The story of Toronto’s First Chinatown is one of resilience and is a representation of the strength of the Chinese-Canadian community in Toronto.

Toronto’s New City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square is seen as both an architectural marvel and Canada’s largest city square. Yet below the structure is also the deep history of Toronto’s first immigrant neighbourhood known as St John’s Ward (or simply known as the Ward).

The history and memories of Toronto’s first Chinatown is one of resilience and kinship within a small community, part of the broader experience of Chinatowns across Canada. Many a few Chinese immigrants from China and British Columbia came to Ontario after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, but also south from the border from the United States.

The first Chinese business opened in Toronto was a laundry at 9 Adelaide Street East by Sam Ching. By 1881, there were only 10 Chinese residents and 4 laundries. Over several decades, many more businesses emerged, and by 1911, Toronto had a Chinese population of one thousand. Toronto’s Chinatown in the 1920’s was the third largest after Vancouver and Victoria, BC. That isn’t to say immigration to Canada was easy. From 1885 to 1923, Chinese immigrants were forced to pay a head tax to the Canadian government to certify their entry. These taxes rose from $50 in 1885, to $100 in 1900, up to $500 from 1903-1923. On July 1, 1923, the Canadian government amended the Chinese Immigration Act, also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, which would bar almost all Chinese migrants from entering Canada for the next 24 years.

In 1947, without any consultation with the Chinatown community, the Toronto government proposed to demolish two-thirds of Chinatown to make way for the construction of New City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square. By the late 1950s and early 1960s, land speculation and redevelopments reduced Toronto’s first Chinatown to one-third of its original size, with many residents and businesses moving further north into the suburbs, east near Gerrard and Broadview, and west down Dundas Street to what we know today as West Chinatown, or simply Chinatown.

60-70 Eliz - Great Wall CompanyHong Sing, Wah Sun Tailors Guan Leying Laundry 116 Elizabeth Street Lichee Garden 118 Eliz these 3 blocls70-74 ElizabethSun Sun BarbershopWahLungJan Co. ImportersSee Sun. Co. Tailors 100 - 110Businesses WK Café at 56 elizabeth Chinese United Dramatic Society (1933)- 77 elizabeth - basement Joe’s Cafe and Chop Suey (1937) - 56-58 Elizabeth 83-91 Elizabeth Street Nanking Tavern Registry’s Office38-42 Elizabeth Street Ghong Yee Laundry (1912) - 48 Elizabeth 66 Albert Street, slum housing long kung brotherhood - 24 elizabeth kwong chun (store) 1919 - 6 eliz Wing Ching Tank’s Grocery - 8 Eli Louis Ling Barber Shop (1919) - 11 Eliz / Ship Toy Yen Hung Fah Low (Resturant) -12 Eliabeth Doug Hum’s home111 Eliz 136 dundas street, tom lock drugs Lee’s Grill Hop War Low (restaurant) - 31 elizabeth 21 Elizabeth - Housing 130 dundas street, Sai Woo Chinese United Church 132-138 Chestnut Street (Housing) Kwong Chow126 Elizabeth International houseof chop suey60 Eliz Ying Chong Tai (1911) - 16 Elizabeth 88 - 98 Elizabeth 109 Dundas, (194) Dr. Lore Trelayley Street and Queen St Intersection Chee Kung Tong Association Sing Tom’s Restuarant - 37 Queen Shing Wah Association /Chinese National League Lee’s Association Chinese Women’s Club

