The Vietnamese Community in Calgary
Calgary’s Vietnamese community is relatively new to the city but has grown deep roots in a very short time. The community is another cultural jewel in the city’s crown of ethnic diversity.
“Little Saigon” is the hub of the Vietnamese community. Located in southeast Calgary, it contains a number of distinctly Vietnamese businesses, including restaurants, professional offices, grocery stores, travel agencies and community associations. Little Saigon plays a vital role in the community, often providing space for charitable events.
Vietnamese immigration to Canada is fairly recent. The first recorded arrivals date back to 1950, when the Roman Catholic Church sent students to attend Canadian universities. Canada was also seen as a place of academic excellence where students could pursue high quality post-secondary education. By 1974, about fifteen hundred Vietnamese students, graduates, and families were living in Canada.
The first exodus occurred in 1975 when it became clear that South Vietnam would fall to the Northern communist government. Thousands of Vietnamese searched for a way to flee their country. At least 150,000 Vietnamese fled Vietnam. Canada admitted approximately six thousand of them between 1975 and 1976.
In 1979, another wave of refugees fled Vietnam in search of freedom and human dignity. But this time, before coming to Canada, many escaped by boat to neighbouring countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Hong Kong. It was because of this exodus that the term “boat people” arose. Over 50,000 of them finally ended up in Canada. By 1991, Canada had admitted over 150,000 Vietnamese, 10% of whom ended up in Calgary.
Today, Calgary boasts a population of over 25,000 Vietnamese Canadians. Since many first established their homes and businesses in the city’s southeast along 17 th Avenue, there remains a rich Vietnamese influence in this multicultural, vibrant district. Dozens of businesses and restaurants are Vietnamese owned and operated. Seniors and veterans organizations, women groups, martial arts studios and tutoring clubs, and the Vietnamese language school, continued to play a major role in preserving Vietnamese identity in the Canadian mosaic.
But Calgary’s Vietnamese influence is much deeper than its storefront businesses. Since 1980, several organizations were formed to advance the interests of preserving Vietnamese culture while integrating to western ways. The Calgary Vietnamese Canadian Association organizes annual cultural celebrations such as the Lunar New Year for thousands of Calgarians to partake in, and engages in community building and fundraising for causes such as the Filipino typhoon disaster and Fort McMurray fire.
Two of the most dedicated and beloved philanthropists in the V ietnamese community in Calgary are husband and wife Dr. Do and Dr. Kim Truong, family physicians. Their care for their community members, vision and ability to mobilize resources and people led to the opening of the Calgary Vietnamese Language School in 1990 and the Calgary Vietnamese Association for the Encouragement of Learning in 1991, positively impacting the academic achievement and cultural integration of several generations.
In addition, Vietnamese Calgarians are working to keep their culture alive among youth. The Vietnamese Student Association and the Calgary Vietnamese Youth Association also help to remind youth of their heritage while supporting them to be successful, contributing members in society. The bond and support between the youth and elders in the Vietnamese community are strong and precious, allowing generations to link our past to our present and future.
Places of worship for the Vietnamese community have become well established. The very first Vietnamese Catholic church in Canada was founded in Calgary in 1985 along with various Vietnamese Christian parishes. In 2015, a brand new Catholic Vietnamese church was consecrated in the greater Forest Lawn area, serving over 500 families. The Calgary Vietnamese Buddhist Cultural Centre was founded in 1993. Approximately two hundred Vietnamese families use the Buddhist Centre each week.
Vietnamese Calgarians have succeeded in becoming a vital part of what makes Calgary special in a very short time. The roots the y’ve planted so firmly, have already grown branches that touch all of us in ways that have made our city even better.