Locals are quite familiar with today’s Chinatown, centered around Dundas Street West and Spadina Avenue, but many do not realize that Toronto has seen multiple Chinatowns arise in different areas around the city.
The story dates back before the 20th century, when the city’s Chinese population was roughly 200. Most of these Chinese Canadians were residing in one of two areas: near Queen Street East and George Street, or Queen Street West and York Street.
By 1910, the city’s Chinese population rose to 1,000 and Chinese-language signage on storefronts and restaurants began popping up along Elizabeth Street.
In 1961, construction began on New City Hall. This forced whole families and streets to move into the old Ward area, which was a densely populated and considered a Toronto slum at that time.
Over the years, residents shifted west of Yonge St. and established grocery stores, shops, restaurants and new businesses in the area. By the 1960’s this Chinatown shifted north towards Dundas St. and Spadina Ave. Just 10 years later, half of the area was populated by Chinese Canadians and businesses were thriving.
Today’s Chinatown is still known for amazing cuisine and cultural celebration, but has modernized its look with vibrant street art that seems to have trickled over from the neighbouring Kensington Market.
The success seen in the first major Chinatown inspired the development of a second one for Toronto’s East End in the early 1970’s. Enticed by lower rent available in the East End, Chinese and Vietnamese businesses began moving to Gerrard Street, between Broadview Avenue and Howland Road. Chinatown East may be lesser known to tourists, but it’s definitely a hidden gem for Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine that’s loved by locals.