Based on Goad's Atlas of the City Toronto 1923 Fire Insurance Map

Businesses and Establishments in First Chinatown —

Address Business Name Years Active Category Owned By
Ying Chun Tang 1918 - Association
66 Albert Street Residences 1916 Residential
Bay Street Bay Street Chinese Church Church
92 Chestnut Street Chinese United Church 1970 Church
132-138 Chestnut Street Residences 1937 Residential
Dundas Street Golden Dragon Restaurant
Dundas Street Sea-Hi Restaurant Paul and Edna Chan
109 Dundas Street Dr. Henry Lore’s Office Medical Henry Lore
121 Dundas Street Lem Si Ho Tong Association Association
130 Dundas Street Sai Woo 1957 - 2000 Restaurant Norman Chin (Chin Shee Ping)
136 Dundas Street Tom Lock Drug Store 1954 - Drug Store George Thomas (Tom) Lock
175 Dundas Street Lee Association Association
Elizabeth Street Lee’s Grill Restaurant
Elizabeth Street Chinese Women’s Club Institution
6 Elizabeth Street Kwong Chun 1919 General Store
8 Elizabeth Street Wing Ching Tank’s Grocery Store Grocery Wing Ching Tank
11 Elizabeth Street Louis Ling’s Barber Shop 1919 Barbershop Louis Ling
12 Elizabeth Street Hung Fah Low & Jung Wah Restaurant
16 Elizabeth Street Ying Chong Tai 1911 - Grocery Gip Kan Mark
21 Elizabeth Street Residences 1913 - Residential
24 Elizabeth Street Lung Kong Kung So (Brotherhood) 1911 - Association
31 Elizabeth Street Hop War Low’s Cafe Restaurant Hop War Low
38 Elizabeth Street Registry Office 1917 - 1964 Institution City of Toronto
49 Elizabeth Street Chong Yee Laundry 1912 - Laundry Lee Hong
56, 58 Elizabeth Street Joe’s Cafe and Chop Suey 1937 Restaurant
56 Elizabeth Street WK Café Restaurant Mah Keung and Henry Mah
60 Elizabeth Street International Chop Suey House 1940 - Restaurant
60-70 Elizabeth Street 60 – 70 Elizabeth Street 1937 - Uncategorized
70-74 Elizabeth Street 70 – 74 Elizabeth Street 1937 - Uncategorized
77 Elizabeth Street Nanking Tavern 1947 - Restaurant
83-91 Elizabeth Street Residences Residential
88-98 Elizabeth Street 88-98 Residences 1937 Uncategorized
96 Elizabeth Street Chinese United Dramatic Society 1933 Institution Chinese United Dramatic Society
100-110 Elizabeth Street Residences Residential
109, 111 Elizabeth Street Hum Residence 1937 Residential Hum Family
118 Elizabeth Street Lichee Garden 1948 - Restaurant Harry Lem
126 Elizabeth Street Kwong Chow 1959 - 1981 Restaurant Jean and Doyle Lumb
126 Elizabeth Street Ship Toy Yuen Dramatic Society 1932 - Unknown Institution
Hagerman Street Chinese Community Centre Institution
14 Hagerman Street Shing Wah Association 1922 - 1978 Institution W. C. Wong
14, 16 Hagerman Street Hagerman & Elizabeth St Residences 1937 Residential
Queen Street Terauley St & Queen St Intersection 1922 Uncategorized
37 Queen Street Sing Tom 1901 - Unknown Restaurant Sing Tom
60 Queen Street City Hall Institution City of Toronto
130 Queen Street Osgoode Hall 1829 - Present Institution City of Toronto
474 University Avenue Chinese Presbyterian Church 1965 Church
192 York Street Chee Kung Tong Association, Chinese Freemasons 1905 - Association

Bibliography & Sources —

  • Chan, Arlene. The Chinese in Toronto from 1878: from Outside to inside the Circle. Dundurn, 2011.
  • Lai, David Chuenyam. Chinatowns: Towns Within Cities in Canada. University Of British Columbia Press, 1988.
  • Lorinc, John, et al. The Ward: the Life and Loss of Toronto’s First Immigrant Neighbourhood. Coach House Books, 2015.
  • Mah, V. A. (1977). An indepth look at Toronto's early Chinatown, 1913-1933 (Vol. 1).
  • Martelle, Holly, et al. The Ward Uncovered: the Archaeology of Everyday Life. Coach House Books, 2018.
  • Images on Courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives and Toronto Public Library Archives

About this Project —

First Chinatown (1890 - 1960) is an ongoing project to help document and contextualize Toronto’s first Chinatown community through archival imagery and interviews with individuals from the community. This archive was developed in hopes of providing a clearer image of what it was like living along the Chestnut Street and Elizabeth street neighbourhood and to provide a better understanding through data visualization of one of Ontario’s first Chinese communities. This project and archive is managed by Lilian Leung. If you’re interested in contributing to this archive or submitting an interview or story please email 舊中區華埠(1890-1960)是一個致力於通過影像檔案和一對一採訪,以達到記錄多倫多舊中區華埠社群目的的研究項目。這個由Lilian Leung所創建和管理的檔案寄望於通過圖像數據可視化來展現這個位於安大略省的Chestnut街區和Elizabeth街區上,第一個華人社群的面貌,並為來訪者提供一個更為清晰的認知和理解。如果你有意向本項目提交任何資料,或是參與採訪,請通過電子郵件聯繫