On a beautiful June day in 2016, a very special ceremony took place at the John Elliott Theatre. Mayor Rick Bonnette and Secretary Dao Ming of Wenjiang District signed a historic agreement that would establish friendly cooperative relations between Halton Hills and Wenjiang District, Chengdu City, in the People's Republic of China. In other words, the Town of Halton Hills and Wenjiang are now “sister cities”; separated by miles, but together in spirit of mutual respect, friendship and cooperation.
It is an agreement between two communities to promote cultural and commercial ties. Designed to foster friendship and understanding between different cultures, a “sister city” relationship encourages trade and tourism, as well as an opportunity to increase and form strategic international links between two communities. “Twinning” between cities became very popular after World War II as a means to strengthen bonds by encouraging a deeper understanding between cultures.
Located in southwest China, in Sichuan province, Wenjiang is one of nine districts that make up the larger City of Chengdu. The population of Chengdu is about 14 million. Chengdu is a key commercial centre in southwest China with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of about $200 billion and annual growth of 9%. Wenjiang District has a rich history dating back 4000 years with a population of about 700,000 people. Wenjiang is a thriving, diversified and modern community - leading in sustainable development, innovation, high-tech manufacturing, education, agriculture and tourism.
The catalyst for the partnership was the September 2015 delegation to China which included Mayor Rick Bonnette. As a result of that trade mission, relationships were established with many Chinese cities. In November 2015, the Town of Halton Hills hosted a delegation from Chengdu City, China. During this delegation, Ms. Tian Rong, Vice Mayor of Chengdu City invited the Mayor and a delegation from Halton Hills to visit Chengdu City and explore a twinning agreement.
This is the first time the Town of Halton Hills has signed an international agreement of this magnitude. The agreement between Halton Hills and Wenjiang District allows both communities to:
Promote friendly exchanges among their people;
Actively cooperate in the areas of economic development, investment promotion, renewable energy, low-carbon economy, sustainable development, environmental protection, culture and arts, tourism and education/knowledge-exchange;
Deepen the economic and trade contacts between Chambers of Commerce and enterprises in both communities; and
Work diligently to raise the quality of life for people in both communities.
This agreement and its areas of focus are directly aligned with the Town’s Strategic Action Plan. In addition, they also align closely with the priorities set out by the Province of Ontario and the Government of Canada. This international agreement will pave the way for greater trade, improved prosperity and an enhanced quality of life for both communities
The next step has been to implement the Council-approved Action Plan. This long-term Plan will benefit Halton Hills and Wenjiang through 22 actionswhich are organized into five themes:
Arts, Culture and Economic Development
Sustainable Development and Energy Conservation
Business and Economic Investment
Education and Health Care
April 20, 2017 marked a key milestone in implementing the education focus of the Halton Hills-Wenjiang Action Plan. Attended by 650 students and teachers, a successful and energetic school assembly took place at Ethel Gardiner Public School (EGPS). Attendees enjoyed a presentation about the city of Wenjiang, and a video about their sister-school, Guanghua Experimental Primary School (GEPS) in Wenjiang. The assembly was the result of close collaboration between the Town, Halton District School Board, and a dedicated team of teachers and students at Ethel Gardiner. Over time, the sister-school partnership between Ethel Gardiner and Guanghua will be solidified with numerous actions. These actions include the signing of an official 'Sister-School Partnership Agreement’; collaborating on projects over social media; students being pen pals; and preparing and sharing videos on school life. Ethel Gardiner is Guanghua’s only sister school, and the only one in North America.
Guanghua is said to be the best primary school in Wenjiang. It is currently attended by 1400 students. When fully built, it will be attended by 3000 students. The school offers many modern facilities, including a TV studio, digital classrooms and dance studios.
The partnership between Ethel Gardiner and Guanghua will help build cultural awareness, share knowledge, and create lasting friendships between Halton Hills and Wenjiang.
Assisting Local Businesses
The Town’s Economic Development Office is reaching out to local business owners to determine who is already doing business in China and who is interested in growing their business through bilateral trade and investment. Staff will consider ways to help local small and medium businesses that may not have the resources or access to the Asian market. The Asian market offers a significant and exciting growth opportunity for the Town of Halton Hills. The November 2017 “Doing Business in China” Forum is one example of how Halton Hills Economic Development is assisting local firms to leverage business opportunities.
Making Cultural Connections
The first in a series of exciting cultural events to promote the Town's unique relationship with Wenjiang was an exhibit in January-February 2016. The Helson Gallery hosted an extraordinary photographic exhibit (program agenda), which documented the fascinating history of Canadian missionaries who lived in China between 1892 and 1952. This exhibit is a gift to Canadians from Chinese historians, artists and corporate donors. It recognizes and appreciates the many courageous Canadians who made Sichuan, China, their home over 100 years ago. These missionaries contributed to the medical and educational modernization in China.
Halton Hills’ Mayor Rick Bonnette officiated at the opening receptionon January 14, 2017 which included over 150 guests from the Halton Hills community and beyond. Guest speakers Marion Walker and Kevin Best spoke of their familial links to the project, enthralling the audience with their poignant reminiscences of Chengdu, and of the legacy they work so strongly to maintain. Special guests Consuls Zishan Chen and Yi Ye were in attendance representing the People’s Republic of China and Consul Chen spoke in appreciation of the strong bond that connects Halton Hills with Chengdu (Wenjiang District). The exhibit was featured on OMNI Television, Cogeco Cable, The Independent Free Press and Georgetown On Magazine.
Town of Halton Hills 1 Halton Hills Drive Halton Hills ON L7G 5G2
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Wenjiang Festival 2017
Halton Hills is well on its way in forming the necessary friendships and networks to assist our businesses in taking full advantage of the great economic development opportunities offered by China to our businesses, as well as opportunities that we can offer to businesses based in China that can invest into our region. By first signing a sister-city agreement with Wenjiang, and then hosting the Wenjiang Festival, Halton Hills is thinking and acting well beyond our boundaries to benefit both communities and both countries. The delegation from Wenjiang has returned to China with a deep understanding of Canadian culture, very fond memories and an experience of a lifetime. The government of Wenjiang will help us foster more and deeper relationships with their business community, and we will do the same for them.
Click on the thank-you banner below to see newly posted photos of the many wonderful moments of the Wenjiang Festival.