TORONTO’S CHINATOWN 多倫多華埠

Woman looking at notpad with her hand on her face
"What do I have to do to be acceptable? I'm always looking in from the outside." - Jean Lumb

Jean Lumb (1919-2002) was not only a mom to six children and a successful restaurant owner but a Chinese-Canadian hero. She is recognized for helping to turn around people’s negative perceptions about the Chinese in Toronto. Her work in challenging discriminatory immigration legislation led her to gain national profile. She is known for her efforts in leading the Save Chinatown Committee when it came under threat from the construction of the new City Hall. She prompted city council to repeal a plan and to relocate Toronto’s Chinatown neighborhood. Her social activism was instrumental in preserving the Chinese community’s heritage in Ontario. She is the first Chinese Canadian woman to receive The Order of Canada for her community work. Throughout her dedication to helping others, Jean Lumb truly made a difference to Chinese lives in Canada. I had the honour to interview her daughter, Arlene Chan.

FINDING SUCCESS THROUGH TCCSA

He moved to Canada two weeks ago. Wang Wei does not speak a word of English, but he says he will learn at The Cross-Cultural Community Services Association (TCCSA). The newcomer says he is determined to utilize the association’s services to help him adjust to life in Canada.

“English is the key to success in Canada, and TCCSA is making that success more attainable,” says Wei.

According to TCCSA’s website, the agency was founded in 1973 to help Toronto’s Chinese immigrants break down cultural and language barriers within the city by providing services in their mother language.

Nicole Mak, the program manager at TCCSA says their goal is to help the Chinese community feel at home in Canada. 

“Every immigrant, including myself knows how difficult it is to adapt to a foreign social system. So it is our hope that we can help the Chinese community navigate Canada better than we did ourselves,” says Mak.

According to TCCSA’s 2016-2017 fiscal year report, they provided individual services to 17,410 first-time visitors and about 13-thousand returning visitors and walk-ins, for a total 30-thousand visitors this year. Mak says their services are funded by sources such as Citizenship and Immigration Canada and City of Toronto. She says TCSSA provides three major services: settlement services, community and youth services, and education and language training.

“We act as a breach for the Chinese community that is easily accessible and without cost, so that they have the resources to make a great life here in Canada,” says Mak.

The settlement services include orientation day for newcomers, computer access, and one-on-one counselling on subjects such as housing, citizenship and social assistance. Wei says as a newcomer to Canada, it a sigh of relief that places like TCCSA exist for immigrants to get the information they need.

“They have helped me out a great deal by providing information workshops and fact-sheets. I’m finally beginning to feel like I’m settling down now,” says Wei.

Linda Chen has been settled down in Canada for over a year and utilizes TCCSA’s community services. She is expecting her second child in December and is currently participating in the women’s support group, the expected moms workshops, and the early childhood program. The early childhood program allows moms with children under six years old, to learn about healthy eating, child behaviour, and parenting tips for free. 

“Everyone is so sweet, to me, to my kid, the baby. I honestly would not have known half the things I know now about raising kids without their help,” says Chen.

David Lin also participates in the early childhood program with his two boys, aged five and six who were born in Canada. Lin has enrolled his children in the education and language training classes at TCCSA. He says he wants his children to learn Chinese at Saturday school to preserve the language within his family. 

“English is everything in Canada, and at most, French is the second language. Chinese it is hard to write, hard to speak, but it is so important that our children maintain the Chinese culture by speaking the language,” says Lin.

Mak says other cultures are also enrolled in language classes to better understand the Chinese culture. 

“They want to know more than what they see on the news and not just base their ideas of the Chinese on products made in China because Toronto is so multicultural and people want to learn Chinese,” says Mak.

Mak says it is no surprise that their education and language classes are in high-demand. According to Statistics Canada, Asia is the top source continent of recent immigrants and accounts for 61.8 per cent of newcomers. Mak says the increase of Chinese immigrants is the reason why they have opened locations all over the city in Scarborough, Peel, York, and downtown Toronto.

