V-J Celebrations in Chinatown

August 26, 1945

Elizabeth St. and Foster Place

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After the hastily arranged V-J Day celebrations on August 15, 1945, Toronto held official V-J celebrations on August 26, 1945, to mark the end of the war with Japan. The city flocked to Chinatown. Cacophonous cymbals and drums and the traditional dragon dance marked the celebrations. A solemn wreath-laying ceremony at noon was followed by a lively parade along Elizabeth Street, the heart of Old Chinatown. Elaborate floats depicted Confucius, oriental flower gardens, Allied leaders and Chinese war heroes.

Chinatown has moved west to Spadina (photo © 2012 by James Marsh).

From 1878, when Sam Ching opened a hand laundry business on Adelaide Street, to 1910, Chinatown took form on Bay and Elizabeth streets, next to The Ward, where poor immigrants from Eastern Europe settled. Numerous restaurants, grocery stores and hand laundries were established in the neighborhood.

Before V-J Day in 1945, few Torontonians would have ventured into Old Chinatown. Biased media coverage long portrayed it as a haven for drug and gambling dens. The Chinese community had long been subjected to prejudiced laws such as the head tax and the 1923 Chinese Immigration (or Exclusion) Act, which discouraged and then prohibited immigration from China.

But on this day, the Chinese community—which then numbered fewer than 3,000—was joined in jubilation by tens of thousands of non-Chinese Torontonians, marvelling at the fireworks roaring late into the night. Together with the local Chinese who served in uniform, Chinese generosity to overseas humanitarian and military causes helped to change the public perception of Toronto's Chinese community.

Much of the original Chinatown was demolished during the construction of the New City Hall in the 1960s, particularly along Elizabeth and Dundas streets. Chinese businesses relocated farther west along Dundas towards Spadina, where a vibrant Chinatown remains today.

By Kevin Plummer

Visit The Canadian Encyclopedia for more on the Second World War.

Elizabeth Street on the west side near Dundas, 1967 (public domain). View the image gallery