Looking atCanadian urban centres from 1850-1920, specifically the city of Toronto, I willexamine the issue of ethnic residential segregation and its significance to theurban centre. I will attempt to prove that this phenomenon is a consequence ofethnic concentration in particular industries resulting from ethnic networks andsocio-economic inequalities present within society. Furthermore, the existenceof these vibrant yet segregated ethnic communities does not imply thatassimilation is failing to occur. Consequently, standard assimilationframeworks, which assume that proximity to the majority group increases withsocio-economic gains, must be re-evaluated.
Urban and historical geographershave become increasingly interested in studying residential segregation throughthe context of changes in the industrial workplace (Scott, 1986). A number ofindustries like clothing, textile, iron and steel have employed largeproportions of immigrant workers (Leiberson, 1933). Toronto is no exception. Early immigrant settlers came to North America in search of a ‘better’ life andincreased economic opportunities (Lindstrom-Best, 1979) and Toronto’s economicambience appealed to them.
1850’s Toronto saw increased prosperity withexpanding enterprises, jobs and especially railway building. By the 1860’s, whenthis first rail construction boom had faded, the city blossomed into aregionally dominant railway centre with track access throughout the province,into adjoining Montreal, Detroit and New York. More importantly though, steamand iron transport expansion unravelled the way for industrialization (Harney,1985). Toronto’s harbourfront thrived with rail traffic, entailing machine andengine works, coal-yards, moulding and forging plants and steam-driven factories(Globe, 1866). The new gas works, the Grand Trunk Railway workshops, the TorontoRolling Mills, and the Gooderham and Worts distillery exemplified thisflourishing industrialization. Moreover, other processing operations, such aswood or hardware manufactories, tanneries and meat-packing houses accompaniedindustrial growth.
All in all, by the 1860’s, working opportunities in the citycould readily urge on its settlement, which consequently began to acceleraterapidly (Harney, 1985). In light of these increased working opportunitiesdistinct Torontonian neighbourhoods developed. St. John’s Ward bounded byHenderson, Yonge, Front and University and the Italian neighbourhoods bounded byHenderson, Manning, Dundas and Ossington are just two of the distinctcommunities that resulted. By the 1900’s, the ‘Ward’ as it was popularly know,primarily consisted of East Europeans of Jewish descent. They initially settledin the Ward because they had little choice.
Upon their arrival, they were inimmediate need of cheap accommodation near steady employment (Harney, 1985). St. John’s Ward, adjacent to the commercial centre of the city, provided them thisopportunity. They had relatively few skills and no credit although theiraffinity for the garment industry proved valuable (Speisman, 1979).
Suffice itis to say, the Ward was in close proximity to this industry. During the earlytwentieth century, the notable clothing firms, the Lowndes Co. , Johnson Brothersand others were located on Front Street, Wellington Street, Church and Bay. By1910, the T. Eaton company had erected an enormous manufacturing firm bounded byBay, Albert, Louisa and James.
This company would eventually grow to be thelargest sole employer of Jews in the Ward (Harney, 1985). Factory employeeselected to reside near their places of employment (Harney, 1985). Working longhours, they wished to minimize travelling time thus choosing to live close tothe companies that employed them. In addition, as proximity to major clothingfirms increased, so too did employment opportunities. The Ward, similar to manyother areas throughout North America, thus evolved into an immigrant havenadjacent to the central business district. Despite the fact that not all Jewsmade their livelihoods in clothing factories, it was the factories’ presence andproximity to affordable housing that attracted Jewish immigrants to the area (Rischin,1964) and created a vibrant ethnic neighbourhood.
Similar ethnic neighbourhoodappeared as divergent immigrant occupational skills emerged. The first Finnishinhabitant of Toronto, a tailor named James Lindala, ventured to the city uponhearing of the high demand for skilled tailors (Lindstrom-Best, 1979). Settlingin the south-central part of Toronto, near the railroad and tailoring