— Chinese New Year in Toronto, the biggest city in Canada and the first Chinese yuan hub in North America, is planned, executed and celebrated with as much gusto as the Spring Festival deserves. From politicians, businessmen to the local Chinese community, the year of the sheep promises enhanced cultural exchanges and increased trade between Canada and China.
“Xin Nian Kuai Le (Happy New Year),” in Chinese Mandarin, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper greeted a group at Toronto Fo Guang Shan Temple in Mississauga Friday evening, extending his wishes and paying his tribute to the Chinese community in Canada.
Harper recalled the history from 150 years ago when Chinese laborers helped build the Pacific railway to modern days that Chinese made contributions to industry, commerce and social life. He said, “the hard work, the creative genius and rich cultural heritage of this community, helped make Canada what it is today the best country in the world.”
Receiving a jade name stamp with his Chinese name inscribed by the temple founder Master Hsing Yun, the prime minister was delighted, “Now that I have an official Chinese name, I feel like as if I am a Chinese.” The joke brought a joyful laughter.
Earlier Friday noon, Toronto Mayor John Tory hosted a Chinese New Year luncheon reception, the first in the history of Toronto’s City Hall. “Canada has benefited in many ways through its friendship with China politically, economically and culturally. Toronto is the most diverse city in our nation, and the Chinese-Canadian community is a cornerstone of this diversity,” said Tory.
“I wish all the viewers a very happy new year, Xin Nian Kuai Le, Gung Hay Fat Choy. The relationship between Canada and China, and between Toronto and a number of Chinese cities, is very very important, as is the presence of Chinese-Canadian community in Toronto, they contribute so many ways, and I am happy and proud about that and look forward to making even better,” the mayor told Xinhua in an interview.
Tory, who is to take his first mayoral trade trip to China in 2015, is regaling in his new-found role as the informal ambassador to all things Chinese. China’s consul general in Toronto, Xue Bing, is heavily in demand this season. Xue Bing, as the guest of honor at the City Hall reception, mentioned that 2015 will be the 45th anniversary of China-Canada diplomatic ties, the 10th anniversary of the bilateral strategic partnership, and the 30th anniversary of the twinning of Ontario and China’s Jiangsu Province.
As the month of February began, the mad dash to prepare and welcome China’s most important celebration was well underway. Feb. 19 has been the save the date calendar marker but most major institutions in Toronto had early February weekend festivities that marshalled in the New Year. The festivities are incorporated into Canadian lifestyles and create a hybrid of fiscal function and culture. Torontonians add the Spring Festival celebrations as a feature into everyday life and activities. On Feb. 11, the iconic CN tower in Toronto saluted China by glowing red in tribute to the New Year.
A red letter occasion was the opening of Toronto’s Canadian International AutoShow on Feb. 13 by its new president, Benny Leung. “This is the first time a Chinese-Canadian is honored to represent the Chinese community. In 42 years, I am the first Chinese autoshow president. I am honored and feel very good about it.” Benny Leung was born in Hong Kong, and was also the president of Ontario’s Trillium Automobile Dealers Association, which broke tradition in making Leung their first Chinese president in 100 years.
The Canadian autoshow is one of the top five North American shows and is Canada’s largest, attracting over 30 thousand visitors annually. The autoshow under Leung’s stewardship demonstrated the importance of the Chinese community, its culture and investment. The autoshow program is written in Mandarin and the lion dancers were there setting the tone for this prodigious year of the sheep.
Leung explained, “Of course a lot of manufacturers understand we have over 500,000 Chinese in Ontario, they know it is a very very big market.” Statistics Canada places 713,245 Chinese in Ontario and 1,487,580 in all of Canada. More than 50 percent of all Chinese-Canadians live in Ontario, where Toronto is the provincial capital.
“I think we will see Chinese cars getting better and better. Soon, they will be able to enter into the Canadian market,” Leung told Xinhua. “With all the recent acquisitions of western companies, in all the sectors, by large Chinese corporations, nothing would surprise me. It could take place here in Ontario. I’m thinking of new Chinese brands that show innovation and a cultural history much like some of the greatest European and American brands.”
The red theme flowed into the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) that outdid itself by dedicating not only Valentine’s Day and Ontario Family Day celebrations but fused the Spring Festival with all things related to China. Consul General Xue Bing, was once more in attendance and kick started ROM’s festival of events.
“ROM is thrilled to celebrate this event and we have a great relationship with the Chinese community. This year’s extravaganza includes William Lau, a Beijing opera singer. We also have Tai Chi demonstrations and we have music, dance and calligraphy and a Chinese tea ceremony. The whole building is alive with all things Chinese New year,” Connie McDonald, assistant vice president of Hospitality & Commercial Services at the museum, told Xinhua.
This is a 10 year old tradition that ROM has with celebrating Chinese New Year. Lau’s nuance based performance was everything that McDonald said it would be. “Lau is the most incredible opera singer.” Incredible it was, Lau weaved a tale of song and mystery and delivered the lauded performance, reflective of Chinese New Year.
All over the Greater Toronto Area were tea culture festival events and a New Year concert with Chinese pianist Lang Lang is set for Feb. 21 at the prestigious Roy Thompson Hall. “Can-China,” a term coined for the joint investment climate between China and Canada, is also doing culturally well all over the 45th parallel. The coast to coast analogy is an apt one.
“This celebration is also a fitting time for Canadians to reflect on the tremendous contributions that members of the Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and other Asian communities continue to make to our country. Canada’s multicultural mosaic of people includes over two million Canadians of Asian descent,” Harper said in a statement marking the Lunar New Year.
The honoring goes beyond the boundary of the actual New Year’s Day to the close of the Lunar New Year on the observation of the Lantern Festival on March 5. The city of Toronto is “chock a block” with many cultural events from the obvious multitudinous dining opportunities in its famed Chinatown on to other Chinese bastions, in the suburbs of the Greater Toronto Area.
Noted culinary delights are the de rigueur dim sum of ubiquitous lore to the more oriental inspired high tea at the posh Shangri-La Hotel. Kerry Connelly, director of Shangri-La communications said, “This is the first year we’ve chosen to create the experience with a Chinese influence.” The year of the sheep has marked many firsts for the city of Toronto from the worlds of trade to the wonders of Chinese culture.
Writen by Cristoph De Caermichael