2. History

Spadina Avenue

Spadina comes from the Anishinaabe word “ishpadinaa” meaning “a place on a hill”. Laid out by Dr. William Warren Baldwin in 1836, his family owned the avenue that resided residential units and was surrounded by the commons (Doug). What remains of the original designs and characteristics by Baldwin are its large width and the circle that is now known as 1 Spadina Crescent.
In the 1870s, the first wave of British immigrants contributed to the rapid growth of the avenue, building commercial buildings, housing, and Knox College at 1 Spadina. By the 1910s, an influx of Jewish immigrants began to occupy the area surrounding Spadina, residing as well in Kensington Market, previously referred to as the Jewish Market. Around the early 1920s, many Jewish businesses established themselves along Spadina Avenue - replacing many houses with commercial spaces. The Hebrew Men of England Synagogue was also established in 1922, becoming an important gathering space for the community. In the 1960s, the Jewish community began to relocate further north along Bathurst, and the Synagogue was demolished in 1962. With this migration, the Chinese community began to settle along Spadina Avenue, becoming our current downtown Chinatown today.

Toronto’s Downtown Chinatown

With the development of the new City Hall in the 1950s, this led to a displacement of many Chinese immigrants from the original old Chinatown which bordered King Street, University Avenue, Gerrard Street East, and Bay Street (“Local Chinese History at the City of Toronto Archives”). Many Chinese businesses and residents were displaced by this development, and more than two-thirds of old Chinatown was expropriated, without any consultation. The community eventually settled along Spadina Avenue, becoming our current downtown Chinatown today. With the latest census data for Kensington Chinatown, 60.3% of its population is of visible minority groups (Statistics Canada, 2016). The three top languages spoken in the area aside from English are Mandarin, Cantonese, and Vietnamese, which speaks to the fact that although the neighbourhood is named Chinatown, it still contains many diverse groups and communities.