Did you know that as Canada’s capital city Ottawa shares a special sister city designation with China’s capital city, Beijing? In 1999, Ottawa and Beijing entered into a “sister city” agreement, which focuses on environmental protection, municipal administration, technology and tourism.
In terms of tourism, the agreement establishes cooperation between the cities to promote each other, as well as the Badaling section of the Great Wall and the Rideau Canal, which are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Ottawa’s unique Chinatown Gateway (also known as the Royal Arch), located on Somerset Street West just off Bronson Avenue, is a direct result of this prosperous relationship and is a symbol of the strong China-Canada friendship. Completed in October 2010, the ornate Chinese northern-royal-style gateway features nine golden roofs covered with glazed tiles. The arch is also decorated with five symbolic coins made of precious metals including gold, silver, copper, iron and tin, as well as various threads in red, yellow, blue and black. Two carved dragons guard either side of the arch, symbolizing benevolent power, strength and good luck. According to the Somerset Street Chinatown Business Improvement Area (BIA), the beautiful structure follows Chinese traditions that “bring blessings to the people and to the land.” The archway was made possible by contributions from the City of Ottawa, the Chinatown BIA, the governments of Canada and Ontario, and the government of China who provided funding, materials and the expertise of Chinese tradesmen.
In October 2013, Ottawa’s Mayor Jim Watson visited Beijing to sign an Exchange and Cooperation Agreement, which furthered the original sister city agreement on the platforms of business, trade, investment, culture, education, tourism and municipal administration. The updated agreement seeks to have Beijing’s tourism industry work with Ottawa Tourism to establish a platform for a business tourism market. It also encourages both countries to participate in various exchange programs for artists, cultural and educational professionals, as well as public servants, among other initiatives.
According to Executive Director of the Chinatown BIA Grace Xin, the sister city relationship is an asset for Ottawa as it allows the city to establish strategic international business links to Beijing, the capital city of the second most powerful economic engine in the world. “Ottawa has an advantage compared to other cities in Canada, because the Chinese really pay attention to capital cities and Ottawa is on their ‘Must Have’ list,” Xin said in an interview with Ottawa Tourism. “We have this advantage that no other city would have,” adding the Chinatown Gateway is the biggest benefit to come from the sister city designation so far. She noted that many Ottawa-based organizations and companies benefit from the intimate relationship.
Ottawa Tourism’s President and CEO Noel Buckley, who was part of Mayor Watson’s delegation to Beijing last October, noted that he expects the two capital cities to continue to prosper through the thriving sister city relationship. “We are very optimistic about China’s outbound business travel market. Ottawa’s commitment to the China market is long-term,” he said. As Canada’s capital, Ottawa welcomed 30,100 Chinese tourists in 2012, who spent more than $9.5 million. China is Ottawa’s third largest overseas tourism market after the United Kingdom and France.