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The Toronto Star has a nice point/counterpoint on the changing face of Toronto, with two articles, one entitled Death of a Neighbourhood, the other entitled Birth of a Neighbourhood. Taken together, both serve as a reminder that the urban fabric is constantly changing. Still, there’s some grim stuff here.

It seems that Toronto’s Chinatown, my Chinatown — the one I grew up just north of — is dying. We’re not talking about the original Chinatown on Elizabeth Street — that’s almost completely gone. Rather, the section on Dundas between Beverley and Spadina and on Spadina from Queen to College, which I thought was going to be there forever, is losing business. Stores are being boarded up, and the money is heading out to new suburban Chinatowns, including Chinatown malls, in Markham, Vaughan and Mississauga.

Walk through the glass doors of Chinatown Centre and you’ll understand. Many of the stores are empty, papered over with newsprint. The escalators to and from the lower level, where you find a performance stage, sit idle, thick with dirt.

In one far corner, hairdresser Yan is cutting a long-time client’s hair. Opposite her salon is an empty shop, for sale. The owner is asking $52,000. A smaller spot in the coming Splendid China Tower in Markham would cost twice as much.

“You see how dead is this mall,” says Yan, who declined to give her last name. “Even I want to get rid of this business, but nobody will buy it. That’s why I have to be here every day. It’s very, very hard.”

The article is quick to point out that history is only repeating itself. My Chinatown is actually only about forty years old. It was born in the late 60s, early 70s out of the death of Toronto’s old Jewish Spadina, whose residents made their fortunes and moved north for greener pastures. Toronto’s Chinese community, forced out of the original Chinatown by the City Hall development, moved in to the boarded up stores and restored everything. By the end of the 1970s, the area was hopping anew.

Still, I’m forced to ask myself: how could this happen? How could something that was such a part of my childhood just disappear?

And then I realize that I disappeared long before it did. All of the restaurants that I used to go to have moved away: Champion House (Mississauga), Young Lok (Markham) and others, but I moved away to Kitchener before these moved away. And when I returned to my old neighbourhood, I didn’t visit Dundas Street. Rather, I visited Baldwin Street, where Ying Sing Bakery still makes the best pastry treats this side of the Pacific.

And yet, when I interviewed the children of the owners, for an article I’ve sadly not found buyers for, they mentioned that they weren’t sure they were going to continue the family business. The parents were working long and hard, and were getting old. And the children weren’t sure they wanted to keep that up.

The sad reality is, I’m getting old. The things I cherish most in my memory is soon becoming just that: memories. Nothing lasts forever.

At least we had the Birth of a Neighbourhood article as a heartening follow-up. This story describes the emergence of the long-derelict commercial strip on Ossington Avenue between Queen Street and Dundas. Thanks to the arrival of affluent new residents, along with the ethnic communities that saw things through from harder times, a vibrant multicultural scene is developing. Crime is down, and new shops and restaurants are opening up.

Put the two articles together, and you begin to see the future of old Chinatown. I’m left to wonder, what new group will arrive to make this area of the city its own? What will it look like? How will it hop?

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Be sure to check out the latest Bloggers Hotstove, wherein Liberal Jason Cherniak pinch-hits very well for Bob Tarantino, and I have to defend Bob Rae’s legacy from NDPer Greg Bester. Interesting times indeed!

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