Toronto’s immigrant enclaves spread to suburbs

By: Nicholas Keung Immigration reporter, Toronto Star, Published on Tue May 07 2013

Mel Galeon started his bakery business with a gas stove and wok in a relative’s garage in Mississauga, selling homemade Filipino delicacies out of his car at community events. From a storefront in Toronto’s Little Manila to retail branches in ethnically mixed neighbourhoods in the suburbs, the evolution of Galeon’s business empire, FV Foods, over the last decade tells the story of how government policy plays a role in the way immigrants settle in Greater Toronto. Ethnic enclaves — a term sociologists use to describe areas with a concentration of a particular ethnic group and a cluster of commercial and institution activities — have been part of Toronto’s history ever since the presence of immigrants in Canada, though they were known by the less flattering term “ghettoes.” On Wednesday, Statistics Canada will release the latest immigration data results of its first voluntary National Household Survey, expected to shed light on the latest trends and information about the country’s newcomers.

It is the common language, heritage, upbringing and cultural understanding — and sometimes racism and discrimination by others — that bring immigrants of the same background together, for comfort and support from each other. That’s how Toronto’s Jewish started in “The Ward” (from Queen to College Sts. and Yonge St. to University Ave.), Chinese congregated near Elizabeth and Hagerman Sts., with Greektown setting roots on the Danforth and Little Italy on College St. The growth of the Filipino community and emergence of Toronto’s Little Manila at Wilson Ave. and Bathurst St., a Jewish neighbourhood with many Filipino live-in caregivers, is no coincidence. In recent years, the federal government’s stronger emphasis on attracting skilled immigrants with a university education, language skills and temporary foreign workers such as live-in caregivers certainly favour migrants from the Philippines, which has been Canada’s top immigrant source country since 2010. Ottawa’s push to regionalize immigration by encouraging newcomers to settle outside of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, and its Provincial Nominee Program to draw immigrants to less populated provinces, has seen newcomers double in Alberta, triple in Manitoba and increase fivefold in Saskatchewan in the last decade. Driven by a better living environment, bigger and more affordable homes in the suburbs, more newcomers are settling in the 905 areas as older immigrant communities matured, moved out of the city and reached a critical mass in certain outlying neighbourhoods. The Jewish community, for example, has taken hold of the Bathurst corridor from Lawrence Ave. to Centre St. in Thornhill, the Chinese in Scarborough, Markham and Mississauga, Italians in Vaughan and Indians in Brampton. While there are still religious institutions and ethnic businesses dominating the old enclaves in the city, for many they are now little more than tourist attractions and places of reminiscence. (There are also residential clusters of impoverished immigrants who can’t afford the suburban dream.) “The Greektown is not Greek; Chinatown is not Chinese. They are just ethnic business enclaves where you go, eat, play, have fun and go home,” said Ryerson University professor Sandeep Agrawal, an expert on ethnic enclaves and urban planning. With an immigrant point selection system that opened the door to visible minorities from outside Europe in search of a better life, Canada’s annual immigrant intake has reached 250,000 a year, compared to 152,000 a quarter of a century ago, with 32 per cent destined for Greater Toronto.

When Galeon first joined his wife, Flor Vendiola, in Canada in 1998, the number of Filipino immigrants arriving here was around 10,000 a year, far fewer than today’s 35,000. A bakery owner back in Quezon, he started making Filipino pastries like espasol and ube in a garage in 1998 and selling them to community stores and events. A year later, he moved into an industrial warehouse, with a tiny showroom and a commercial kitchen, on Manville Rd. in Scarborough. After opening up a retail store in Mississauga in 2004 to cater to a growing Filipino community in the west end, the couple in 2006 opened a branch in Little Manila, where there is a Filipino-run bar, hair salon, driving school, insurance company, caregiver school, immigration and remittance services. “It is our busiest store. We picked the location because there were so many Filipinos living here,” said Galeon, 43, who named the store after his wife’s initials. (The store was so busy, they moved into a new unit twice the size last year.) But with a community spread out across the GTA, Vendiola said their other stores are located in mixed neighbourhoods on “mainstream” shopping strips. “We picked places where everybody could have easy access to our stores. We had to go beyond the Filipino market,” said Vendiola, whose company now has 75 full-time employees at six locations, with annual revenues of $10 million and wholesales to No Frills and T&T Supermarket. According to Shuguang Wang, a demographics geographer at Ryerson University, many ethnic enclaves in the 905 have become “multi-centric,” meaning a dominant group has more than one cluster, often surrounding an ethnic mall or plaza, in a single municipality, sharing the space with mixed neighbours. “These businesses may be owned and operated by the Chinese and viewed as ethnic businesses, but they are not only targeting Chinese clients,” said Wang. “Sometimes because of city planning and zoning, not all areas can get permits for development. People cannot start their own enclave and have to add to the existing,” added Wang, explaining the emergence of mixed ethnic hubs in the 905. Many ethnic retailers now reach out to a multicultural clientele, he said. Sunny Foodmart, a Chinese-owned grocery chain, for example, sells Halal meat at its Flemingdon Park store to cater to the area’s Muslim residents. However, unlike the old enclaves in downtown Toronto, Wang believes the suburban commercial- and residential-mixed enclaves are here to stay for a long time. “Immigrants have already moved to the suburb. Where else can they go?”

Tracking immigration

The Star has compiled a series of interactive maps using Statistics Canada data from the 2006 census to track changes in diversity since before 1941. The maps provide the most comprehensive — some say the last complete — snapshot of immigration patterns across the GTA.