Lined with restaurants, herb stores, acupuncture centres, and shops selling imported giftware from Seoul, Toronto’s Koreatown bustles with the activity of an Asian sidewalk market. The neighbourhood, located along Bloor Street West, between Bathurst and Christie streets, was one of the community’s first areas of settlement. Today, few Koreans live in the area but it still contains the highest concentration of Korean restaurants and shops in the city. One of the city’s two Korean banks and a credit union are open for business, while offices along the strip bear the names of Korean lawyers, doctors, and other professionals who have made Toronto their home.
Canada and Korea officially opened their diplomatic relations in 1963, but the first association between the two countries began as early as 1888 through the Christian missionary system. By the 1940s, church-sponsored students who had come to Canada to study began changing their status from student to landed immigrant. In the late 1960s and the early ’70s, the first large wave of Koreans arrived in Canada.
A collective effort by the community resulted in the establishment of a church, and in 1967, the first Korean Sunday service was held at St. Luke’s United Church on Sherbourne Street. The parish was named the Toronto Korean United Church and became the centre for community activity, sponsoring lectures, a Korean language school, and the Toronto Korean- Canadian Choir.
Today, the 100,000-member Toronto Korean community boasts highly skilled workers, professionals, and small business entrepreneurs who operate drycleaning depots, fast food outlets, delicatessens, print shops, and real estate and insurance agencies. More than 76 percent of the grocery and variety stores in Toronto are owned and operated by Koreans.
Koreans have widened Toronto’s cultural range with dance, music, arts, sports, and martial arts such as Tae Kwon Do (the art of self defence). Korean companies such as Korean Airlines, Hyundai Corporation and Gia Masters (automobile manufacturers), KIA Motors, LG electronics, and Samsung Electronics, have established regional offices in the city.
South Koreans remember with gratitude the 20,000 Canadian soldiers who were sent to help rescue South Korea from invading North Korean forces during the Korean War. Koreans across Canada donated more than $50,000 to the Federation of Korean Canadians to help erect the Korea Veterans’ National Wall of Remembrance in Brampton on July 27, 1997. A bond between the two cultures is also reflected by replicas of granite pagodas located on the grounds of Victoria College at the University of Toronto. The pagodas were dedicated by the graduates of Victoria Medical College in memory of Dr. O.R. Avison, a graduate of the college who founded the first occidental-style hospital and medical college in Seoul in 1893.
NEW YEAR’S. Although Koreans observe New Year’s Day by the solar and lunar calendars, most Korean Canadians follow the solar calendar and celebrate it on January 1st. It is customary to wear new clothing at this time and to prepare a traditional dish called ttogguk (a soup with rice cake). To wish their elders health, happiness, and a long life, the younger Koreans kneel and touch their foreheads to the floor. This special act of respect is called sebae. The elders respond with gifts of money and food.
NATIONAL INDEPENDENCE DAY, March 1, commemorates the day in 1919 that Koreans attempted to gain independence from Japan. The uprising lasted approximately two months before being suppressed.
BUDDHA’S BIRTHDAY usually falls in April or May. Korean Buddhists celebrate the day similarly to Christmas with colourful festivities at their three Toronto temples.
LIBERATION DAY, August 15, celebrates the day in 1945 that Korea was liberated from Japan after 36 years of colonial rule.
CHOOSUK (MOON FESTIVAL DAY), a celebration similar to Thanksgiving Day, is celebrated on the same day as Liberation Day by the lunar calendar. It is considered the second most important holiday for Koreans.
MAY FESTIVAL (DAN-O) is the largest festival of the Korean community. About 5,000 Koreans attend this festival every year, where Korean foods, gifts, clothing, etc., are sold. Traditional Korean games are played. Held annually on the first Saturday of June at Christie Park.
FESTIVITIES ON OCTOBER 3 celebrate Korean Heritage Day and Korean Foundation Day in Ontario. The community also commemorates the day Korea was founded 4,000 years ago.
KOREA CENTRAL DAILY, (Tel. 416-533-5533, Fax 416-533-5500, 655 Bloor St. W). Publisher: Hyo Kim.
AII TV, (Tel. 416-538-2211, Fax 416-588-6550, 1133 Leslie St., Suite 213).
Korean youth at Nathan Phillips Square.
ARIRANG KOREA, OMNI-TV, (Tel. 416-260-0060, 545 Lakeshore Blvd. W). Entertainment and music from Korea, Saturday, 7:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.
The Foundation for Korean Studies at the University of Toronto has established a chair. Toronto’s Koreans belong to a number of alumni organizations.
KOREAN-CANADIAN ASSOCIATIONS, (Tel. 416-383-0777, Fax 416-383-1113, 1133 Leslie St). An umbrella organization that provides cultural and social activities for the Korean community. President: Samghoon Lee.
KOREAN CANADIAN WOMEN’S ASSOCIATION, (Tel. 416-340-1234, 27 Madison Ave), which provides language classes and other classes to help the new immigrants settle in Canada. President: Linda Yoo.
ONTARIO KOREAN BUSINESSMEN’S ASSOCIATION, (Tel. 416-789-7891, 130 Orfus Rd). This organization also operates its own co-op in three locations in Toronto to serve its members. Its annual revenue tops $60 million. A business and professional organization with 2,000 members. Eighty percent of the members are convenience store owners. President: Jong Sil Yoon.
ASSOCIATION OF KOREAN CANADIAN SCIENTISTS AND ENGINEERS, (Tel. 416-449-5204, Fax 416-449-2875, 1133 Leslie St., #206).
KOREAN SENIOR CITIZENS ASSOCIATION, (Tel. 416-532-8077, 476 Grace St). Executive Director: Hangim Kim.
KOREAN VETERANS ASSOCIATION EASTERN CHAPTER OF CANADA, (Tel. 416-769-8739, Fax 416-763-3257, 285 St. John’s Rd).
KOREAN COMMUNITY CENTRE, (Tel. 416-538-9412, 721 Bloor St. W).
ONTARIO KOREAN LIBERAL PARTY ASSOCIATION, (224 Brownridge Dr., Thornhill). President: Robert Pak.
PHYSICALLY CHALLENGED KOREAN ADULT COMMUNITY CENTRE, (Tel. 416-604-7845, 139 Bond Ave).