Tonny Louie and Michael Yee in front of the Dragon City Mall  in the heart of Toronto’s Chinatown.
Tonny Louie and Michael Yee in front of the Dragon City Mall in the heart of Toronto’s Chinatown.


 Last week I had a chance to travel to Toronto. My 11 year-old son attended a week long ice hockey camp at Eagle Lake, Ontario, about l50 miles north of Toronto. On our 4 hour drive back to Toronto, I asked my son what he liked about the camp. He responded, “The hockey…it was good to review things with different coaches and to practice it again on the ice every day.” My son’s simple assessment made me think about my impending visit to Toronto Chinatown. It had been 22 years since my last visit. Is Toronto Chinatown facing the same challenges as ours? What strategies do they have to make their Chinatown relevant to residents and visitors? But before Chinatown, my son and I had an important visit to make to the Hockey Hall of Fame.


 The HHOF displays history and tradition of ice hockey that is unmatched by any sport. You don’t have to like hockey to appreciate the athleticism and skill of hockey players. It is a shame that ice hockey remains a fourth tier sport in the USA. It will continue to remain a fourth tier sport because of the focus on developing individual players and not on developing a generations of youth that will play hockey for fun, and who will then pass the game onto the next generation. There are too many kids who “drop-out” of hockey, sometimes until adulthood and sometimes forever. When asked what position he likes to play, my son’s typical reply, “everything,” is often met with confusion. He loves to play the game. Shouldn’t that be the answer for most kids at age 11? At a very early age my son has comprehended that if you love hockey, you should enjoy playing goalie, defense and offense. To do and play everything is to understand that nature of hockey as a team sport.


 Up next after the HHOF was Chinatown. I took the Streetcar to the heart of Chinatown to meet with the President of the Toronto Chinatown Business Improvement Association, Tonny Louie. When I got off the Streetcar, I noticed the electronic big screen advertisements that you typically find in big urban centers in NY, Tokyo or Hong Kong. Not something you will find in Seattle. I also noticed the absence of a traditional Chinatown Gate. But what was present was vibrancy in the neighborhood that does quite equal Chinatowns in NY or SF, and more than Seattle Chinatown ID.

Tonny Louie, owns a bar in Chinatown and lives upstairs with his multigenerational family. For four hours on a Sunday evening, Tonny toured me around where I got to learn about their landmarks; meet business owners and other BIA board members; hear about their new Night Market, up-zoning of the neighborhood and weekly phone calls with the local police Captain. It didn’t take me long to determine that Tonny is basically an unpaid Executive Director of their BIA. Also, that Toronto Chinatown faces the same challenges as Seattle and other historic Asian neighborhoods in North America. Remarkably, Tonny does not use the easy excuses I often hear in the ID. I did not once hear Tonny complain about the BIA’s budget or money as the problem to meet their community’s challenges. Tonny’s approach is simple, do more and inspire others to do more. If our BIA has any desire to do things better, I would advise them to talk to Tonny, but be prepared to hear about somebody that lives by doing “everything.”  

 It was great to get away and to revisit the strategies and beliefs that I have about economic development for our Chinatown/ID. As with my son, it helps to be thousands of miles away to focus on what we want to be great at and what we have to do to get there. “Everything” may be confusing to some, but not to everybody. I also asked my son what he wished he could change about the camp. He replied like a true hockey player, “I wish I had more ice time.” I wish I had more time, too.   


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