Photo by Marc Lostracco/Torontoist.
Many Torontonians are unaware that Chinatown East even exists, let alone that a significant landmark—almost a decade in the making—opened last week at Gerrard and Broadview. The Zhong Hua Men (“Chinese Arch”) brings a higher profile to Chinatown East, and gives the district a gateway that its famous cousin on Spadina surprisingly doesn’t have.
This is because a hallmark of Chinatowns around the world is a gate based on Chinese architecture known as Pailou or Paifang: a custom of building archways to honour ancestry, historical figures, or significant events. The Zhong Hua Men is Toronto’s first, commemorating the contribution of Chinese workers to early railway development, which subsequently spurred an economic shift in the city.
The impressive granite-clad structure looms thirteen metres high, but is marred by the land it sits on, which was donated by the Toronto Parking Authority. Traditional Pailou usually spans a road, but the Zhong Hua Men is perched on the corner of Hamilton Street, and leads to nothing but an ugly, generic parking lot. A utility pole and a tangle of overhead wires also somewhat blight the view from the road. When it comes to the surrounding landscape, the arch is actually more attractive from behind, with a glimpse of Gerrard Street’s streetcars and the foliage in front of the Don Jail. Because the plot is small, this is a really only a monument to look at rather than play around.
Still, it was nice to see the scaffolding finally come down this month after more than a year of construction. Fundraising for the Zhong Hua Men actually began in 2002, and though the city kicked-in $415,000 to the project, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce still had more than half a million dollars to raise. The two traditional marble fu lions flanking the monument were donated by the Chinese government, and were the first elements to be installed onto the foundation last November.
As Riverdale develops, Chinatown East tends to continually fight predictions of its demise, but the completion of the Zhong Hua Men sends a clear message that the area is thriving and significant. Both Greektown and Little Italy no longer boast a concentration of their respective cultural immigrants, and Chinatown East will likely result in the same, but the new archway no longer leaves any suspicion of a neighbourhood struggling to define itself.