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Changes to Toronto’s Chinatown: Toronto's First Chinatown and Downtown Chinatown

Paul Qiu

There are about 1.2 million Chinese currently living in Canada. Of this, almost 40% reside in Toronto.  Toronto's first and earliest Chinatown (1878-1960) was located at the intersection of York and Elizabeth Street. The reason for this location was the construction of Union Station in 1872 on Front Street by York and Simcoe. Thus, the neighbourhood was considered very convenient in terms of transportation for the earlier Chinese settlers. According to the Toronto directory, early shops owned by Chinese were concentrated along George Street near Quest Street East; and on Elizabeth Street close to Queen Street West.

After the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, many Chinese railroad workers arrived in Toronto. They became some of the first Chinese residents of Toronto. Due to marginalization and discrimination, these early Chinese migrants set up various mutual aid associations in order to survive. The different types of associations included: 1) clan associations like Lung Kong Associations, Chin Ying Chun Tang, Chinese Free Masons; 2) religious associations like Chinese Presbyterian Church, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Chinese Gospel Church; and 3) community agencies such as University Settlement House and Mon Sheong Home for the Aged.

In the 1950s, the construction of the new City Hal1, together with new city planning, forced many earlier Chinese shops and houses to move westward from York and Elizabeth Street to the Dundas Street West and Spadina Avenue area (Figure 1). Gradually, Central Chinatown was formed and has lasted until today. Near the end of 1960s, another wave of immigration brought more Chinese newcomers to Toronto. These Chinese immigrants influenced the formation of Eastern Chinatownand five other “newer” Chinatowns in Scarborough, North York, Markham, Richmond Hill and Mississauga. In this article, the Central Chinatown is called Old Chinatown to distinguish it from the First Chinatown that was torn down in 1950s and the more recent Chinatowns in the Greater Toronto Area. 

During the past hundred or so years, Chinatown has experienced a number of incidents, both happy and sad. We must not forget the sacrifices and hardships faced by our ancestors who arrived on these shores. Learning from this history, and with the perseverance, wisdom, and intelligence of the Chinese people, we must always remember to come together in solidarity and work together for a brighter future.

The basis of this piece is “A Historical Guide to Ontario's Chinatowns”, a pamphlet published by CCNCTO in 2003. Sources from that guide were used for the contents of this piece and for the map. A few revisions have been made and they are:

  • The names of Chinatowns: In order to be more consistent with the historical development of Chinatown, the term “Old Chinatown” used in the 2003 pamphlet will be renamed First Chinatown and “New Chinatown” will be renamed Old Chinatown in this article.
  • The original map has been replaced with a satellite map taken from Google Maps to allow for comparisons between historical locations and modern urban landscapes.
  • After verification through research, the errors and omissions from the original text and map have been remedied in this article.
  • The owners and organizations listed in Table 1 and Table 2 have been marked on the Google Map (Figure 1). One can use this map to examine the current urban landscape in relation to these historical locations.

 

Toronto First and Downtown Chinatown's: Toronto's first Chinatown is outlined in black. Toronto's current downtown Chinatown is outlined in rec.Toronto First and Downtown Chinatown's: Toronto's first Chinatown is outlined in black. Toronto's current downtown Chinatown is outlined in rec.

 

 

Table 1: First Chinatown was located where Toronto City Hall stands today.

 

Label

Address

Former owner

Present Status

Comments

A

 

9 Adelaide Street East

 

Sam Ching Laundry

Dundee Place

According to the 1878 Toronto Census, Sam Ching was the first Chinese person to reside and work in Toronto.  He operated this laundry shop near Union Station. The laundry shop has since been torn down. *

B

405 Yonge Street

Wing Tai & Co.

Vietnamese Cuisine

Originally a boutique store, this property is now a Vietnamese restaurant.

C

92 York Street

Chinese Freemasons

NORTEL & Scotiabank 

In 1905, this mutual aid society located at the Hong Men Mortgage Building, contributed to Sun Yat-Sen's revolutionary efforts.  *

D

69 1/2 Queen Street West

 

Quong Ying Yune Tea Shop

Thomson Building

The Quong Ying Yune Tea Shop has been demolished and moved.

E

474 University Avenue

Chinese Christian Association

Skyscraper

In 1914, the Chinese Christian Association moved from 134 Church Street to 474 University Avenue, which has also been torn down. Today, the spot contains a skyscraper.

 

F

124 University Avenue

 

Chinese Presbyterian Church

Skyscraper

In 1914, the Chinese Presbyterian Church was originally at 188 Church St.  However, in 1919, the church moved to 124 University Ave.

G

56 Elm Street

 

The Chinese Bay Street Mission

EN WAVE building and parking lot

The Chinese Bay Street Mission has been torn down.

