Ethnic Relations I: The Evolution of Steeles and Kennedy
I've received many of your gracious emails and discussion in the past weeks regarding thestar.com's coverage of the rise of ethnic neighbourhoods in the Greater Toronto Area (Thanks Tiff, Leo, Mike, and Jason). I thought it's only fair to express some of my thoughts on this issue. I've decided to focus my upcoming blog entries on my thoughts on ethnic relations in Canada, namely in Greater Toronto and my dear Markham.
My discussion begins with a bit of background to provide you a little flavour of the changes in change cultural landscape in Markham. I may go a little off-topic from time to time (as you may realize), so please forgive me.
First off, Carole Bell. How could I mention Markham's ethnic relations without referring to Bell? The infamous Carole Bell was the Deputy Mayor of Markham back the late-1980s, early 1990s. She caused major uproar in the Chinese community when criticized that "everything's going Chinese" in the town.
If only I get a dollar every time the quote is mentioned. I have simply lost count of the times the comment was quoted over the years particularly in newspapers and planning literature. She denounced that the influx of migrants from Hong Kong was creating a "racial monopoly" that might drive away the "backbone of Markham" better known as the established white population.
Specifically, Bell was very much concerned about the proliferation of Asian-themed malls during that time, namely the huge redevelopment of the Kennedy and Steeles better known today as Pacific Mall / Market Village. This is the when the nitty-gritty backgrounder material begins.
Cullen Country Barns: Before the Redevelopment
Before the construction of Pacific Mall once stood a large barn which was later converted into a large cultural antique shop and upscale garden nursery called Cullen Country Barns-- which is the same owner has Cullen Gardens Miniature Village in Pickering. This place sold probably the most train sets, stain glass crafts, antique Christmas decorations, dream catchers, beaded art and other nostalgic paraphernalia anywhere in the GTA. This area, which is complementary to the neighbouring Market Village, had the feel of a small German cultural small town comparable to the St. Jacob's Farmers Market.
Market Village: Where are the people?
The area around Market Village, which was then a little more than six years old, was intended to mock the traditional Anglo-Saxon "Main Street" concept but adapted for the suburban car-oriented landscape.
Since its construction in the late 1980's, Market Village has gone through many phases of redevelopment. This is quite evident now as you might feel the mall lacks a sense of cohesion-- parts of the complex hold the different retail atmospheres. The original indoor market area (aptly known as "The Market") only stretched along the corridor from where Green Grove Bubble Tea to the Korean restaurant (facing Steeles Avenue) now stands.
The remaining areas such as the food court, and the retail strip from the LCBO to Food Fair Supermarket was exposed to the elements. This is where the small town mock "Main Street" once stood- with fake traditional gas lit lights, and brick facade storefronts.
You might recall the Bandshell around the area of the food court. I remember during Canada Day, people would congregate around there and listen to the instrumental tunes that the local Markham band played on stage. However, despite some success during holiday special events, the outdoor portion of the Market Village development never took off; while the indoor portion of the mall became progresively more busy as we begin to see the rise of Chinese fish markets, vegetable stands and butcher shops.
Despite some success in the indoor portion of the development, many stores remain empty, mainly because Markhamites continued to perfer "real" traditional environment at Main Street Unionville and Main Street Markham.
Market Village: Restructure and Rebuild
In the early 1990s, Market Village was redeveloped by Cedarland Properties to "meet the changing demographics of the surrounding markets in Scarborough, Markham and Richmond Hill" (from marketvillage.net)- namely the rising Chinese population (which includes yours truly). Since the change in controllership, "The Market" portion of Market Village became an instant success and retail space was quickly occupied.
Cedarland thought that they may be on to something and decided to enclose the space around the Bandshell performance area (now the Food Court) and the LCBO-Food Fair Supermarket corridor into an expanded indoor shopping complex (know as the Phase Two development project). This is the reason why the corridor looks so awfully weird, as the roof was superimposed on the existing outdoor environment.
"Golden Food Market" (Chinese people and their shitty business names) once stood a "Home Hardware" home improvement concept called Cashway. At the time, Cashway was not yet connected to the indoor mall until redevelopment in Phase Three. Nothing much has changed since 1995s Phase Three development. The arguably the most exciting development at Market Village was the Club Monaco Outletstore, which then moved to the cheap rent location at the Woodside Centre (across from First Markham Place)
In 1994, when the community started to realize how unreasonably expensive Cullen Country Barns became to be, people became to treat it as an interesting museum, rather than a store. As a result, business slowed and the store folded. Observing the success of the newly Asian-themed Market Village which flanked Cullen, Living Properties acquired the space occupied by Cullen, demolished it, and built what we all know today as Pacific Mall.
Pacific Mall: The Beginning of Controversy
The development of Pacific Mall was without a doubt the spark that led to the Carole Bell controversy. The destruction of the of the European-influenced Farmer's Market and Cullen Country Barns into these Asian retail centres accurately portrayed and instilled fear that there is this (which I hate to call it) "Asian Invasion."
This concludes my first entry on the contextual background of the Markham cultural evolution. In the following entry, I will further discuss the Carole Bell controversy and the personal viewpoints about it.
FYI: Recently, Pacific Mall / Market Village have put forth plans to further exapand its retail space for an additional 400,000 square feet of retail space, a new luxury hotel tower and a multi-level parking structure. Say hello to more traffic headaches-- that is another entry in itself.
- Multicultural Markham, 10 years on [thestar.com]
- Pacific Mall Growing Up [yorkregion.com: Economist and Sun]
If this topic interests you, please visit my blog series dedicated to issues related to ethnic retailing in larger Canadian cities.