Toronto’s Foreign Quarter, description The Globe January 1923

Bay and Albert Streets, 1918

PDF 505 Globe January 1923

Toronto’ s Foreign Quarter

Toronto is a modern Canadian city and its citizens boast far and wide of its beautiful scenery, its magnificent buildings, its, stately homes, and its vast industrial plants. They talk endlessly of the many spots of interest where a person may spend his leisure hours to his fullest enjoyment viewing the streets and boulevards, parks and beaches, art and architecture and other sights.

But there Is one part of the city that the people seldom boast about, although it is picturesque and interesting.
The “Ward” is the slum district of Toronto and is more appropriately called the foreign quarter.

It is directly to the west of lower Yonge street, and is the heart of the city. They were once occupied by residents of struggling little Toronto, but when the city, like a growing child, became larger and larger every year, these houses deteriorated until at the present time they are occupied by immigrants from Europe and Asia, many of whom have persisted in keeping their homeland manners and customs to a great extent, and consequently the “Ward” is very dirty- so dirty that in some streets one has to holds one’s breath to avoid the odors of decayed fruits and vegetables and of hundreds of unwashed men, women and children. It is not an uncommon occurrence to find a family of five or six persons sleeping in one small room and persons eating and living in another.

It is popularly thought that the “Ward” is the Jewish district, but it might more properly be called the “Yiddish” district, for the Jews predominate, although there a great many Italians, Russian, Chinese and others.

Thousands of Jewish families have outgrown the “Ward” and have moved to the western part of the city, and many have never known the squalor and hubbub of the poorer quarter. These latter Jewish families are very much Canadianized and it is beyond the slightest doubt that they make citizens.

Walking through the “Ward” any evening, it is the sordidness of the place that strikes the eye of the casual observer first. There is the constant stir of the swarming crowds of people and the unceasing activity of the swarthy, smudgy-faced children everywhere you turn. But there seems to be a certain domestic spirit in the atmosphere.

Everyone seems to be near his friends and in the midst of friendly surroundings. It is very different in other parts of the city, where everyone holds oneself aloof from the rest of the world, where everybody hurries and where crowds jostles with cold indifference. In the “Ward” however, the people from a dozen different countries have come together. They love their religion and their traditions and they want friendship, so they huddle in together where they can enjoy to the fullest possible extent the only kind of life that they know how to live. The most conspicuous noise along the streets and in the smaller shops is the sound of haggling voices — the wrangling of buyers and sellers. They have a mania for bargaining — -and they bargain in the typical Oriental fashion. The dealer asks a few cents more for an article and the buyer beats him down, breath by breath, till the real value of the article is reached. As may be Imagined, bargaining is indulged In to a greater by the women than by the men but men as well as women are adept at the game. It seems to be born in the blood of these people to bargain and they really enjoy it. With many it is a pastime, a sort of game of wits to see who will win the battle. Some of the womenfolk haggle with a merchant for fifteen Minutes when they have not the slightest intention of buying anything.

Men with pushcarts and horse-drawn vehicles selling fruits and vegetables in the summer make a specialty of visiting the “Ward” where customers abound who wish to buy cheap or slightly decayed fruits at a minimum price. The men jog along the road shouting their wares at the top of their voices, and at frequent intervals a group of women collect and perhaps taste what the dealer has to offer. If it proves satisfactory a purchase is made, but often every orange or apple or whatever it may be that is bought is given a thorough examination. During the hot weather great slices of watermelon are sold by the pushcart men. Uptown formalities might prevent one from walking along the street with one’s face buried in a watermelon rind but the people of the “Ward” do not worry about formalities very much.

The cattle which Hebrews eat It is not an uncommon occurrence to must be killed in a certain way, and there are numerous butcher shops which sell this Kosher meat exclusively. In a strictly Kosher restaurant milk is not served when there Is meat on the table, nor is butter nor any of the foods derived from milk. Every Jewish housewife has two sets of dishes — one for milk foods and one for the meat foods. If a mistake Is made and the wrong kind of food is placed in a dish, it must be thoroughly sterilized before being used again. The orthodox Jew is supposed to eat with his hat on, but this is considered an obsolete custom by the younger generation. and is being discarded by the great majority.

There is a Jewish theater where plays made specially for the Hebrews are shown. There the new and the old world meet. Old men and women tied down by old customs, speaking no language but Yiddish, or as is generally the rule, speaking English, but unable to read or write it, sit side by side with their their children who .have been educated in American schools. The Hebrews do not remove their hats in the synagogues, and a few of them see no reason why they should remove them at a mere entertainment. Finally the curtain rises, this seems a signal for everybody to implore everybody else to cease their talking and remain quiet. The audience watches the play with tense gaze, drinking in every thrill that the play presents, but the silence is broken frequently by tremendous applause. A Jewish audience is a great deal more appreciative than an English one. At last the curtain descends, and, they go their divers ways — some to their luxurious abodes, but many to the places they call home down in the little pushcart world.


The Globe was a newspaper in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, founded in 1844 by George Brown as a Reform voice. It merged with The Mail and Empire in 1936 to form The Globe and Mail.

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