, Feb. 11.

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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