Urbanization Essay

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.

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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 Mutual
Benefit Society was one answer to this problem for the ethnic Jews of Toronto.

The establishment served to facilitate Jewish immigrants with difficult times
following their arrival, and to assist them in transporting other family members
to the city from the old country (Harney, 1985). Thus at the level of the
individual, ethnic networks and resources are the structural links between
destination and origin which mediate the migrant’s integration into a new
society (Locher, 1979). They contribute to the creation of an ethnic
neighbourhood where immigrants of the same cultural background assist one
another with incorporation in the new society. Though the integration may be
slow or tedious, perhaps even generations long, it is a clear indication of
incorporation into society and not a lack of assimilation as Hawley (1944)
suggests. Evidently than the concentration of immigrants in a particular
neighbourhood, results from the availability of housing, work and ethnic
networks, which facilitate this initial settlement and occupational adjustment.

However, these are not the only factors contributing to the creation of
neighbourhoods and ethnic residential segregation. For some groups, their
patterns of segregation may to some extent suggest a lack of social acceptance
by the larger society (Breton & Isajiw & Kalbach & Reitz, 1990).

Examination of this entails an understanding of Toronto’s population
composition. Historically Toronto’s British have enjoyed undisputed numerical,
political, economic and social dominance (Kalbach, 1980). As anxiety increased
over the years concerning the ‘quality’ of immigrants settling in Canada,
increasing numbers of restrictions were placed on those particular ethnic groups
which were thought not to be of the best quality. The preference was for
immigrants of British origins, northern and western Europeans, and those born in
the United States because they could identify with Canada’s British heritage and
more adequately handle the harshness of the northern climate. Immigrants from
central, eastern, and southern European countries, the Middle East, Asia and
other non-European countries have encountered numerous restrictions associated
with the extent to which their language, customs and appearance differed from
the Anglo-Saxon standard (Kalbach, 1980). These restrictions alone indicate the
presence of discrimination and a hierarchy of ethnic preferences although the
discrimination does not end here. Incorporation of a minority group into a
majority involves two sets of processes: one on the side of members of ethnic
groups and another on the part of individuals and institutions of the greater
society (Gordon, 1964) These two groups must work together to entail integration
and to promote assimilation. Unfortunately this has not been the case. Toronto’s
Anglo-Saxon majority did not help much in making foreigners feel at home. In
fact they blatantly discriminated against them and this perpetuated ethnic
residential segregation. Evidence of this discrimination, quite readily found in
Toronto’s daily newspaper The Globe (1918) read: “PASSENGERS PROTEST
AGAINST FOREIGNERS Passengers on the Toronto Suburban car… last evening,
showed their displeasure at having to travel into the city with 50 foreigners,
who were in charge of three county constables. Women in the car protested to the
constables, who could do nothing having instructions to escort the men from a
Weston plant to their homes in the city. This was the first time that the
foreigners have used the radial. Until yesterday they came into the city by the
steam railway. (Globe, 1918)” Clearly demonstrating the majority’s
intolerance of immigrants, this article displays their prejudice. It is evident
that the ‘foreigners’ were, for the first time, allowed access to the radial on
that particular date in 1918. The fact that they were not provided access to all
of society’s amenities until that point in time plainly implicates
discrimination. Furthermore, their restricted access to transportation indicates
an obstruction of assimilation and reinforcement of ethnic residential
segregation. As a result of these restrictions, immigrants had no choice but to
live as close to their workplace as possible, spatially segregated from the
majority population. Discrimination in the workplace was also an issue. Although
most immigrants lacked the occupational skills necessary for upward mobility the
few who did possess superior skills were denied access to many sectors of the
workforce (Harney, 1985). All foreigners knew, for example, that there was no
work for them in government agencies. By way of illustration, Toronto’s Hydro
Commission employed only workers of British origin under the pretext that
well-spoken English was an exclusive requirement (Harney, 1985) Similarly, this
workforce discrimination was indicative of a failure of the majority to accept
the minority, resulting in an impeded assimilation process. Ethnic residential
segregation was also reinforced as immigrants continued working in the factories
and shops that surrounded them and did not place such restrictions upon them.

Assimilation frameworks must subsequently be re-evaluated. Spatial segregation,
to some degree, may indicate a lack of assimilation. However, it may be the
majority who cannot find it within themselves to accept others. As an urban
space divided into many sections, Toronto spoke to each immigrant group in a
distinct manner. Since their established and refined British neighbours saw the
city differently, they misunderstood the newcomers’ behaviour (Harvey, 1985).

Subsequently, the majority and not the minority group impeded the process of
assimilation. In its entirety ethnic residential segregation can be linked to
many factors, which have not been discussed within the context of this paper.

However, my main purpose was to illuminate the role of ethnic divisions of
labour in creating housing patterns, ethnic networks in solidifying these
patterns and, discrimination in perpetuating spatially segregated neighbourhoods.

We must also keep in mind that assimilation is not always a natural procedure
and thus cannot adequately explain the process of ethnic segregation. It is
necessary to look beyond models that accentuate ideal methods of dispersal
because we do not live in an ideal world.

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