Disclaimer: interviews were conducted in Chinese and then translated into English

infographic about TCCSA services and a timeline of their history

HUMANS OF CHINATOWN

Eric Chong, owner and head chef of R&D smiling

Eric Chong’s journey from season one’s MasterChef Canada champion to head chef and co-owner of R&D began in Oakville, Ontario. He grew up eating and cooking traditional Chinese food with his grandpa but also explored western cuisine. He draws inspiration from traditional Chinese food but modernizes it to bring in Canadian flavours that can appeal to Torontonians. R&D, which is located in Toronto’s Chinatown, features tapas marrying the flavours of Signapore, China, and Hong Kong.

man with glasses
Tony Yu quote

The sidewalks of Chinatown are filled with fruit stalls, vendors and thousands of people eager to eat, shop and socialize. Tony Yu, the chair of Chinatown’s Business Improvement Area (BIA), says step by step, Chinatown businesses are flourishing due to the increase of population and tourists within the area. The BIA is a not-for-profit community-based agency in Toronto that aims to increase Chinatown’s foot traffic.

“There are more residents in Chinatown than ever, they are all part of the quality restaurants, bars, and stores that make this area a lively place to be,” says Yu. According to the 2011 National Household Survey, 49.1 per cent of Toronto’s population is composed of visible minorities; of this, approximately 70 per cent are of Asian ancestry.

Yu says 95 per cent of businesses in Chinatown are owned by Chinese immigrants and 5 per cent of businesses are owned by other ethnicities including Korean, Japanese and Canadian. He also says that these businesses help maintain the Chinese culture.

“When immigrants moved here, they found food as their comfort because it reminded them of home. So we have lots of Chinese restaurants like barbeque joints with a history and connection with the people in Chinatown, ” says Yu.

Sam Leung, a Chinese immigrant says he feels like he has been coming to New Hong Fatt B.B.Q. Restaurant his entire life. He says he comes every Monday morning because that is when they have the freshest meat.

“Some of my buddies and I used to come here all the time and eat after work, but now that we’re old and some of us have come and gone, I still come here to relieve my memories and eat fresh meat,” says Leung.

Yu says he also had lots of memories within restaurants in Chinatown. He says it was a culture shock when he first moved to Canada in 1981 and immigrated 27 years ago from Hong Kong, but the transition was made easier with food.

“It was a culture shock at first, Toronto’s Chinatown in comparison to Hong Kong is not as well organized… but you feel the same atmosphere when you go into the restaurants. It was easy to adjust to life here, I was young and lived in Chinatown where the food was mostly the same as home,” says Yu.

Lucia Huang, the director of communications at Chinatown BIA says the food scene has changed with its changes in demographics, “right now there’s more selection and there’s a mixture of cultures from all over Asia.” She says a lot of young people are gravitating towards Chinese drinks and snacks, which have made them very popular such as bubble tea.

Huang says although Chinatown’s businesses attracted attention from Torontonians, the greatest struggle of Chinatown within the last 20 years is getting tourists to visit.

“People used to have a negative perception about Chinatown. They thought it was dirty and unsanitary, but this is not a problem right now. Over the last few years, the businesses have become very steady and it even peaked because the exchange rate motivated tourists from China to come and visit,” says Huang. According to Tourism Toronto, in 2015, 14-million tourists visited Toronto and produced an overall visitor spending in Toronto of 7-billion dollars in industries such as transportation, accommodation, food and beverage, entertainment and retail.

Huang says BIA helps to reel in tourists by holding Chinese cultural events such as Chinese New year for two days in January or February, where they hold traditional performances and arts.

“We celebrate Chinese New Year by going all out and closing off the street. We usually have two stages with different performances. Aside from traditional Chinese performances, we also offer magic tricks and westernized acts,” says Huang. She also says that 25-thousand people came to the Chinese New Year event in 2017 and the number of attendees is growing every year.

Disclaimer: all interviews were translated from Chinese into English

HISTORY OF CHINESE IN CANADA