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A Yiddish butcher shop sign in the Ward, circa 1910

The Ward was a neighbourhood in central Toronto that for several decades was the centre of the city's Jewish community, and later other immigrant groups. Today, the area is considered a part of what the City of Toronto now calls the Discovery District, the area having been consumed by the central business district. The old neighbourhood has wholly disappeared. The area was officially known as St. John's Ward,[1] one of the municipal wards that the city was divided into, but it quickly became known simply as "The Ward".[2] It was located in the area bounded by College Street, Yonge Street, University Avenue, and Queen Street and was centred on the intersection of Terauley (now Bay Street) and Albert Street.

In the 1830s, Thornton Blackburn—a fugitive African American slave—began acquiring several properties in the neighbourhood.[1] Blackburn also provided recently-arrived fugitive slaves with inexpensive housing. By 1850, many Black families settled in The Ward.[3]

The earliest Jewish settlers in Toronto had come from Britain, the United States, or Western Europe. With only a few hundred Jewish citizens in the city, they settled in several neighbourhoods and mostly integrated with the rest of the city. In the 1890s, an influx of Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe began arriving in Toronto. For the several thousand new arrivals, mostly impoverished and unable to speak English, the densely packed houses of The Ward became their new community.

The Ward, 1910

The development of the neighbourhood caused much consternation in Toronto, including anti-Semitic riots and government clearance efforts. In 1909, 8 acres (0.032 km2) of The Ward were demolished to build the Toronto General Hospital. The neighbourhood also began to change in character. As the Jewish immigrants became more settled, they moved westwards to the Kensington Market area and the Ward increasingly became a centre for Italian immigrants, who were then arriving in great numbers. The Italians also moved west to what is today Little Italy, and by the Second World War, the Ward had become Toronto's first Chinatown.

In the post-war years, the Ward was slowly demolished as land was expropriated for office towers, hotels, and most prominently Nathan Phillips Square, named after the city's first Jewish mayor. For many decades, the area was almost wholly commercial and institutional, but recent years have seen a return of residents to what used to be the Ward with multiple condominium towers being erected in the area.




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