In recent years Richmond, British Columbia, a quintessential middle class suburb of Vancouver, has seen its Chinese immigrant population grow significantly; a change that has not gone uncontested by a largely ‘white’ European incumbent population. This long‐established suburban neighbourhood provides an opportunity to examine contested place imagery and a discourse of racism that is shaping spatial relations in ways that depart from earlier discussions of inner‐city Chinatowns. The paper has three principal objectives. The first is to develop a conceptual framework for interpreting the actual and imagined geographies of ethnic change and the tensions it can generate within local space. The second is to evaluate the social and physical changes brought about within Richmond by a relatively recent arrival of Chinese immigrants. Questions of scale are explored both at the community and neighbourhood levels, and we seek to determine whether the patterns of Chinese residential settlement represent a break from the past. Finally, we seek to employ the conceptual framework to evaluate local responses to ethnic change in Richmond given the spatial context within which ethnic change is being experienced.