H

143 Elizabeth Street

Ship Toy Yuen Theatre Group

Siji Japanese Fusion Restaurant

In 1935, the Ship Toy Yuen Theater Group was located at 143 Dundas St. W., while the theater itself was located on 126 Elizabeth St.  It later became a Cantonese restaurant, and today it is a Japanese restaurant.

I

88 Queen Street East

 

Cooke’s Presbyterian Church

Temporary Parking Lot

Founded in 1851, the early Chinese often went to this church for English classes and gospel singing,

J

12 Hagerman Street

Shing Wah Daily News

 

New City Hall

Founded in 1935, Shing Wah Daily News was Toronto's first Chinese language newspaper. Shing Wah Daily News was followed by Hsing Hua Ji Pao and Xing Hua Ri Bao.

K

126 Elizabeth Street

Kwong Chow Restaurant

 

Yueh Tung Restaurant

Kwong Chow Cantonese Restaurant was first replaced by the Four Seasons Japanese Restaurant and then the Yueh Tung Chinese seafood restaurant. *

L

117A Elizabeth Street

Kew Dock Yip Law Office

Three story apartment

Kew Dock Yip, the first Chinese Canadian lawyer had a storefront on 117A Elizabeth St. (1945-1984). He participated in campaigns to successfully repeal Chinese Exclusion Act in 1947.

M

113 Elizabeth Street

Ship-Toy-Yen Society

Longo’s Market

Ship-Toy-Yen Society is another example of a Chinese mutual-aid society.

N

416 Spadina Ave.

The Ho King Restaurant

 

The New Ho King Restaurant

 

The Ho King restaurant served familiar Chinese dishes to Lo Wah Kiu (Chinese Pioneers). New Ho King continued its legacy with the old Ho King restaurant's trademark dishes and traditional Cantonese cuisine, at bargain prices.  This restaurant attracts a lot of business from tourists.

O

96-98

Elizabeth St

Overseas Alliance Theatre

Apartment building, with a laundry at the bottom floor

In 1933, this site was the Overseas Alliance Theatre.  Before this, it was the location of the International Drama Society and Toronto's first music organization, which was built in 1919.  *

P

60/62/64

Elizabeth St

Sang Hong Sang Grocery Shop

 

 

 

City Hall

In 1920, this was the location of the Sang Hong Sang Grocery Store. It was torn down in 1955. *

Q

48 Elizabeth St

Lee Hong

Laundry

In 1908, this site was the Lee Hong laundry Shop. *

R

24

Elizabeth St

Lung Kong Association

In 1922, the Lung Kong brothers purchased 24 Elizabeth Street to start a business. It was later replaced with a three story apartment.   *

S

16

Elizabeth St

Ying Chong Tai Vegetable Wholesale

In 1911, Gip Kan Mark became the first Chinese to own property on Elizabeth Street. On the first floor of his building was this grocery store. *

 

 


Table 2: Old Chinatown (Central Chinatown)

 

Label

Position

Present owner

Remark

 

1

 

58 Cecil Street

 

Cecil Street Community Centre

The building was originally a Jewish Synagogue called Ostroweic Synagogue. For more information about this community center,  please refer to http://neighbourhoodcentres.ca/member/cecil-street-community-centre

 

2

350 Dundas Street West

 

Chinese United Dramatic Society

Chinese United Dramatic Society was established in 1933[YUN1] . For more information please refer to the essay “The History of the Chinese United Dramatic Society” published in March 1982.

 

3

134 D’Arcy Street

 

Toronto Taoist Tai Chi

Association’s

Fung Loy Kok Institute of Taoism. More information at http://www.taoist.org

 

 

4

36 D’Arcy Street

 

Mon Sheong Home for the Aged(1974)

Mon Sheong obtained its charity status in 1964. For more information, please visit http://www.monsheong.org

 

 

5

106 Beverley Street

 

Deep Quong Non-Profit Homes Inc

Deep Quong Non-Profit Homes Inc first established in 1855 on 106 Beverly Street. For more information please refer to

http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-146219326.html

http://www.weblocal.ca/deep-quong-non-profit-homes-inc-toronto-on.html

 

6

 

101 Huron St

 

 

First Baptist Church

Founded in 1826 by 12 black refugrees, First Baptist Church has the distinction of being both the very first Baptist church and the oldest Black institution in the city of Toronto.  The church treasures its famous painting “Accession of the Black Christ”. For more information, visit  http://www.firstbaptistchurchtoronto.com/

 

7a

 

177 Beverley St

Chinese Presbyterian Church

Chinese Presbyterian Church assists with Chinese settlement issues. Many Chinese immigrants from places like Victoria, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal joined this organization. For more information please refer to http://www.chinesechurches.org

