By destiny, luck or fate, I live in a Toronto neighbourhood that has a high percentage of Chinese families. I have often wondered, like many families, if by neighbourhood is safe, relative to other Toronto neighbourhoods. As well, if a friend from China was about to migrate to Toronto and wanted to live in a safe Chinese neighbourhood, where would I recommend? This blog post tries to answer these questions.
Toronto is a relatively safe city in comparison to other Canadian cities, and much safer than comparably large American cities. Still, there is crime in every area. Criminals have cars and can drive to wherever they want. Low crime areas may even provide an opportunity for criminal acts. There is no place that is safe from all crime. It also stands to reason that the more dense an area’s population, the more crime should be expected.
I have chosen to research Chinese areas in Toronto because I am Chinese, live in Toronto and have an interest in this topic. It is not because I believe Chinese people have more or less a propensity to commit crime. Of course I hope they have less propensity, but realistically, I know this is difficult to prove.
The Toronto Star had published a series of articles on Toronto’s most populous ethnic enclaves. Note that these ethnic enclaves are usually not predominantly one race, but are mixed race. I believe it is natural for a newly landed immigrant to seek out people who share a similar language and culture, because this makes the immigrant more comfortable and eases integration into Canadian life. Actually it preserves their home land culture and diffuses the effect of moving to Canada somewhat.
That being said, in my area of Toronto, with its predominance of Chinese culture, you can live very happily speaking only Mandarin or Cantonese. One can shop for groceries and other products and not speak a word of English. Large big box grocers are slowly converting more signage over to Chinese, as well as hiring more Chinese speaking staff. There is one big box grocer near my house that is predominantly Chinese and is even designed to look like an independent Chinese grocer. A local store from a Canada-wide home renovation chain near my house hires predominantly Chinese speaking staff, though you can also speak to them in English. No matter that these stores and their staff are biased to Chinese speakers, there is no exclusion of other races displayed. I often see Indian, white and black shoppers rubbing elbows with Mainland Chinese shoppers, all without issue. In turn I also visit Indian and Sri Lankan shops where I am the only non-Indian shopper, where all the signs are in Indian, and the staff speak very little English. This is common here in my area of Toronto. Body language and racial tolerance goes a long way for inter-racial communications and social harmony.
Toronto Ethnic Enclaves: TorStar
Focusing on the predominantly Chinese areas of Toronto, by far the largest block is located in Toronto’s north east, in the suburbs of Scarborough and North York (east). This area is generally bordered by Yonge Street to Markham Road, Steeles Avenue to Highway 401. The more east you go in this area, the heavier the concentration of Chinese culture. Often such a concentration of Chinese culture is a shock to people new to the area, but it should not be. I do understand shock from people who have lived in their houses for 30 years and have seen their neighbourhoods become more Chinese with time. Sometimes I do hear the occasional resentment, but this should be expected, as this area 10 years ago was predominantly white. The map below uses the Toronto Star ethnic enclaves map, with a Google map underneath. Note that there is an even larger concentration of Chinese in Markham/Richmond Hill, just north of Scarborough.
Toronto Largest Chinese Community: North York and Scarborough
If you live in this area you should expect a high predominance of Chinese stores, Chinese literature at local public libraries, Chinese kids in elementary and high schools, and generally more Chinese neighbours. If you love Chinese and Asian food, there is plenty to choose and quality and competition is very high. Go to local parks and you will see and hear from Chinese kids talking Chinese to their Chinese parents, though they most often speak English between themselves. Negatively at local schools you should see a generally lower level of English language skill. This area has a large predominance of new immigrants who’s first language is Chinese and not English. English as a Second Language (ESL) classes are very common in almost all schools. I often meet Grandparents who know not a word of English, speak their local dialect of Chinese and struggle to understand my Mandarin, just like if I had met them while in China.
The next important question I asked myself is, how safe are Toronto’s Chinese enclaves, when compared to Toronto? I have taken the Toronto Star’s Ethnic Enclave map and overlayed a Violent Crimes map from the Toronto Police. The Violent crimes map tracks violent crime calls (lighter green means less violent crime calls), shootings (hollow circles) and homicides (circles with dot), Toronto police carding (Field Information Report, or FIRs), all overlayed on a Google map.
Toronto Violent Calls map: Toronto Police Services
Toronto Chinese Neighbourhoods and Violent Crime Rates
From Yonge Street to Brimley falls into the lowest and second lowest violent crime categories. From Brimley to Markham Road falls into the highest of the five violent crime categories, and one of the areas of Toronto where police stop and question citizens the most.
So is living in a predominantly Chinese area safer than other areas? While it is difficult to say, I would guess that yes, it is safer, but not necessarily because Chinese people are less violent than other races. This large Chinese enclave has less population density, being a suburb of Toronto, and therefore should have fewer violent crime, shootings and homicide rates. This is especially true from Yonge Street to Brimley Avenue. Troubling is the area east of Brimley to Markham Road, which has similar densities but some of the highest rates of violence calls, shootings and homicides in Toronto, though from the map most of the shootings and homicides are outside of the Chinese predominant areas. What this means I do not know and will not speculate.
I do not want to necessarily prove that living in Toronto’s largest Chinese enclave is safer than elsewhere in Toronto, but to bring some facts and statistics to light about the area. Where you buy or rent your home is your decision. Ethnic diversity and crime are but two deciding factors to consider. However if you want to live in a predominantly Chinese neighbourhood in Toronto, you now know where to look.