[URBAN NOTE] “Defunct Chinese church in Toronto has ties to African-American history”
John Lorinc’s article in the Friday edition of The Globe and Mail reports on how Toronto’s multicultural history can be intriguingly layered.
Growing up in the 1960s in Chinatown in a flat above her parents’ silk shop, Jennie Norman had no idea about the buried history beneath the Toronto Chinese United Church (TCUC), on Chestnut Street south of Dundas, where she and her friends spent their free time at youth groups and fundraising bazaars.
The TCUC congregation, which served older Cantonese-speaking immigrants as well as second- or third-generation Chinese Canadians such as Ms. Norman, operated out of the church between 1955 and 1988, when the building was sold and demolished to make way for a parking lot.
Last year, however, the TCUC’s well-preserved foundations resurfaced during a massive archeological dig on the site, which is slated to become a $500-million provincial courthouse developed by Infrastructure Ontario (IO).
As archeologists have since revealed, the church traces its origins to a tiny wood-frame chapel founded on the site in the 1840s by five African-American men, some refugees from slavery. Named the British Methodist Episcopal Church in 1856 and rebuilt twice, it became the leading place of worship for Toronto’s black community. When the BME’s membership dwindled in the 1950s, the property was sold to the United Church to establish the city’s first Chinese congregation.
The TCUC, recalls Ms. Norman, a 66-year-old retired IT consultant, “certainly was a very important cultural centre for the Chinese population.” But, she adds, “I doubt if anyone in the congregation knew enough about the history.”