50th annual Chinatown Lunar New Year parade held in Vancouver

The 50th anniversary of the Chinatown Spring Festival Parade took place on Sunday in Vancouver’s historic Chinatown neighbourhood.

It is one of the biggest celebrations of the Lunar New Year in Canada, with last year’s parade marking the first time the event was celebrated since 2020.

Hundreds of attendees and a number of parade groups walked through the neighbourhood, with the parade’s organizing committee encouraging participants to visit the newly refurbished Millennium Gate and neon dragon signs to celebrate the Year of the Dragon.

However, the historic parade became the centre of controversy earlier this week when the parade’s organizing committee initially excluded two community groups, including one representing 2SLGBTQ+ people, from marching, citing concerns over potential political disruption.

Chinatown Together and 2SLGBTQ+ group Lunar New Year For All held a news conference shortly before the parade kicked off in Chinatown on Sunday, saying they were hoping to put politics aside to celebrate the event with the rest of the community. (Janella Hamilton/CBC)

The ban on Chinatown Together and Lunar New Year For All, however, were both reversed shortly after the controversy came to light.

Melody Ma, an organizer with Chinatown Together, said that both groups were hoping to put politics aside and celebrate with the rest of the community.

“Not only is this the 50th anniversary of the parade, but for the first time ever, queer and trans folks of Chinatown will be able to march visibly and proudly in the Chinatown Spring Festival Parade,” she told a news conference shortly before the parade kicked off.

“We are so honoured to be able to march with them as a larger community today in a more inclusive, welcoming event than it has ever been before.”

A kid is walking down the street wearing a red dragon onesie and holding a dragon stuffy in her arms.
A young girl walks through the street, during the parade, with a dragon costume and plush toy. It is now the Year of the Dragon. (Ethan Cairns/The Canadian Press)

Ma said both groups were still waiting for an apology from the parade organizing committee, as well as more transparent parade eligibility criteria for the future.

“Despite the parade organizing committee placing us dead last in the parade …  dozens of our supporters collectively sang karaoke and danced down the streets of Chinatown,” she said.

“We remain hopeful that we will be allowed to march next year too and be welcomed equitably.”

Ma is a community organizer who is a vocal critic of gentrification in Chinatown, opposing projects such as a residential tower at 105 Keefer St., which was approved by Vancouver’s permit board last June after years of dispute.

She said, however, that the group’s banners would not mention the project, even though the “[parade] organizers were pro-Chinatown gentrification.” The parade committee has not yet released its reasons for reversing the decision to exclude the two groups from marching.

A person wearing yellow and a mask is holding a sign in Chinese and English saying "Let us march next year too!"
Chinatown Together organizer Melody Ma said she hopes the organization will be allowed back next year to march in the Spring Festival Parade. (Diane Lake)

While parade co-ordinator Frank Huang didn’t say why the decision was reversed, he said the organization receives many new applications from teams hoping to participate in the parade every year. 

“If we don’t have too much space or for other reasons, we will not accept the new application,” he said, noting Chinatown Together and Lunar New Year For All are newer organizations. 

“The team is also new, so we need to get to know each other and get more background information from the team. That’s the procedures the committee will go through … it takes time.”

Huang says he would like to sit down with both organizations to learn more and build relationships for future events.

He adds the parade has grown from 70 participating teams in previous years to nearly 100 groups walking this year. 

A host of people hold up a red banner in front of a large Chinese gate.
Premier David Eby was among a host of dignitaries that attended the annual Spring Festival and parade, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary by welcoming the Year of the Dragon. (Janella Hamilton/CBC)

British Columbia Premier David Eby was in attendance Sunday and said he was glad the community was “finding its feet again” after the pandemic waned. 

“I’m really glad that we came to a good resolution,” he said, referring to the controversy over the parade group exclusion. 

“This is a community that really understands inclusivity and the need to include everybody … Chinatown was built because people weren’t welcomed.”

In a statement, Eby added the province pledged $2.2 million last May to reshape and revitalize Chinatown and helped create Canada’s first Chinese Canadian museum, which opened last year.

WATCH | How Vancouver brought in the Lunar New Year in 1958: 

From the Archives: How Vancouver celebrated the Lunar New Year in 1958

The Lunar New Year parade in Vancouver has changed a lot since 1958. For a look at how it’s evolved over time, and how it’s impacted the community, CBC’s Yasmine Ghania spoke with Melissa Lee, CEO of the Chinese Canadian Museum.

Meanwhile, opposition B.C. United Leader Kevin Falcon said he was “disappointed” to hear of the controversy with this year’s parade organization. 

“We should always try and make them as open as possible,” he said. “I’m not an organizer, but you know, too often we see exclusion when it should be inclusion.

“It’s important we celebrate the incredible vibrancy of the multicultural city we live in.”

A woman in a pink and green traditional Chinese outfit has her arms stretched up with two pink, yellow and green fans spread open.
A dancer moves through the street while waving colourful fans during the parade. (Ethan Cairns/The Canadian Press)

For community members, new and old, the celebrations were a respite from a downpour in Vancouver Sunday. 

Vancouver resident Cindy Williamson brought her daughters to the parade, saying it was an opportunity to dress up and celebrate their Chinese heritage. 

“We grew up here … and we’re really excited to have this many people out celebrating.”

Stephanie Arrid attended her first Chinese New Year parade last year in Vancouver and says she couldn’t wait to attend again. 

“I know that this is a very important festivity for Chinese people, and I want to contribute to this beautiful parade,” she said. 

“It looks really beautiful. I wanted to learn more about the culture … [I love] how big and colourful it can get.”

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