Last Updated: December 23, 2020

Toronto Chinatown History

One of the first settlers in Toronto’s Chinatown, Sam Ching, opened and maintained a hand laundry business on Adelaide Street. This was during 1878. He was the only Chinese man documented in the registry for the city. Over the next two decades, Chinatown took form; even though the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 was still in place. They populated Bay and Elizabeth Streets. Hundreds of Chinese men flooded in through Western Canada after building the Canadian Pacific Railway. This left the male to female ration around 80:1. They worked longer hours for less money than the Canadians. This allowed them to have more jobs, and a riot to break out due to the Canadians not having enough work in the area. This eventually rolled into the Great Depression where things seemed to have gotten worse.

By the time 1910 rolled around, Toronto’s Chinese population grew to over a thousand. Hundreds of businesses owned and operated by the Chinese developed along these streets. Many of the businesses were restaurants, grocery stores, and hand laundries for the neighborhood and passerby’s. In 1930, Chinatown was a firmly established community that was well defined throughout Canada. They suffered an extreme decline when the Great Depression hit. This closed more than 200 businesses throughout Chinatown. Their fortunes soon recovered at the end of World War II. This is also the time when the population increased as well. Due to the tight compact apartment buildings that they were living in, a lot of the newly immigrated Chinese had to find room and board with others around the city. This left poor housing conditions and cramped spaces for everyone involved. Sometimes there were more than 12 to a two bedroom apartment.

Between 1947 and 1960, thousands of Chinese students, laborers, and family members flooded into Toronto from Guangdong and Hong Kong. There was talk of a new constructed Toronto City Hall in the middle of Chinatown. This was known to many of the Chinese, and also meant that they would have to find a new home since many of their apartments would be destroyed because of the new plans. Chinese businesses began the relocation process, and other Chinese stores were taking over by developers. A lot of the stores that were left behind were destroyed through expropriation. More than two thirds of each of their streets, Elizabeth and Dundas were destroyed for the project.

Construction for the City Hall in Toronto began in 1961. During the year of 1967, the city proposed that Chinatown should be once again relocated. This time, it was for the development of new office buildings in the area that they were occupying. Many more businesses were in danger due to this move. The ‘Save Chinatown Committee’ was then established by Jean Lumb. She was to be the coordinator of the campaign that was going to be held to save the community of Chinatown. In 1976, she received the Order of Canada for helping to save Chinatown, and being such a big part of it.

The Chinese migrated towards the West to habitat where they are presently. A few of the Chinese still remain in the previous location, although the majority moved on. Chinatown now covers a large block of multiple streets that you can walk through with businesses on either side to visit. This also allows for further expansion in the Chinatown community.

Header image courtesy of Wikimedia

About the Author Anna Timbrook

Anna is the co-owner of expert world travel and can't wait to share her travel experience with the world. With over 54 countries under her belt she has a lot to write about! Including those insane encounters with black bears in Canada.