Little Saigon Neighbourhood of Vancouver

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Vancouver’s amazing diversity is no secret.  Walk down Robson Street most days and you’re likely to hear Farsi, English, French, Punjabi, Korean, Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese and probably a half-dozen other languages.

But I was surprised to learn recently about an ethnic community in the city I had never heard of before: Little Saigon.  This informal district stretches along Kingsway, between Fraser and Nanaimo streets, in east Vancouver.  It’s home to many of the city’s estimated 25,000 people with Vietnamese heritage.

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Take a stroll along this portion of Kingsway, and you’ll notice that pretty much every other storefront seems to be a pho noodle shop with Vietnamese writing in the window.  There are also plenty of Vietnamese-owned beauty salons, as well as Vietnamese coffee shops and bakeries.  It’s a fascinating section of the city, and not one that many people know about.

According to a great article in the Vancouver Sun, Vancouver’s first wave of Vietnamese immigrants came during the Vietnam War.  Fleeing the struggle between Communist-backed North Vietnam and US-backed South Vietnam, they settled in Vancouver’s east side.  These refugees were informally known as the “boat people.”

Today, many of these immigrants have lived in Canada for more than 30 years, and second- and third-generation Canadian-Vietnamese live in the neighbourhood, as well. Businesses in the area have even formally petitioned the city council to rename the district Little Saigon and to set up signs and banners, similar to Chinatown or the Punjabi Market (on Main Street).

I should point out, however, that many Vietnamese aren’t comfortable with the nickname Little Saigon.  Saigon, after all, was the capital of South Vietnam, which was subsequently taken by the Communist North Vietnamese and renamed Ho Chi Minh City.  Technically speaking, today there is no city called Saigon in Vietnam, although many Vietnamese still refer to the capital in that way.

Anyone out there familiar with Little Saigon?  Do you have a favourite pho or coffee shop (or anything else)?  Please share tips below. 

Want more updates on Vancouver and beyond?  Follow me on Twitter @RemyScalza

 

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9 Responses to Little Saigon Neighbourhood of Vancouver

  1. Tammy

    There’s a little sandwich shop right on the corner of Fraser and Kingsway, called Ba Le. It’s been there for a good 20 some odd years and my father has been taking me there since as far back as I can remember. Now my friends go there and we call their subs “crackwiches”. They have another location in chinatown and their bakery supplies a good number of the Vietnamese sandwich shops in Vancouver with their bread.

  2. I want to try one of those subs right now for lunch. Thanks for the tip.

  3. Anon

    I should point out, however, that many Vietnamese aren’t comfortable with nicknaming a district Little Ho Chi Minh. Ho Chi Minh, after all, was the leader of North Vietnam and the capital of South Vietnam, was subsequently taken by the Communist North Vietnamese and renamed Ho Chi Minh City. Technically speaking, today there is no city called Saigon in Vietnam, although many Vietnamese still refer to the capital in that way.

    • Thanks for that perspective. I know the naming issue is wrapped up in some controversy. Do you know if there’s now an official name for the neighbourhood?

      • Keith

        The official name for the neighbourhood is Kensington – Cedar Cottage. Cedar Cottage pub is a few blocks from Brewers Park.

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  5. jenny

    I would just like to point out to the people who are against calling the neighbourhood Little Saigon that KENSINGTON is a place in England, and we’re not all from there either!

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