How a major Toronto intersection has become ‘home away from home’ for the growing Filipino diaspora

 Walking along the corner of Bathurst and Wilson Streets in Toronto is like a trip back to the Philippines for many Filipinos in the GTA. Hearing the language spoken openly, noticing the aroma of Filipino food cooking, and seeing advertisements of familiar products everywhere, have all contributed to making it a home away from home [[{“value”:”

Walking along the corner of Bathurst and Wilson Streets in Toronto is like a trip back to the Philippines for many Filipinos in the GTA.

Hearing the language spoken openly, noticing the aroma of Filipino food cooking, and seeing advertisements of familiar products everywhere, have all contributed to making it a home away from home for many.

“Little Manila is actually an unofficial name of the neighbourhood, it was a term coined by people who used to attribute this to the growing number of community members in the area,” Little Manila walking tour operator, Ysh Cabana said.

The neighbourhood has always been made up of Jewish, Russian, and Italian immigrants, but anecdotal evidence suggests the growth of Filipinos living in the area during the 1990s as caregivers who used to work for affluent families. 

“Little Manila has really grown over decades here, starting with members of the Filipino community who came here to be live-in caregivers. They worked in the area but they also lived here too,” Member of Parliament Ya’ara Saks told OMNI News Filipino. Saks has been serving as the MP for York Centre riding where Little Manila is located since 2020.

Walking tours show some of the oldest businesses in Little Manila. Remittance centres and grocery stores cater to Filipino products, but it’s the variety of restaurants that have made Little Manila a culinary destination for those wanting to try Filipino food.

From freshly baked Filipino bread and pastries, grilled-to-order pork barbeque, Filipino desserts like the famous“halo-halo,” and of course “lechon,” the Philippines’s version of a full roast pig, everything is available. A popular spot to visit for this is Wilson’s Haus of Lechon owned by the Martinito family, the first Filipino restaurant that caters solely to lechon in Toronto.

“They’re very amazed of how Filipinos cook. We get customers coming from outside the city and tell us, ‘Oh this is our first stop.’ It’s become a tourist destination, especially for those who really want to try Filipino cuisine,” Jaeybee Daquiado said, the daughter of the Wilson’s Haus owners.

They are part of a small group of Filipinos who invested in the area, ensuring they are building it for the younger generations. Being away from their families in the Philippines, Little Manila has also become their go-to place to alleviate loneliness.

“It’s a place where we can just be ourselves,” Ednalyn Martinito said.

Over the years, Little Manila has become the venue for annual festivities like the “Taste of Manila,” which was first launched in the summer of 2014, to showcase the vibrant culture of Filipinos through food and music. The recent “Fun Philippines” was also held in Little Manila.

“The cultural celebrations that we have, reinforce the pride that we have in our community,” Paul Saguil said, a lawyer and community advocate.

As the population of Filipino Canadians grew in the city, so did the popularity of Little ManilaThe name is now used not just by Filipinos, but also by politicians who often visit the area.

With the growing contributions of the community to the neighbourhood, some wonder if it’s finally time to officially declare the corner of Bathurst and Wilson as the first Little Manila in Canada. 

“I think it would be a great recognition from the City of Toronto and various levels of government to recognize this important space and important aspect of the multiculturalism of Toronto and especially for Filipino Heritage Month,” Saguil said.

Saguil adds this can be done, but the challenge lies in who will spearhead the move to officially declare it as Little Manila.

“If we have someone to champion this within (the) City council, if we have someone to champion this at Queen’s Park, this will probably be happening sooner.”

“This is where the community really comes together and works with the provincial representatives, the city representatives and we’re happy to support it too,” Saks added.

The conversation continues on OMNI Television. The new special, “Little Manila” premieres on Philippines Independence Day, Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. after OMNI News Filipino.

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