The story of Toronto’s First Chinatown is one of resilience and is a representation of the strength of the Chinese-Canadian community in Toronto.
Toronto’s New City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square is seen as both an architectural marvel and Canada’s largest city square. Yet below the structure is also the deep history of Toronto’s first immigrant neighbourhood known as St John’s Ward (or simply known as the Ward).
The history and memories of Toronto’s first Chinatown is one of resilience and kinship within a small community, part of the broader experience of Chinatowns across Canada. Many a few Chinese immigrants from China and British Columbia came to Ontario after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, but also south from the border from the United States.
The first Chinese business opened in Toronto was a laundry at 9 Adelaide Street East by Sam Ching. By 1881, there were only 10 Chinese residents and 4 laundries. Over several decades, many more businesses emerged, and by 1911, Toronto had a Chinese population of one thousand. Toronto’s Chinatown in the 1920’s was the third largest after Vancouver and Victoria, BC. That isn’t to say immigration to Canada was easy. From 1885 to 1923, Chinese immigrants were forced to pay a head tax to the Canadian government to certify their entry. These taxes rose from $50 in 1885, to $100 in 1900, up to $500 from 1903-1923. On July 1, 1923, the Canadian government amended the Chinese Immigration Act, also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, which would bar almost all Chinese migrants from entering Canada for the next 24 years.
In 1947, without any consultation with the Chinatown community, the Toronto government proposed to demolish two-thirds of Chinatown to make way for the construction of New City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square. By the late 1950s and early 1960s, land speculation and redevelopments reduced Toronto’s first Chinatown to one-third of its original size, with many residents and businesses moving further north into the suburbs, east near Gerrard and Broadview, and west down Dundas Street to what we know today as West Chinatown, or simply Chinatown.
Based on Goad's Atlas of the City Toronto 1923 Fire Insurance Map
Businesses and Establishments in First Chinatown —
|Address||Business Name||Years Active||Category||Owned By|
|Ying Chun Tang||1918 -||Association|
|66 Albert Street||Residences||1916||Residential|
|Bay Street||Bay Street Chinese Church||Church|
|92 Chestnut Street||Chinese United Church||1970||Church|
|132-138 Chestnut Street||Residences||1937||Residential|
|Dundas Street||Golden Dragon||Restaurant|
|Dundas Street||Sea-Hi||Restaurant||Paul and Edna Chan|
|109 Dundas Street||Dr. Henry Lore’s Office||Medical||Henry Lore|
|121 Dundas Street||Lem Si Ho Tong Association||Association|
|130 Dundas Street||Sai Woo||1957 - 2000||Restaurant||Norman Chin (Chin Shee Ping)|
|136 Dundas Street||Tom Lock Drug Store||1954 -||Drug Store||George Thomas (Tom) Lock|
|175 Dundas Street||Lee Association||Association|
|Elizabeth Street||Lee’s Grill||Restaurant|
|Elizabeth Street||Chinese Women’s Club||Institution|
|6 Elizabeth Street||Kwong Chun||1919||General Store|
|8 Elizabeth Street||Wing Ching Tank’s Grocery Store||Grocery||Wing Ching Tank|
|11 Elizabeth Street||Louis Ling’s Barber Shop||1919||Barbershop||Louis Ling|
|12 Elizabeth Street||Hung Fah Low & Jung Wah||Restaurant|
|16 Elizabeth Street||Ying Chong Tai||1911 -||Grocery||Gip Kan Mark|
|21 Elizabeth Street||Residences||1913 -||Residential|
|24 Elizabeth Street||Lung Kong Kung So (Brotherhood)||1911 -||Association|
|31 Elizabeth Street||Hop War Low’s Cafe||Restaurant||Hop War Low|
|38 Elizabeth Street||Registry Office||1917 - 1964||Institution||City of Toronto|
|49 Elizabeth Street||Chong Yee Laundry||1912 -||Laundry||Lee Hong|
|56, 58 Elizabeth Street||Joe’s Cafe and Chop Suey||1937||Restaurant|
|56 Elizabeth Street||WK Café||Restaurant||Mah Keung and Henry Mah|
|60 Elizabeth Street||International Chop Suey House||1940 -||Restaurant|
|60-70 Elizabeth Street||60 – 70 Elizabeth Street||1937 -||Uncategorized|
|70-74 Elizabeth Street||70 – 74 Elizabeth Street||1937 -||Uncategorized|
|77 Elizabeth Street||Nanking Tavern||1947 -||Restaurant|
|83-91 Elizabeth Street||Residences||Residential|
|88-98 Elizabeth Street||88-98 Residences||1937||Uncategorized|
|96 Elizabeth Street||Chinese United Dramatic Society||1933||Institution||Chinese United Dramatic Society|
|100-110 Elizabeth Street||Residences||Residential|
|109, 111 Elizabeth Street||Hum Residence||1937||Residential||Hum Family|
|118 Elizabeth Street||Lichee Garden||1948 -||Restaurant||Harry Lem|
|126 Elizabeth Street||Kwong Chow||1959 - 1981||Restaurant||Jean and Doyle Lumb|
|126 Elizabeth Street||Ship Toy Yuen Dramatic Society||1932 - Unknown||Institution|
|Hagerman Street||Chinese Community Centre||Institution|
|14 Hagerman Street||Shing Wah Association||1922 - 1978||Institution||W. C. Wong|
|14, 16 Hagerman Street||Hagerman & Elizabeth St Residences||1937||Residential|
|Queen Street||Terauley St & Queen St Intersection||1922||Uncategorized|
|37 Queen Street||Sing Tom||1901 - Unknown||Restaurant||Sing Tom|
|60 Queen Street||City Hall||Institution||City of Toronto|
|130 Queen Street||Osgoode Hall||1829 - Present||Institution||City of Toronto|
|474 University Avenue||Chinese Presbyterian Church||1965||Church|
|192 York Street||Chee Kung Tong Association, Chinese Freemasons||1905 -||Association|
Bibliography & Sources —
- Chan, Arlene. The Chinese in Toronto from 1878: from Outside to inside the Circle. Dundurn, 2011.
- Lai, David Chuenyam. Chinatowns: Towns Within Cities in Canada. University Of British Columbia Press, 1988.
- Lorinc, John, et al. The Ward: the Life and Loss of Toronto’s First Immigrant Neighbourhood. Coach House Books, 2015.
- Mah, V. A. (1977). An indepth look at Toronto's early Chinatown, 1913-1933 (Vol. 1).
- Martelle, Holly, et al. The Ward Uncovered: the Archaeology of Everyday Life. Coach House Books, 2018.
- Images on Courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives and Toronto Public Library Archives
About this Project —
First Chinatown (1890 - 1960) is an ongoing project to help document and contextualize Toronto’s first Chinatown community through archival imagery and interviews with individuals from the community. This archive was developed in hopes of providing a clearer image of what it was like living along the Chestnut Street and Elizabeth street neighbourhood and to provide a better understanding through data visualization of one of Ontario’s first Chinese communities. This project and archive is managed by Lilian Leung. If you’re interested in contributing to this archive or submitting an interview or story please email firstname.lastname@example.org 舊中區華埠（1890-1960）是一個致力於通過影像檔案和一對一採訪，以達到記錄多倫多舊中區華埠社群目的的研究項目。這個由Lilian Leung所創建和管理的檔案寄望於通過圖像數據可視化來展現這個位於安大略省的Chestnut街區和Elizabeth街區上，第一個華人社群的面貌，並為來訪者提供一個更為清晰的認知和理解。如果你有意向本項目提交任何資料，或是參與採訪，請通過電子郵件聯繫contact@inchinatown-to.ca