With this inaugural Culinaria research project, we set out to explore how food built and shaped a suburban neighborhood.  Explore our interactive map to investigate the evolution of “Scarborough Chinatown” over the past thirty years, read a selection of primary sources, and find new restaurants and take-out places to try out!

The area we focused on, around the Sheppard and Midland intersection in Scarborough, was farmland until the postwar construction boom and immigration wave turned Toronto into a sprawling, diasporic city. Suburbia soon conquered the fields and single-family homes sprang up throughout the 50s and 60s. In the mid-80s, the neighborhoud witnessed a new wave of change as Chinese entrepreneurs and restaurateurs moved their business from the downtown Chinatown. This quick growth did not go unnoticed and created tensions between the existing, predominately white, inhabitants, and the new community. The issue of parking, especially on weekend, crystallized animosities as Chinese shoppers from various parts of the Greater Toronto Area drove to Sheppard and Midland to conveniently eat and shop. The area is today one of Toronto’s main “Chinatown.”

While the neighborhood underwent this rapid evolution, the Multicultural History Society of Ontario set out to visually record the diverse Toronto streetscape. One of the key area they documented was one they called “Scarborough Chinatown,” we kept the name as the title of our project. We digitized the MHSO historical pictures of the neighborhood and then retraced late 80s photographers paths to document the evolution of the restaurant and storefronts in the area. Most changed, some remained. Some of the early shopping centre disappeared all together to give place to even larger malls.



About our Collaboration with the Multicultural History Society of Ontario

Mapping ‘Scarborough Chinatown,’ is the result of Culinaria’ s collaboration with the Multicultural History Society of Ontario (MHSO). Founded in 1976 by Professor Robert F. Harney as an educational and heritage center, the MHSO’s mandate is the safe preservation and dissemination of Ontario’s immigrant and multicultural history. The MHSO’s collection of oral testimony, textual and photographic records provide insight into the province’s diverse ethnic heritage. Committed to preserving but also disseminating this history, the MHSO has developed exhibits as well as an oral history museum and various other cultural projects, is presently in the process of digitizing the bulk of its collection for online access by researchers and public audiences.

For our Mapping ‘Scarborough Chinatown’ project, we consulted the MHSO’s photographic archive, focusing on its effort to record Toronto’s evolving streetscape in the 1970s and 1980s. This work resulted in several exhibits: In the late 1970s, David Levine’s “Ethnic Face of Toronto” series offered a rich visual history of the evolution of the city. Ten years later, “The Street As Social Record” (February 20- March 23, 1989; MHSO Gallery) presented photographs by Duncan McLaren. In 1991, “Magic Assembling: Toronto storefronts and Street scenes: Robert Harney’s last look at a city and its people” commemorated the passing of Robert F. Harney through an exhibition of a selection of the photographer David Coleman’s work (4 October- 10 November 1991; Metropolitan Toronto Archives). The “Magic Assembling” brochure is a moving testament to the importance of the MHSO’s work. In her introduction, curator Lillian Petroff remembered a field trip with Harney and her grandmother in the West Toronto Junction: “As we drove up down the side streets, past the old homestead and slaughterhouses, Bob patiently quizzed Granny about shelter and streetlife. That afternoon, Bob Harney in effect introduced me to my grandmother. I began to learn that the immigrant experience was both ordinary and extraordinary. My grandmother, in turn, discovered her own voice.”

The majority of the photographs selected for Mapping ‘Scarborough Chinatown’ were used as research material for these diverse projects. Contributing photographers included David Coleman, Michael McMahon, and Vince Pietropaolo, among others. The selected “Scarborough Chinatown” document the rapid evolution of the Sheppard and Midland neighborhood, and these images are only a small sample of the collection held at the MHSO archives. The “Magic Assembling” and earlier projects resulted in an extensive photo series that include street scenes of St Clair Avenue West from Yonge to Jane Street, Dufferin and Bathurst Street from Wilson to King, as well as College Street from Yonge to Lansdowne. Some of this material can be accessed and explored through the “Magic Assembling: Storefront to Culture” website, which will give you a glimpse and a taste of Toronto’s thriving multicultural neighborhoods in the late 20th century.

