[URBAN NOTE] “What Chinatown used to look like in Toronto”
blogTO’s Derek Flack has another photo essay up, this one looking at Toronto’s many and changing Chinatowns over the decades.
Toronto’s Chinese population was tiny prior to the early 20th century, with roughly 200 residents scattered in various areas, including clusters on Queen East near George St. and Queen West near York St. The burgeoning Queen East chinatown was short-lived, but the one to the west of Yonge would eventually migrate north towards Dundas St. and become the city’s first major Chinese community.
By 1910, the Chinese population in Toronto was creeping towards 1,000, and storefronts along Elizabeth St. started to bear Chinese-language signage. This was the same period when Chinese restaurants first opened in the city. The laundries still existed, but the community’s business interests diversified as it grew.
Over the next 40 years, the Elizabeth St. Chinatown was a robust and thriving community, housing both the businesses and residences of the city’s Chinese population, which was now growing rapidly. It’s quite possible that this Chinatown would have remained the primary hub of Chinese culture in Toronto had it not been for the arrival of New City Hall, which expropriated many businesses and knocked out whole streets of the old Ward neighbourhood.
Despite the fact that so many Chinese buisinesses were razed for the construction of Nathan Phillips Square, remaining area residents successfully fought city plans to relocate the community outright. Rising real estate prices, however, led to the gradual shift of Chinese businesses west along Dundas St., which gave rise to one of the main chinatowns that we know today.