From Agincourt to Asiancourt: Digital Mapping of Ethnic Foods in Suburban Toronto
Largely farmland until the 1930s, Scarborough was transformed by postwar construction into a sprawling suburb dependent on car transportation. In the mid-1980s, Chinese entrepreneurs and restaurateurs moved into empty strip malls and built new ones, transforming the Anglo-Canadian Agincourt Road into “Asiancourt.” Tensions arose between the existing, predominately white, inhabitants and the new community. The issue of parking, especially on weekends, crystallized animosities as Chinese shoppers from various parts of the Greater Toronto Area drove to the area to eat and shop. Racist pamphlets, hate mail, and confrontations led the municipality to hold a conference on race relations. This history is today buried under a de rigueur cosmopolitanism; the neighborhood is one of city’s main Chinatowns and a mecca for Chinese regional cuisine both by the ethnic community, which comprises 12 percent of Toronto’s total population, and by non-ethnic culinary tourists alike.
Mapping the history of suburban culinary infrastructures using digitized documents and photographs taken in the 1980s by the Multicultural History Society of Ontario (MHSO) and overlaid with census data allows reflecting on how food history can and must engage with digital methods while also highlighting its relevance to public history and debates: How can “Big Data” also provide and make visible “Deep Data,” layers of multisensory knowledge and culinary infrastructures networked through urban environments? What tools and frameworks do we need to collaboratively and comparatively map the historical evolution of diasporic culinary infrastructures? How can digital humanities contribute to reshaping academic and public debates around urban foodways by putting into global dialogue questions of cultural representation, ethnic community-building, and civic policy?
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