My parents arrived in Toronto in October 1989. When they arrived, they felt distant from their friends and families, whom they had largely left behind. Once they figured out transit, they headed downtown from their new home in Scarborough, and straight to Spadina Avenue.
Walking down Spadina Avenue today, I can’t help but notice the familiar sights and sounds. The landscape of the buildings, both residential and commercial, arch like a jagged rim around you as you walk. This bustling street is home to noodle bars, bubble tea shops, dim sum restaurants and grocery stores. All the while, the Spadina streetcar ferries people back and forth on this busy street. Growing up as a child of immigrants, Spadina meant culture and for my parents it was a place to get food that reminded them of Hong Kong. Spadina has been home to West Chinatown since the 1950’s, when Chinese Torontonians were displaced from the area that is now City Hall. Since then, generations of Chinese and Asian Diaspora people have felt a sense of belonging, united by food and culture on this street. But few people know that this busy street has been a path for thousands of years.
While many people may be aware of the more contemporary histories of Spadina Avenue, the Ogimaa Mikana project and First Story Toronto remind us that Spadina has been a path for Indigenous Peoples for many millennia. In fact, the name Spadina comes from the Anishinaabemowin word ishpadinaa, meaning a high hill or ridge. This path was once the path along the shoreline of Lake Ontario, which in the succeeding thirteen thousand years has receded further South. Indigenous communities continue to gather on Spadina Avenue. Just North of Chinatown are the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto and the Spadina Roads Public Library Branch.
For me, as a settler and a person from the Chinese diaspora, Spadina Avenue reminds me to be grateful for the stewardship that the Mississauga of the Credit River continue to hold over these Lands. It also reminds me that I am a guest on these Lands, and that living here means that I have responsibilities to this Land and to the Indigenous people who steward it. As a guest and a settler, I often ask myself what it means to be a good guest to the Mississauga of Credit River. In addition to the Indigenous histories of the Lands that are now our homes, it is vital to learn about the contemporary cultures and issues affecting Indigenous peoples. How can we help and work in solidarity with Indigenous Nations as we collectively face global issues like climate change and colonization? Many new Canadians and Torontonians, like my own family, come from previous colonial possessions and bring with us an internal knowledge of colonial oppression. What experiences and solidarity can we bring to work for Indigenous peoples and to be good guests with good relationships?
Desmond is a second-generation Chinese Canadian settler living in Mississauga of the Credit River Territory (Toronto). As a librarian, he works with the Indigenous students, faculty and staff at the University of Toronto. He is interested in solidarity and relational accountability between Asian diaspora and other Black, Indigenous and Communities of Colour.