Review: Korea Town Walking Tour

The start of Koreatown
The start of Koreatown

As a part of Asian Heritage Month, Heritage Toronto presented two walking tours sponsored by Citizenship and Immigration Toronto of Korea Town. Huge thanks to Passages Canada for letting me know about the walks (they were nice enough to tweet me about them)! And thankfully, the weather was lovely on the day which made for a much pleasanter walk.

Jason Lee, from the Koreatown BIA, led us on a walk of the section of Bloor Street between Bathurst and Christie streets that is known as Korea Town (or Koreatown as I more commonly see it written). The walk actually started just east of Spadina at a church with significance to the Korean community and immigration history to Toronto. As we wondered, stopping at meaningful churches, community organizations and businesses that played a part in the immigration history and culture of the Korean community in Toronto. It was fascinating – and obviously not the first tour of Koreatown that Jason had led. If you get a chance, take on the the free walking tours that Heritage Toronto offers!

So where did we stop and what did I learn?

First off, I learned that I could take notes and no one would bat an eye. Also that it’s harder to walk and write that you think. ^^ Seriously though, I learned a lot! Keep reading for the breakdown of what I found interesting on the tour.

Bloor Street United Church

This was our starting point and we learning about the importance it has played in the Korean community here as well as the fact that it has had Korean services since the 1960s.

KCWA

I learned that the Korean Canadian Women’s Association was established in the 1980s by 2 women who attended a farewell dinner for an outgoing Premier. It was interesting to find out that they started it so their, and other, voices could be heard.

A Convenience Store

This was a stop because of the connection between Korean immigration and convenience stores in Canada. Did you know that one quarter of Koreans are self-employed which is significantly higher than the general population and it’s predominantly the immigrant generation, not their Canadian-born children? Our tour guide mentioned the award winning play by Ins Choi, Kim’s Convenience as there is a line in it that mentioned his parent’s restaurant, Korean Village (see further down).

646 Markham Street

We stopped here because this is the official start of Koreatown. It’s the corner of Bloor Street and Markham.

Palmerston Library

We found out that it started as a children’s library but became full service in 1971. The Korean YMCA held classes here, including English language classes. Many older ladies learned English here (or in other similar places).

Korean Village Restaurant

This is the tour guide’s parent’s restaurant and while here, he also talked about other stores in the area. He gave a shout out to Just You, Sarah & Tom and Hanji as being unique stores (they are – I personally love both of them). And the KEB (Korean Exchange Bank) was mentioned, especially how it helped Korean immigrants.

The Korean Village restaurant was started in 1978, although the building itself was built in 1904. He talked about why there is Korean, Chinese and English on the restaurant sign – it’s because of the time period it was erected. Someone on the tour asked him if his mother was an actress in Korea and he replied that she was in the 1970’s. And then the tour was invited inside for a cup of barley tea.

The Korean Journal

Did you know that it was formed in the early 1970’s and it’s published 6 times a week?

Jong Ro Korean Books and Music

This was a brief stop where our tour guide spoke about the growing popularity of K-pop and that this was one of the places that fans can get K-pop merchandise in Toronto.

P.A.T Mart

This was the second stop where the tour was invited inside (everyone got a small snack). I found out that P.A.T is a Korean (and Japanese) grocery store with five locations that was started in 1973. Okay, I already knew that as I shop there regularly (I even have a point card) but you may not. ^^

Our tour guide also mentioned that most Koreans in Toronto now live in Willowdale (which is 10% Korean) and that there are 120,000 people of Korean ethnicity in the GTA.

Korean Senior Citizen’s Society of Canada

This was our final stop of the tour and we found out that it was founded with help of the Korean Alpha United Church (the Bloor Street church where the tour started). And currently, it’s under construction.

And as a nice way to finish the tour, the tour guide asked everyone who was the youngest person and he gave her a bill (I’m not sure of the denomination of the money he passed on) to save and pass it forward when she thinks the time is right. It was a way to honour his grandmother who taught him to save.

Final Thoughts

It was a very informational tour and an interesting look into Korean immigration and history in Toronto. The guide, Jason Lee (a member of the Koreatown BIA), was very knowledgeable and a good public speaker. All in all, it was a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

If you missed it, there’s one more tour available on Wednesday, May 28th!

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm on the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival. Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher.

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