[URBAN NOTE] “Toronto’s changing Chinatown: who is it for?”
NOW Toronto‘s Michelle da Silva reports on how Toronto’s main Chinatown, along Spadina Avenue, has been changing with growing immigration and diversification among Chinese Canadians. Where is the neighbourhood heading?
When Craig Wong lived in Paris in his early 20s, he felt deeply homesick. He was there to cook for renowned chef Alain Ducasse after attending culinary school at Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon. On his days off, he’d wander the 13th arrondissement of the capital, where Chinatown is located.
The Scarborough-raised chef, after spending most of his waking hours cooking high-end French food, missed the flavours of home, the ones that reminded him of Toronto’s Chinatown: the cacophony of Chinese dialects weaving in and out of erhu music, the sight of roasted pork glistening in restaurant windows and the scent of dried mushrooms and tea leaves floating from herbal shops. Paris didn’t cut it.
“It was the shittiest Chinatown I’d ever seen,” he recalls, seated at a table at the recently opened Jackpot Chicken Rice, his trendy new casual restaurant on Spadina. “The way they treated Chinese food was really bad.”
As for many Canadians of Chinese heritage, many of Wong’s formative memories are deeply rooted in the stretch of Spadina around Dundas. He can point to the grocery stores and restaurants he used to frequent with family, and the house his dad lived in for a short time on Baldwin.
As a teen, Wong would skip school with Ivy Lam, his high school sweetheart and now wife, and end up at the “banh mi shop with the green sign” located, coincidentally, in exactly the same space that Jackpot now occupies.
In the 1980s, the Chinatown at Spadina and Dundas looked remarkably similar to today’s. Its residents, however, were different – mostly Taishanese people from China’s southern Guangdong province, to which Wong traces his family lineage. Today the dominant Chinese population is Fujianese. Toronto’s other Chinatown at Broadview and Gerrard had, and has, a mix of Chinese and Vietnamese. Both districts grew out of the Chinatown that ran along Elizabeth Street in the Ward, a so-called slum populated by immigrants including European Jews, Italians, African-Americans and Chinese settlers following the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.