Explore Scarborough Foodways by Mall

View Malls in Table

Explore Scarborough Foodways by Mall

Name Geofield
25 Glen Watford Drive

Chinese entrepreneurs started buying land and opening stores in the  Glen Watford Drive in the late 1970s to service the growing Chinese population. In particular, Ching Kee Market and East Court Restaurant, featured in the MHSO 1991 photographic survey, were two pioneer businesses. From the success of these ventures stemmed the development a myriad of commerces (grocery stores, supermarkets, hair-stylists, real estate agents, travel agencies, bakers, doctors, dentists, and acupuncturist) as... more

POINT (-79.2766264 43.788464)
4400 Sheppard Ave East Mall

Soko radicchio bunya nuts gram dulse silver beet parsnip napa cabbage lotus root sea lettuce brussels sprout cabbage. Catsear cauliflower garbanzo yarrow salsify chicory garlic bell pepper napa cabbage lettuce tomato kale arugula melon sierra leone bologi rutabaga tigernut. Sea lettuce gumbo grape kale kombu cauliflower salsify kohlrabi okra sea lettuce broccoli celery lotus root carrot winter purslane turnip greens garlic. Jícama garlic courgette coriander radicchio plantain scallion... more

POINT (-79.2696579 43.7875515)
4427 Brimley Place

No information available. 

Agincourt Plaza

No information available. 

Cathay Plaza

The Cathay Plaza, also known as Torchin Plaza, was, along with the Dragon Centre on Sheppard Avenue East and the Agincourt Plaza, one of the original strip malls that drove the extension of Scarborough’s Chinese businesses. The mall nowadays features a variety of East-Asian and East-Asian cuisines and businesses, as well as a halal butcher.

Sources Consulted

David Chuenyan Lai. Chinatowns: towns within... more

Chartwell Mall

The centerpiece of the Chartwell Plaza  has been, since opening in 1986, a food court showcasing a variety of East Asian style cuisines. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the area was designated as  a commercial zone destined to host the first Chinese Movie Theater in Scarborough, seating 440 patrons and a 130-seat Chinese restaurant. The project was a joint venture of the Monarch Construction group, who owned the land, and Chinese Canadian Businessmen. Yet, this addition to the expanding... more

Dragon Centre

The Dragon Centre is the foundation of what became "Scarborough Chinatown." In 1984 Chinese-Canadian entrepreneurs Henry and Daniel Hung bought a former roller-skating rink, tucked away behind and existing strip mall, and transformed it into a new shopping space for the growing suburban chinese community. By the mid 80s, approximately 40.000 Chinese-Canadian lived in Scarborough, 25.000 of which in the Agincourt area. The early days of the Dragon Centre were marred in controversy, however,... more

Finch-Midland Centre

Developed in 1987 along with the Milliken Square, the Finch-Midland Centre was part of the second phase of to the Scarborough Chinatown development on Sheppard Avenue and Midland Avenue. Like the Milliken Square, the Finch Midland Centre primarily featured Chinese run stores, restaurants and businesses.

Sources Consulted:

David Chuenyan Lai. Chinatowns: Towns Within Cities in Canada. Vancouver: University of British Columbia... more

Mandarin Shopping Centre

No information available. 

Miliken Square

The Milliken Square was developed in 1987 alongside the Finch-Midland Centre which played host to a large concentration of Chinese run businesses. The centrepiece of the Milliken Square complex, Hsin Kuang Restaurant still stands today if only architecturally. It is now the Very Fair Seafood Cuisine restaurant and still attracts overflowing crowds. In addition the mall features grocery stores, bakeries, clothing and electronic stores, and other restaurants.

Sources Consulted:

... more

Pearl Plaza

Located along Sheppard Avenue East between Midland Avenue and Brimley Road, Pearl Plaza is a small, quiet strip mall. While it included a caribbean restaurant (My-T Fine cuisine) in the early 1990s, it is now dominated by Asian stores including a health food/vegetarian store and a small dumpling manufacture.

Prince Mall

No information available. 

Pun Chun Plaza

No information available.