Vancouver to celebrate 50th Spring Festival Parade for Year of the Dragon

The 50th Anniversary of the Chinatown Spring Festival Parade is taking place in Vancouver’s historic Chinatown neighbourhood on Sunday.

The City of Vancouver said the 1.3-kilometre route will start at the Millennium Gate on Pender Street at 11 a.m.

More than 100,000 people are expected to attend the celebrations, according to organizers.

Attendees are encouraged to walk throughout the neighbourhood and visit the newly refurbished Millennium Gate and neon dragon signs.

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

Click to play video: Making Lunar New Year seafood dumplings with Chef Deseree Lo

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 banners feature a five-clawed dragon in magenta, blue, yellow and white and were installed in the 100 block of East Pender Street.

The locally designed neon street signs were 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.

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.

British Columbia Premier David Eby issued a statement saying he plans to attend the celebration.

He said Lunar New Year is a “reminder of the incredible contributions Asian Canadians make” to the province, and the parade celebrates the role of the historic Vancouver neighbourhood.

Eby says that is why the government pledged $2.2 million in provincial funds last May to reshape and revitalize Chinatown and why the province helped create Canada’s first Chinese Canadian museum, which opened last year.

He says the province is also introducing new anti-racism legislation this year that aims to “address the gaps and barriers in government services and provide support for those affected by racism.”

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.”

Click to play video: Lunar New Year shopping in Vancouver’s Chinatown

— With files from Kristen Robinson, the Canadian Press

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