(West) Chinatown, Toronto
Street level in the "downtown" Chinatown on Spadina Avenue
Chinatown, Toronto known also as West Chinatown or Downtown Chinatown is a Chinese neighbourhood located in the city of Toronto's downtown centred at the intersections of Spadina Avenue and Dundas Street, West. It is one of Toronto's many Chinatowns and was formed in the 1950s-1960s when businesses and residents moved from the location of Toronto's First Chinatown due its expropriation in the late 1950s to build the new Toronto City Hall and its civic square, Nathan Phillips Square.
Toronto's present day downtown Chinatown was formerly a Jewish district, although a small Chinese community was already present in this location prior to the 1950s.
The creation of this Chinatown was driven by the demolition of First Chinatown at Bay Street and Dundas Street West, from the 1950-1960s to make way for Toronto City Hall. While a handful of Chinese businesses still thrive there, much of the Chinese community have largely migrated west from there to the present Chinatown neighbourhood, thus its name, "West Chinatown". Chinatown continued to expand with the influx of Chinese immigrants during the 1960s, many of thee wives and descendants of the Chinese men already in Canada due to the lifting of Canada's racial exclusion act. With much of Toronto's downtown Jewish population moving north along Bathurst Street, the businesses in this area became largely Chinese.
In the following decades, students and skilled workers arrived from Hong Kong, Guangdong province and Chinese communities in Southeast Asia and the Caribbean further increased the Chinese population, which led to the creation of additional Chinese communities east of Toronto. The neighbourhood has been noted as being a "near complete community" with housing, employment, and commerce, along with schools and social services all located within walking distance in the neighbourhood.
Today, the economic and social centre of Toronto's downtown Chinatown primarily runs north-south along Spadina Avenue to College Street to Sullivan Street and east-west along Dundas Street West from Augusta Avenue to Beverley Street. A mansion that is converted to the Italian Consulate is at the northwest corner of Dundas and Beverley.
Since the 2000s the West Chinatown has been changing from the influx of new residents, businesses from immigrants and 2nd generation Canadians. The neighbourhood has continued to serve as a vital market hub and services, to people from inside the neighbourhood and outside. The central location of the neighbourhood has also been a draw for property developers, changing the face of the neighbourhood.
Toronto's downtown Chinatown is one of the largest in North America. It is centred on the intersection of Dundas Street West and Spadina Avenue, and extends outward from this point along both stralteets. With the population changes of recent decades, it has come to reflect a diverse set of East Asian cultures through its shops and restaurants, including Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai. The major Chinese malls in the area are Dragon City and Chinatown Centre.
Since the 1990s, downtown Chinatown is redefining itself in the face of changing demographics and gentrification of the neighbourhood. As the aging population shrank, revenues of businesses in the neighbourhood also decreased. While the majority of the grocery stores and shops remain, most of the once-famed restaurants on Dundas Street West, especially the barbecue shops located below grade, have closed since 2000. Competition from commercial developments in suburban Chinese communities also drew wealth and professional immigrants away from downtown. Unlike those newer developments in the suburbs, Chinatown's economy relies heavily on tourism and Chinese seniors. As many younger, higher-income immigrants settled elsewhere in the city, those left in the district are typically from older generations who depend on downtown's dense concentration of services and accessibility to public transportation. With developers changing or resulting in the closure of well regarded businesses, the Chinatown neighbourhood is facing the pressures of gentrification along with many other Toronto ethnic neighbourhoods and communities such as Greektown, Koreatown, Little Portugal, and Little Italy.
In the early 21st century, downtown neighbourhoods became more attractive to urban professionals and young people who work in the Financial District, as well as its proximity to the University of Toronto and to OCAD University, leading to the gentrification of surrounding areas and potentially changing the face of West Chinatown.
A key representative of the neighbourhood and its interests is the Toronto Chinatown Business Improvement Area (?), also known as the Chinatown BIA. A non-for-profit organization funded by the commercial property owners of the downtown Chinatown area, it was founded in 2007 and works closely with representatives of the federal, provincial, and city government, the police, as well as community stakeholders to promote and enhance the community as a commercial destination while maintaining its cultural character.
Historically, Toronto's Downtown Chinatown has been represented by immigrants and families from southern China and Hong Kong. Since the transfer of Hong Kong's sovereignty to the People's Republic of China in 1997, immigrants from mainland China have greatly exceeded those from Hong Kong. However, at present Cantonese remains the primary language used by businesses and restaurants in Chinatown. The Chinese immigrant population now consists of distinct subgroups.
To the east of Spadina Avenue, numerous university students attending the University of Toronto, OCAD University (formerly the Ontario College of Art and Design), and Ryerson University live in many of the small houses built as workers' housing. The diversity brings a more multicultural flavour to the district, but it may gradually reduce or eliminate its identity as Chinatown.
A number of streets in Downtown Chinatown are bilingual, a feature first introduced in the 1970s. The translations are mainly phonetic and use Chinese characters defined through Cantonese or Taishanese pronunciations.
Although the present downtown Chinatown is one of the more well known Chinese neighbourhoods in Toronto, there are in fact many others in Toronto and the Greater Toronto area, many of them with historical significance:
The television series Kung Fu: The Legend Continues was filmed in Chinatown at Spadina Avenue and Dundas Street West for many episodes of its 1993-97 run. Filmed in Toronto, it portrays the Chinatown of an unidentified major U.S. city.
On an episode of the 1990s series Due South entitled "Chinatown" (Season 1, episode 6), Toronto's Dundas and Spadina Chinatown stood in for Chicago's Chinatown.
Toronto's Chinatown is featured prominently in the 2008 collection of short stories The Chinese Knot and Other Stories by Lien Chao.