|Source: The Traveller’s Encyclopaedia of Ontario 1979 (Toronto: Government of Ontario, 1979)|
Once a private estate, the property at 208-210 Spadina Avenue was redeveloped during the 1920s and became a sales and service centre for General Motors trucks and coaches. By the early 1970s, the changing demographics surrounding Spadina made it an attractive site for developers targeting the Chinese community that was moving westward from its historical base around Dundas and Elizabeth Streets. A Chinese-themed shopping mall seemed like a winning prospect for one of the first new large-scale projects that would hit Spadina.
China Court’s opening on August 28, 1976 was marked by a parade of dancing dragons and lions that ran to City Hall and back. A newspaper ad declared that “China Court is an authentic Chinese shopping facility where you’ll find everything from fashions to delicately carved marble ornaments. Watch as experienced chefs prepare exotic delicacies in the Chinese Food Boutique. Or just enjoy a stroll in the Oriental garden.”
|Advertisement, the Toronto Star, August 24, 1976.|
On the other hand, China Court’s premiere restaurant, Jade Garden, was panned in a guide to Chinatown eateries. On the four-star scale Martyn Stollar used in his 1979 book Exploring Chinatown, the Jade earned half of one. While he felt much thought had gone into tastefully furnishing the premises, “one wished that half so much concern were evident in other areas of its operation.” Stollar found that drawing a server’s attention was a “full-time occupation” and that “the overbearing, inefficient and intrusive service is among the poorest I’ve encountered.” Food-wise, he felt it ranged from middling to awful, and not worth pricing that made it one of Spadina’s most expensive restaurants.
Barely half-a-decade into its life, China Court’s future appeared murky. Owner Manbro Land Holdings proposed replacing the modest-sized mall with a $25 million complex incorporating a department store, shops, restaurants and condos that would be more appealing to newer, wealthier immigrants. A murder in the parking lot in July 1981 earned notoriety when 150 people watched a man bleed to death after his throat was slashed with a broken drinking glass. In an unrelated development a month later, federal immigration officials decided to boot Manbro president Tim Sung Man out of the country in 1981. Man had lived in Canada on an extended visitor’s visa since 1976, and the suspicion was that officials were uncomfortable with an article in a Hong Kong tabloid several years earlier which appeared to link Man’s family with a drug lord (Man and his brothers sued the paper for libel).
|Portion of an advertorial touting the new Chinatown Centre and other nearby attractions, the Globe and Mail, February 16, 1988. Click on image for larger version.|
Additional material from The Chinese in Toronto From 1878: From Outside to Inside the Circle by Arlene Chan (Toronto: Dundurn, 2011), Exploring Chinatown by Martyn Stollar (Toronto: self-published, 1979), The Traveller’s Encyclopaedia of Ontario 1979 (Toronto: Government of Ontario, 1979), the January 27, 1982 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the August 24, 1976, July 13, 1981, August 12, 1981, and April 8, 1985 editions of the Toronto Star.