From Little Britain to Little Italy: An Urban Ethnic Landscape Study in Toronto
Journal of Historical Geography
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Before World War II, most of Toronto's residents were of British descent, and this was reflected in the urban landscape. On St Clair Avenue West, bordering British working class neighbourhoods, a Georgian style predominated and the area was known as Little Britain. After the war, heavy Italian immigration diversified the city and St Clair. Immigrants settled around St Clair where the identity of Little Britain gave way to Little Italy. This study documents and interprets landscape change on St Clair since the war. Photographs show that St Clair retail façades experienced early and sustained change up to the 1990s with new materials and uses of space. Informant interviews with Italian-origin proprietors yielded insights into the identity and meaning of their own renovations and landscape change generally. The changing landscape, like the social process of ethnicity, involved both pride and tensions. Proprietors believed their own «Italian-style» renovations had necessarily improved upon St Clair's original appearance, and that St Clair now suffers because of recent storefront changes brought on by new immigrant settlers. Together, the visible changes and their meaning to occupants of the landscape suggest how places like St Clair can contribute to our understanding of both landscape and ethnicity.