How Chinatowns in Western Canada are evolving amid business closures

Every Thursday to Sunday evening, the wait staff at the Ugly Duckling Dining & Provisions restaurant carefully set knives and forks on chopstick rests at each table.

The Ugly Duckling, which opened less than two months ago in Victoria’s historic Chinatown, is not a Chinese restaurant.

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But the fine dining eatery goes out of its way to add touches of Chinese culture to its dining experience.

Proprietor and chef Corbin Mathany incorporates Chinese ingredients and techniques in almost every dish.

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The tasting menu includes dumplings, Chinese buns and steamed custards. The bill arrives pinned to a postcard of Victoria’s Chinatown in 1898, depicting children celebrating Lunar New Year.

Developer Robert Fung, whose company, The Salient Group, is renovating two city blocks in Chinatown, insisted on the inclusion of the homages for businesses looking to locate there.

“Honestly, at first it felt like a little bit of a restriction,” Mathany said. “It felt a tiny bit onerous. But it has helped refine our message and guide us in a direction that, I think, makes us a lot more interesting than what we would have been.”

The Ugly Duckling is now an important resident of Canada’s oldest Chinatown, and part of a phenomenon as Chinatowns in Western Canada evolve and the owners of traditional eateries age out of business or move away.

Click to play video: 'Beloved Chinatown restaurant closing due to labour shortage'

Beloved Chinatown restaurant closing due to labour shortage

Jordan Eng, president of the Vancouver Chinatown Business Improvement Association, said that in the past five years, the neighbourhood has lost at least 20 per cent of its 100 heritage businesses, loosely defined as stores or eateries that have operated for more than 25 years.

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Earlier this month, Kent’s Kitchen _ a neighbourhood stalwart for more than 40 years _ announced it will shutter its Vancouver Chinatown location in April.

In February, the Daisy Garden Kitchen, another four-decade mainstay, announced it was tapping out.

But new restaurants haven’t stopped opening, Eng said.

One example, fusion gastropub The Darkside, officially opened in January and features a mix of West Coast and Asian cuisine in a casual bar atmosphere.

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Others, like tapas wine bar

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