The story of Toronto's Old Chinatown starts here at the grand Old Toronto City Hall.
Known as the Original Chinatown, it was located right beside the Old Toronto City Hall. It was established in the 1870s mainly by Chinese labourers recruited to build the Canadian Pacific Railway.
In the 1960s, the land which the Original Chinatown was on was appropriated to make way for the construction of the New Toronto City Hall and Nathan Philips Square.
Today, Nathan Philips Square is a popular spot for ice skating in the city during winter.
The Original Chinatown businesses were moved further north and west to the junction of Dundas Street West and Spadina Avenue which formed the core of the Old Chinatown till this day.
Toronto's Chinatown is known as "Old Chinatown" as there are at least six other "new" swanky Chinatowns in Greater Toronto Area suburbs such as Markham, Scarborough, Richmond etc. Since the 1990s, the preference of new immigrants was to settle in car dependent suburbs away from the city core.
Let's take a 10 minute walk from New Toronto City Hall to Old Chinatown. A sightseeing tour of Old Chinatown will just take a couple of hours or half a day at most (if a meal and shopping are included).
Looking south at the junction of Dundas West and McCaul Street, we can see the towering CN Tower and that interesting chequered boxy building on the right is the Ontario College of Art and Design or OCAD.
Walking further west along Dundas Street West towards Spadina, you will see the AGO or Art Gallery of Ontario building.
Across AGO along Dundas West, we can still see Victorian era houses. This area was formerly Toronto's Jewish district before it became Old Chinatown.
On Dundas West at the junction with Beverley Street, at the very edge of Old Chinatown is this beautiful mansion built in 1872. It is known as “Casa d’Italia,” the Italian Consulate and meeting place for the Italian community in Toronto.
Heading further west along Dundas West Street towards Spadina Avenue.
During it's heydays up to the first decade of the new Millennnium, Old Chinatown has the highest concentration of Cantonese roasts and Hong Kong dim sum restaurants in Toronto. Many are famed far and wide. Most have, however, moved to Greater Toronto Area's new Chinatowns or closed down completely.
Those handful of mom and pop shops that remain in Old Chinatown are still popular. They serve a tasty meal of roast pork, duck or chicken with rice or noodles for just the price of a Starbucks latte (less than CDN5). But, decor is non existent and furnishings are bare bones 😄
Looking south at the junction of Huron and Dundas West.
There are a couple of old Hong Kong style bakeries where we can get a piping hot milk tea to go with egg tarts and pineapple buns 港式菠蘿包 etc. It's a life saver for biting, cold winter days. Inexpensive, no frills pit stop to fuel your walkabout.
Keep heading west and it will take you to the junction of Dundas West and Spadina Avenue.
Spadina has a longest stretch of Chinese/ Asian businesses in Old Chinatown.
Spadina Avenue used to be dominated by two large Chinese style shopping centres.
This is Dragon City Mall at the junction of Spadina and Dundas West.
Once bustling shopping, entertainment and dining hubs, they are but more or less soulless shells today.
I still have fond memories of the wonderful dim sum here in the 1980s. Alas, the restaurant (I forgot the name and exact location) is no longer around when I come back after 30 years.
There are fewer dim sum places now but they are still popular. You may like to check out Rol San 👈 click
The food is tasty though it doesn't leave such a deep impression as those in the 1980s.
This is Hsin Kuang Centre.
This shopping centre hasn't done well since it was built in the 1970s as it has the unfortunate reputation of being haunted by a male ghost that appears in the mirror of the lady's washroom 😱 It is said that the building was built over a Chinese morgue and funeral parlour.
It now has a collection of grimy cheap clothes and trinket stalls.
The street signs in Old Chinatown are bilingual.
The Chinese signs are in Cantonese and in traditional script.
Old Chinatown is popular for grocery shopping as prices for fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry and fish here are lower than at the big supermarket chains like Loblaws, Metro and Sobeys.
Live and fresh seafood.
They have cuts of meat for Chinese cooking.
When exploring Old Chinatown, look out for the many interesting and artistic wall murals.
Chinese medical shop selling herbs and traditional health foods like bird's nest, ginseng etc.
With the changing demographics with more people from China, new food options have emerged in Old Chinatown since the new Millennium.
Dumplings, Lanzhou hand pulled la mian (noodles) and spicy hotpot shops have become popular in Old Chinatown.
Asian and international brands are edging out the old mom and pop food shops.
Tap Phong is a popular home DIY and hardware shop. Based on a quick browse, Tap Phong's prices seemed lower than at the giant chains like Canadian Tire or Home Depot.
Turning into Baldwin Street at Spadina takes us to Kensington Market which is mainly along Augusta Avenue (which runs parallel to Spadina).
Kensington Market is another historic market which is a must visit attraction in Toronto 👈 click
Walking further north along Spadina takes us to the junction with College Street (the northern boundary of Old Chinatown).
👉 Toronto's historic Old Chinatown is a must see attraction. To me, it is a nostalgic place even though it has changed much since the 1980s. Old Chinatown is 10 minutes walking distance from many Toronto city core attractions such as Eaton Centre and so on, so there is really no reason to miss it 😃
Date: 10 Mar 2017