Toronto's Unofficial Little Manila

By Kimberly Aglipay Published on January 26, 2016 Of the nearly 700,000 Filipinos living in Canada, more than 43% reside in Toronto. They are highly dispersed — there is no official “Little Manila” in Toronto, similar to Little Italy in the Bathurst and College area, or Chinatown near Spadina and Dundas. Some studies have suggested that Filipinos integrate more easily and that’s why they have not needed to build ethnic immigrant enclaves, but community formation is historically and politically complex and difficult to explain with a single answer. Nonetheless, there is one area in Toronto that could easily pass as a “Little Manila” where Filipino establishments are located in close proximity to each other: the Bathurst and Wilson neighbourhood. This area reflects the desire to create a sense of community among Filipinos, and dispels the common misconception that all Filipino immigrants are low-wage workers. Clearly, some are entrepreneurs and business owners. The Bathurst and Wilson area was also the location of the 2015 “Taste of Manila,” a street festival with food and entertainment from local businesses. [caption id="attachment_1337" align="aligncenter" width="580"]kimberlymap Map by Jeff Allen, 2015.[/caption]

Itinerary Preparation

This itinerary showcases what has been called the unofficial Little Manila. All sites are accessible by public transportation, but driving may be easier, especially when travelling from the church to the main Bathurst and Wilson intersection. All sites offer parking, but please beware that weekdays may get quite crowded. Please also note that there are many, many other Filipino businesses in the area not mentioned in this short itinerary, so do look around. The following suggests a mid-day tour over lunch.

11:30 am. Start of The Tour

Our tour begins at the Our Lady of the Assumption Parish (2565 Bathurst St.) in North York. A 2001 Statistics Canada survey showed that 81% of Filipinos in Canada are Catholic, which is slightly less than the 86% of Filipinos in the Philippines who are Catholic. No doubt that the Catholic church has played a key role for new Filipino immigrants, who often use the church as a way to find support and as one writer put it, help “acclimatize.” Our Lady of the Assumption Parish was thrust into the spotlight in 2013 when they spearheaded the organization of donations to the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the country. Thousands of donations were sent to the church, where Filipinos gathered to volunteer their time, as well as offer their prayers. The church, with 70% of its 6,200 parishioners Filipino, was the first church in Toronto to offer weekly masses in Tagalog. Even though Statistics Canada reports that nearly 99% of Filipinos in Canada can speak English, the demand for mass in Tagalog is indicative of a desire for cultural heritage and linguistic preservation.

12:00 pm. Remittances and transnational connections

Distance from previous location: 16 minutes by bus/car Next, we will be visiting a branch of the remittance and delivery company, Reliable Group (3768 Bathurst St., Unit 208). Remittances are extremely important for Filipino immigrants. The practice of sending money back to the Philippines is so common there are even TV commercials on international Filipino channels advertising remittance companies. As many as 60% of Filipinos send remittances for two to four years after arriving in Canada. A Toronto Star article in 2013 reported that many live-in caregivers work in this traditionally Jewish neighbourhood, making the area easily accessible to Filipinos who live and work nearby. Using companies like Reliable Group, Filipinos send money to banks in the Philippines, and also arrange delivery services of balikbayan boxes — boxes filled with goods such as toiletries and canned food, meant to be distributed to neighbours and the community of their home (or relatives’ home) in the Philippines. For a look at another remittance office in the area, check out the PNB (Philippine National Bank) Remittance Company, a subsidiary of the Philippines-based bank.
Note from Editor: For a critical analysis of remittances, check out the work of social justice organizations like TIGRA (Transnational Institute for Grassroots Research and Action): “Under globalization, there has been a mass movement of people migrating in order to provide for their families. This has spawned new industries that depend on their money and their labor — from the financial sector (remittances, banking, even investments), telecommunications (phone cards, internet-based platforms), and the expansion of low-wage and exploitative jobs in migrant-receiving countries like the United States. TIGRA engages in strategies that leverage the economic power of transnational families to set economic justice and human rights standards in the policies and practices of industries that depend on their money and their labor — making migration an option and not a necessity for economic survival for millions.”

12:30 pm. Lunch time!

Distance from previous location: 2 minute walk Make your way over to Sampaguita Village Family Restaurant (322 Wilson Ave.) for lunch. Although many Filipino restaurants are typically cafeteria or canteen-style, Sampaguita offers traditional Filipino dishes made-to-order in a sit-down style restaurant. An interesting study has found that the narrow definition of “local food” should be called into question and explains how at least four different types of “local” food exist among Filipino immigrants: “(1) geography-based local food; (2) (North) America-based local food; (3) community-based local food; and (4) immigrant identity-based local food.” Sampaguita serves family-style sizes of local Filipino dishes meant to be shared. Try the Kare Kare, a traditional oxtail dish served with vegetables like eggplants and beans in a delightful peanut sauce. Most of the dishes are meat-based; call ahead to ask if they can accommodate dietary restrictions and allergies.

1:30 pm. How Sweet It Is

The busiest location of Toronto’s biggest Filipino bakery franchise is FV Foods (280 Wilson Ave.). Alongside savoury dishes, FV Foods is known for their sweet breads and pastries, items that you may not easily find in non-Filipino grocery stores — but possibly in Chinese groceries like T&T. Other well-known international Filipino bakeries like Goldilocks have not established a franchise location in the Toronto area (there is a Goldilocks in Vancouver, British Columbia), making FV Foods all that much more special. Like many Filipino canteens around the GTA, FV Foods also sells subscriptions to The Filipino Channel, the international counterpart of ABS-CBN, the biggest media channel in the Philippines. For other sweet Filipino pastries in the area, head over to Da Best Filipino Bakery to indulge in baked goods such as Spanish bread.

Works Referenced


Kimberly AglipayKimberly Aglipay is a fifth-year student at UTSC specializing in Journalism, and minoring in Human Geography. She is interested in exploring the ability and privilege that comes with certain forms of travel. As a journalist, she has written about everything from municipal politics and crime in Toronto to fashion, beauty and the Canadian wedding industry. She has been described by her friends as passionate, caring, and always friendly. When she isn’t reading fiction or the news, she enjoys bad jokes, drinking tea, blogging and singing karaoke (horribly).]]>