 

 

7b

 

202 St. Patrick St

 

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church

Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church (formerly St. Patrick Church) is one of the oldest Catholic Churches in the city of Toronto. It was built in 1969, serving many Chinese Catholics. It is also one of the four main Catholic churches serving Chinese in Toronto. For more information, please visit http://www.ofm.org.hk/200-Sprituality/222-Articles/2221Franciscan_Spirituality/torontochurches.htm http://www.ourladyofmountcarmel.ca

 

7c

 

410 Dundas St E & 450 Dundas St W

 

Chinese Gospel Church

 

This was founded in 1954 by a missionary couple from China. It is situated at the north eastern corner of Dundas St East and Berkely St. 410 Dundas St. E was the church residence while the church itself was located at 450 Dundas St. E. For more information, visit http://www.gospelchurches.net

 

7d

 

72-78 Beverley St

 

 

Toronto Chinese Baptist Church

Toronto Chinese Baptist Church is situated at the north west corner of Beverly and Sullivan Street. It was commissioned by William McMaster, who donated the land and finances for the church to be built. The church was first built in 1880 while the rest of the church was completed in 1886. For more information, please visit http://www.tcbc.on.ca

 

8

North Western corner of Dundas and Spadina

 

Kensington Market

Kensington market is one of the most historic and important places in Toronto. In 1970s, Chinese started living in this area. For more information, please visit  http://www.kensington-market.ca http://www.ststephenshouse.com/kensingtonalive/history.html

 

9

 

222

Spadina Ave

 

Chinatown Centre

Chinatown Center is a commercial-residential building at the heart of Old Chinatown. For more information, please visit http://www.torontoplus.ca/shopping_services/chinatown_centre/1056397

 

10

 

280 Spadina Ave

 

Dragon City Centre

Dragon city Centre is a modern commercial center in the middle of Old Chinatown. It fulfills the public’s shopping needs. For more information, please visit http://dragoncity.sites.toronto.com/

11

23 Grange Road

University Settlement

University Settlement is a multi-service agency that was founded in 1910 and has the distinction of being the first community-based social service centre in the City of Toronto. For more information, please visit http://www.usrc.ca

12

346 Dundas St. W

Chin Ying Chun Tang

Chin Ying Chun Tang is one of the clans associations among overseas Chinese community. It was established in 1918. For more details please refer to “Chin Ying Chun Tang 70th Anniversary Special” and http://www.chens.org.cn

13

436 Dundas St. W

Chinese Freemasons

Chinese Freemasons is a Chinese Canadian political society. For more information, please visit http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/history/chinese_freemasons

 

14

 

280 Spadina Ave.

 

Lung Kong Association

Lung Kong Association is a clan association established by Lung Kong brothers in year 1922. It was originally located on 24 Elizabeth Street. Because of the construction of the new city hall, it moved to its current location

15

302 Spadina Ave.

Chinese Canadian National Council

In 1979, Chinese Canadians across the country united to protest the irresponsible journalism of a national televised program: "Campus Giveaway". As a result, CTV publicly apologized for the racist overtones and inaccuracies of that particular episode. More significantly, the participants against W5 from cities across Canada assembled and held a conference in Toronto. Out of that meeting, the importance and need for a strong, national organization became so evident that the Chinese Canadian National Council was formed. For more information, visit www.ccnc.ca

 

16

 

215 Spadina Ave.

Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter

CCNC Toronto Chapter is an organization of Chinese Canadians in the City of Toronto that promotes equity, social justice, inclusive civic participation, and respect for diversity. For more information, please visit www.ccnctoronto.ca

 

Notes: Label A,B,Cand 1,2,3 depand on original aticle by CCNCTC

In remark * see alsoEnglish http://www.toronto.ca/archives/pdf/chinese_eng_web.pdf

中文    http://www.toronto.ca/archives/pdf/chinese_chi_web.pdf

 

 

 

 

    

About the Author: Paul Qiu  (1941 - ) was born in Shanghai.  He has worked for a number of organizations in China, including: China Land and Resources Center for Remote Sensing as an Aerogeophysical Senior Engineer, Beijing Institute for New Technologies Construction as a director of construction, a Chinese social sports instructor at the national level, and a Beijing Olympic buildings consultant. He was also a board member for the Chinese builders' association, Since the 1980s, he has visited countries like the United States and Canada numerous times to study building practices.  He has published a number of articles on specialized topics and has developed 20 patents registered in China.  He took part in the Beijing Olympics construction project, and won an award for excellence. Recently, he's been invited to conferences on green construction and has written a number of papers in this area,  In addition he volunteers on  projects organized by CCNCTO and the Working Women Community Center.


 


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