Urbanization The urban metropolis and its function in society cannot be understood without studying its composition as a city of immigrants, their newcomer families and friends and the ties that bind them. By overlooking the ethnic culture and networks of the city’s immigrants, the study of the urban centre is at best a futile effort. Ethnic tendencies and particularly ethnic residential segregation, are areas of examination than cannot be neglected if we are to understand the individual and group experiences that ultimately influence urban growth. It is therefore important to carefully explore these areas so that insight into the underpinnings of the urban metropolis is achieved. Looking at Canadian urban centres from 1850-1920, specifically the city of Toronto, I will examine the issue of ethnic residential segregation and its significance to the urban centre. I will attempt to prove that this phenomenon is a consequence of ethnic concentration in particular industries resulting from ethnic networks and socio-economic inequalities present within society.
Furthermore, the existence of these vibrant yet segregated ethnic communities does not imply that assimilation is failing to occur. Consequently, standard assimilation frameworks, which assume that proximity to the majority group increases with socio-economic gains, must be re-evaluated. Urban and historical geographers have become increasingly interested in studying residential segregation through the context of changes in the industrial workplace (Scott, 1986). A number of industries like clothing, textile, iron and steel have employed large proportions of immigrant workers (Leiberson, 1933). Toronto is no exception. Early immigrant settlers came to North America in search of a ‘better’ life and increased economic opportunities (Lindstrom-Best, 1979) and Toronto’s economic ambience appealed to them. 1850’s Toronto saw increased prosperity with expanding enterprises, jobs and especially railway building.
By the 1860’s, when this first rail construction boom had faded, the city blossomed into a regionally dominant railway centre with track access throughout the province, into adjoining Montreal, Detroit and New York. More importantly though, steam and iron transport expansion unravelled the way for industrialization (Harney, 1985). Toronto’s harbourfront thrived with rail traffic, entailing machine and engine works, coal-yards, moulding and forging plants and steam-driven factories (Globe, 1866). The new gas works, the Grand Trunk Railway workshops, the Toronto Rolling Mills, and the Gooderham and Worts distillery exemplified this flourishing industrialization. Moreover, other processing operations, such as wood or hardware manufactories, tanneries and meat-packing houses accompanied industrial growth.
All in all, by the 1860’s, working opportunities in the city could readily urge on its settlement, which consequently began to accelerate rapidly (Harney, 1985). In light of these increased working opportunities distinct Torontonian neighbourhoods developed. St. John’s Ward bounded by Henderson, Yonge, Front and University and the Italian neighbourhoods bounded by Henderson, Manning, Dundas and Ossington are just two of the distinct communities that resulted. By the 1900’s, the ‘Ward’ as it was popularly know, primarily consisted of East Europeans of Jewish descent. They initially settled in the Ward because they had little choice.
Upon their arrival, they were in immediate need of cheap accommodation near steady employment (Harney, 1985). St. John’s Ward, adjacent to the commercial centre of the city, provided them this opportunity. They had relatively few skills and no credit although their affinity for the garment industry proved valuable (Speisman, 1979). Suffice it is to say, the Ward was in close proximity to this industry.
During the early twentieth century, the notable clothing firms, the Lowndes Co., Johnson Brothers and others were located on Front Street, Wellington Street, Church and Bay. By 1910, the T. Eaton company had erected an enormous manufacturing firm bounded by Bay, Albert, Louisa and James. This company would eventually grow to be the largest sole employer of Jews in the Ward (Harney, 1985). Factory employees elected to reside near their places of employment (Harney, 1985).
Working long hours, they wished to minimize travelling time thus choosing to live close to the companies that employed them. In addition, as proximity to major clothing firms increased, so too did employment opportunities. The Ward, similar to many other areas throughout North America, thus evolved into an immigrant haven adjacent to the central business district. Despite the fact that not all Jews made their livelihoods in clothing factories, it was the factories’ presence and proximity to affordable housing that attracted Jewish immigrants to the area (Rischin, 1964) and created a vibrant ethnic neighbourhood. Similar ethnic neighbourhood appeared as divergent immigrant occupational skills emerged. The first Finnish inhabitant of Toronto, a tailor named James Lindala, ventured to the city upon hearing of the high demand for skilled tailors (Lindstrom-Best, 1979).
Settling in the south-central part of Toronto, near the railroad and tailoring shops on King, Lindala resided as close to prospective employment as feasible (Lindstrom-Best, 1979). Other Finnish tailors soon followed the pattern established by the Finn, also settling near the tailoring shops on King, in search of prospective work. By 1901, distinct Finnish housing patterns were clearly established. All Finns in the area clustered by Lindala, in the south-central part of the city, a region bounded by Queen, King, Peter and York. All Finnish men were tailors and all resided as close to their place of work as possible. It is evident than that immigrant concentration in particular occupations directly impacts the spatial location and segregation of various ethnic groups, as is demonstrated in the Jewish and Finnish communities of Toronto.
Furthermore, ethnic residential segregation prior to 1930 (when transportation was not easily and economically accessible) cannot be attributed to a lack of assimilation. It resulted as a necessary component of life, determined by divergent occupational skills. However, divergent occupational skills are not the only determinants of residential segregation. As established, most immigrants lived in ethnic enclaves near their place of work thus ethnic networks prevalent in employment and elsewhere must be examined. The contributions of these networks to the formation of ethnic neighbourhoods are essential to our understanding of the spatial organization of the metropolis.
MacDonald and MacDonald (1964) note that ‘chain migration’ is instrumental in solidifying spatial patterns established by early immigrants. They define this as a process whereby prospective immigrants learn of opportunities in the receiving community and have initial lodging and employment arranged by means of primary social relationships with migrants who precede them. Elaborating, they say this type of migration frequently results in the creation of ethnic neighbourhoods and the transplantation of entire kin networks in the area of destination. This process was evident in the case of the Finnish immigrants who settled in Toronto. Kinship, letters and word of mouth played the most prominent role in the recruitment of these immigrants (Lindstrom-Best, 1979). The first nineteen Finnish settlers recruited through ethnic networks were profoundly important in determining the spatial pattern and composition of the Finnish population.
They were one another’s friends or relatives and the men were all tailors (Lindstrom-Best, 1979). Consequently, they settled near each other and near their place of work. Conversely, work and locale intertwined in terms of social structure and in space through residential segregation. Hawley (1944) believes this segregation is an indicator of a lack of assimilation into the dominant society. “Redistribution,” he says “of a minority group in the same territorial pattern as that of the majority group results in..an assimilation of the subjugated group in to the social structure.” He goes on to assert that a lack of language and occupational skills leaves the immigrant without alternative employment possibilities, hence indicating failure to assimilate with the majority. Though his beliefs do put forth a model of assimilation, they are not adequately founded. Ethnic neighbourhoods and networks within these neighbourhoods can actually help an individual integrate themselves into the dominant culture. The lack of familiarity with English and with the occupational structure of the receiving society are not handicaps to the immigrant who finds a place in an ethnic neighbourhood or ethnic business. This is because networks and resources present within the community help to assist the new immigrant, by actually facilitating incorporation into the larger society.
They provide the initial resources required to surmount the obstacles and barriers to participation in society’s institutions (Breton & Isajiw & Kalbach & Reitz, 1990). The Ward’s Mutual Benefit Society is a prime example of one such resource. In a system in which public welfare was all but inconceivable, both on the part of the government and on the part of the possible recipient, the immigrant needed all the help he could get. The Mutu …