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Past INTERSECTIONS FESTIVAL / MYSEUM INTERSECTIONS 2021 / ChinaTOwn: Future Heritage(s) of Toronto’s Chinatowns (Symposium)


ChinaTOwn: Future Heritage(s) of Toronto’s Chinatowns (Symposium)

A digital symposium exploring the past, present, and possible futures of how we define and develop chinatowns.


What could the heritage future of chinatown look like? The ChinaTOwn digital symposium, presented by Prof. Linda Zhang of Ryerson School of Interior Design at FCAD, will begin the discussion by looking at the history and origins of architectural motifs that we now recognize in chinatowns today.

From the first Chinatown in San Francisco, to the world’s fairs that fascinated visitors with false portrayals of Chinese culture, the symposium will explore exactly what defines the “Chinatown-ness” that we know today, and how we arrived at that definition.

The symposium will also introduce some of the realities and challenges faced by Toronto’s existing chinatowns today, as businesses are forced to move out and new policies affect the livelihood of these communities. These findings will be presented as part of our speakers’ bodies of work, art and activism.

Throughout the symposium the project will connect back to the exhibit installations to help us respond and develop what a heritage future might look like for chinatowns in Toronto.


Who holds the right to decide what gets remembered? Conversely, the right to forget? ChinaTOwn tells the forgotten stories, willful omissions, and accumulation of silences that exist beyond Toronto’s official heritage definition of its Chinatown neighbourhoods. The project aims to put personal stories and individual memory in conversation with state-sanctioned narratives. Each of the projects featured in ChinaTOwn explores the idea that all that is written is not necessarily all that is, and what is remembered extends far beyond what is recorded. Through a conceptual exhibition, participatory workshops, a symposium and roundtable discussion, we seek to uncover untold stories and build a collective, intersectional vision for the future heritage(s) of Toronto’s Chinatowns.

Presented by Linda Zhang, Assistant Professor at Ryerson’s School of Interior Design (RSID) at FCAD, along with a class of fourth-year RSID students, this immersive and interactive project seeks to identify Chinatown’s future heritage(s) through the affects produced by interior architecture, lived experience, collective storytelling, atmosphere, and memory.

Each of the projects featured in ChinaTOwn explores what marginalized communities have known for some time—namely, that all that is written is not necessarily all that is, and what is remembered extends far beyond what is recorded.

Special thanks to community donors: Linda Chu and John Donald


Linda Zhang (Organizer) is a licensed architect, artist and educator. She is an assistant professor at Ryerson SID and a principal at Studio Pararaum. She is a 2020 Artist in Residence at the European Ceramic Workcentre (EKWC) and was a recipient of the 2019 Multicultural Fellow at NCECA, the 2017-2018 Boghosian Fellow at Syracuse University SOA as well as a 2017 Fellow at the Berlin Center for Art and Urbanistics. Her research areas include memory, cultural heritage, and identity as they indexically embodied through matter, material processes and reproduction technologies.

Biko Mandela Gray (Moderator) is an assistant professor of religion at Syracuse University. His research areas include continental philosophy, history of African American religions, and affect theory. He is currently working on a book that explores the connection between race, matter and embodiment, religion, and subjectivity through the lens of the blacklivesmatter movement.

Erica Allen-Kim (Speaker) is an architectural historian who studies built landscapes of migration. Her forthcoming book, Building Saigon: Refugee urbanism in American cities and suburbs, is the first in-depth examination of the visual and material culture of Vietnamese resettlement. Her SSHRC funded research, in partnership with the Chinatown West BIA, seeks to understand the legacy of racialized architectural and planning strategies for Chinatown residents, institutions, and businesses facing unprecedented development pressures in Toronto.

Howard Tam , MSc.,BASc. (Speaker) is a Strategic Designer and Urban Planner. He is the founder of ThinkFresh Group, a City Building consultancy based in Toronto responsible for such projects as the Dragon Centre Stories Commemoration Project and the upcoming Honest Ed’s Alley Micro-Retail Market. Howard has worked with government and private sector clients in Canada to facilitate and design strategies that create urban spaces with amazing human experiences. He has lectured about city building and design at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Friends of Chinatown Toronto (FOCT) (Speaker) is a grassroots organization comprised of artists, architects, writers, journalists, business owners, residents and community activists fighting for community-controlled affordable housing, economic justice, and racial justice in Toronto’s downtown Chinatown. Our advocacy centres the needs and voices of working class, senior, and immigrant communities who rely on Toronto’s downtown Chinatown for cultural and economic resources that are unique to the neighbourhood. Our mission is to build community power and resist displacement through political education, intergenerational collaboration, coalition-building, and community-based art. We aim to represent, build, preserve and honour the memory and future of Chinatown and its community members as an integral piece of Toronto’s legacy.

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ChinaTOwn: Future Heritage(s) of Toronto’s Chinatowns (Symposium)

27 May 2021

ChinaTOwn: Future Heritage(s) of Toronto’s Chinatowns (Symposium)
7:00PM – 9:00PM

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