A whole block of Toronto's Chinatown was just razed and locals aren't happy

May 25 2023, 6:35 pm

A swath of Toronto’s Chinatown neighbourhood is looking far different this month after being suddenly demolished for a residential building, as has become typical for the city.

Residents are taking notice of the now-empty space stretching from Spadina and D’Arcy to Spadina and St. Andrew on the thoroughfare’s east side, where a block of businesses in the Spadina Court building once stood.

Most will remember the stretch as home to the beloved Rol San restaurant, along with Ding Dong Pastries & Cafe and a number of other retailers and offices.

Rol San and its iconic neon signage famously moved just up and across the street from 323 Spadina Avenue to 388 Spadina Avenue in March, but there has been no news yet about whether any of the remaining businesses have had such luck.

Ding Dong permanently shuttered months earlier in December.

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Residents are taking notice of the empty space where the building once stood.

Coming to the corner is a new residential building from Podium Developments and Montgomery Sisam Architects.

The structure will be mixed-use, with retail on the bottom and apartments above. Surprisingly (and thankfully), it’s not overpriced condos coming to the site, but a designated rental building, and a mid-rise one at that, with 219 units across 13 floors.

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The block used to be home to a row of businesses in Spadina Court, including a bakery, jeweller, doctor’s office, and the famous Rol San, among other retailers. Photo courtesy of Google Street View.

While the housing is much-needed, locals are, as usual, wondering why long-running businesses in a low-rise and historic area of the downtown core had to be lost for the cause when there are so many other places in Toronto to build up.

Many are also wondering whether rent prices will be affordable, and assuming they probably won’t be, and will also not be rent controlled, being a new build.

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A rendering of what the corner is slated to eventually look like — a big change from its former self. Image from Montgomery Sisam Architects.

“Resistance is futile. The developers are literally steamrolling communities aided and abetted by city council and the corrupt provincial government,” one person commented on a post sharing photos of the location in the popular local Facebook group Weird Toronto.

Others add that the community has been fighting the project for years through consultation meetings, where their concerns were apparently left unheard.

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A recent post about the construction has been gaining traction in the Weird Toronto Facebook group.

There is also concern about the character of the neighbourhood and the precedence such builds set for redevelopment in culturally significant areas like Kensington-Chinatown.

The builder has earmarked only 10% of units in the complex as affordable, at 80% of average market rent. Per 2020 discussions, a one-bedroom unit was expected to run about $2,500 per month.

“We’ve seen SO MANY community members speak up about their concerns about this development in the last year,” advocacy group Friends of Chinatown wrote on Twitter at the time.

“Discussions about gentrification and racism, despite our community’s repeated demands for 100%, rent-geared-to-income affordable housing at the new development, have been avoided by developers.”

Amid the mostly-negative discussion, a few concede that some things do have to be given up to build more housing in the city.

A few are (sarcastically) holding out hope that those helming the construction will throw in a music venue, art space, museum, community centre, or something other than another Starbucks or outpost of a fast food chain.

Becky RobertsonBecky Robertson

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