Karen Tam revives the history of Toronto’s first Chinatown in this drawing depicting the businesses lining its central artery, Elizabeth Street, in 1937. Chinese locals were subjected to discriminatory policies that hindered their economic opportunities in the early twentieth century. For instance, in 1902, a group of white business owners seeking to reduce competition from cheaper Chinese laundromats formed the Laundry Association of Toronto and successfully lobbied the city’s property committee to charge Chinese laundromat owners a license fee. In 1947, the same year that the Chinese Exclusion Act, which largely barred Chinese immigration, was abolished, the City of Toronto embarked on redevelopment efforts that led to the expropriation of two-thirds of Chinatown by 1953 to make way for a new City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square.
Karen Tam, 56-58 Elizabeth St., Toronto, 1937, 2020, from the Ruinscape Drawings series
Pencil on Strathmore, 22.86 x 30.48 cm, Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Hugues Charbonneau, Montreal. Photo credit: Karen Tam.