Toronto's Original Chinatown

The first Chinese resident recorded in Toronto was Sam Ching, the owner of a hand laundry business on Adelaide Street in 1878. At this time immigration to Canada directly from China was restricted by a head tax of $50, that was raised a number of times reaching $500 by 1903. This head tax that specifically targeted Chinese immigrants did not deter all from coming, so the government of the time used the Chinese Exclusion Act from 1923-1947 to stop the flow of Chinese immigrants. However, Chinese men migrated to Toronto from western Canada after completing the construction of the trans-continental Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885. Due to the racist immigration policies of the time Chinatown was largely a "bachelor" society.

Between 1900 and 1925, Toronto's first Chinese community took shape around Elizabeth Street which once ran all the way south to Queen Street. 'Chinatown' was a bustling commercial and residential area that included restaurants, grocery stores, and traditional clan associations. In 1951, Chinatown has 19 restaurants, 29 grocery stores, 4 drug stores, 4 insurance agencies and numerous other businesses. The area was also head quarters for various networks of political, social and clan organizations, many of which provided economic and settlement resources for Toronto's Chinese Canadian community.

This first Chinatown thrived until the late 1940's, when the City of Toronto began its controversial expropriation of much of the neighbourhood to make room for a new City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square. In the mid-50's, City officials expropriated two thirds of "Old Chinatown" to make way for a modern civic square. 55% of the buildings in this area were owned by Chinese Canadians. In 1947, the City mandated that the desired land be sold (at market value to the city for the proposed City Hall and Square. Since the area was considered a blighted ghetto, the market value of the properties was quite low. As each year progressed, the property values decreased since businesses were reluctant to invest in maintenance or infrastructure, simply because the City intended to demolish the buildings anyway. As a result, most owners received significantly less than the original purchase price of the property. Unfortunately, the City lacked an appropriate plan to relocate Chinatown's community. Numerous businesses and approximately 200 residents were forced to move independently without assistance or aid. Demolition finally took place in 1955.

Gradually, a new Chinatown was established to the west in an old Jewish neighbourhood along Dundas Street and Spadina Avenue. Today it is one of several Chinatowns serving Towonto's growing Chinese Canadian Community.

Plaque Presentation - Thursday August 30, 2007

Toronto's Original Chinatown Plaques unveiled at Nathan Phillips Square.

There was a public presentation of Heritage Toronto plaques to commemorate Toronto’s First Chinatown.

Time: Thursday August 30th, 2007, 12:30pm

Location: Northwest corner of Nathan Phillips Square, in front of Toronto City Hall (See invitation for map!)

Speakers included:

Gabe Sawhney, Board Member, Heritage Toronto

Olivia Chow, MP, Trinity-Spadina

Rosario Marchese, MPP, Trinity-Spadina

Adam Vaughan, City of Toronto Councillor, Trinity-Spadina

Karen Sun, Executive Director, Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter

Doug Hum, former resident of Toronto’s first Chinatown

The MC will be Tam Goossen, VP, Urban Alliance on Race Relations & Community Social Planning Council of Toronto.

Videos of the Presentation:

Karen Sun gives a description of the designs of the Plaques:

Doug Hum, resident of the First Chinatown commemorates and reflects back:

Tam Goosen, unveils and officially presents the new Chinatown Plaques to the public:


2007-08-29 09:30:56   The Missing Plaque Project has quietly over the years been leaving posters about Toronto's Lost Chinatown pasted around pillars and walls of Nathan Phillips Square and the City Hall neighbourhood. YOu can read his poster here. —HimySyed