The changing of Greektown through the eyes of its past and present residents.
Greektown has always been close to my heart. When I lived in a small town without any other Greek people around me, I yearned for a connection to my culture. Every March break, I would get so excited to visit my cousins for a week and walk the Danforth with them. Reveling in the smell of fresh pastries and the sounds of bouzouki music coming from the shops around me, It was a great place to connect with my culture and talk to interesting individuals. Recently, however, after moving to Toronto this past September, I realized that I have only known Greektown for a short while. How has it changed from its inception in the mid 20th century? Is it still even Greek? I started my journey of answering these questions with an expert in all things Greek, my mother. She told me about her mother’s immigration to Toronto during the Greek Civil War and how she sponsored many of her family members and community members to come to Canada as well. Before this time on the Danforth, it was mostly Italian immigrants inhabiting the area, but after the war in Greece, an influx of Greek immigrants arrived and claimed the Danforth as their own. My grandmother, or Yiayia, was one of them.
Edward Kenny, who has been a resident of the Danforth since 1954, remembers when the Greek immigrants arrived at the Danforth. They had festivals and played music in the streets, he had never seen anything like it, and he loved it. He told me that they brought life to the street that he had never seen before. He asked about my connection to Greektown, and I told him the story of my grandmother, and he was touched. He said that he loved hearing stories like this and how brave my grandmother was to move such a great distance from home. Kenny said it seems that many of the Greek people who once lived on the Danforth have since left. They used to live above their businesses, but this seems no longer to be the case.
I found Edward on a Danforth Community group on Facebook that is dedicated to creating a sense of community for those living on or near the Danforth. I posted asking if anyone had any thoughts on the recent changes to Greektown or the Danforth, and I received numerous responses. One comment in particular stood out to me, about how many for lease signs were in the neighbourhood. I wondered if that was true. If it was, that may mean that the flight of people from the Danforth was happening at a more rapid pace than I had previously thought. I decided, then, to walk the Danforth and see how it was faring in that respect. As I walked down, I saw all the businesses that I had come to love over the years. I stopped to get a coffee and some Loukoumades (heavenly fried dough balls soaked in honey and topped with cinnamon) at Athens Pastries. I didn’t notice that many for lease signs along Danforth Avenue in Greektown. There were some, for sure, but not anymore than anywhere else in the city. Due to COVID-19, many businesses in Toronto have had to shut down and many individuals have moved to smaller towns due to fear of exposure, so I thought this could be the cause of any increase in for lease signs anywhere in the city. For lease signs aren’t always anything to be worried about either. They could mean expansion and new residents, new cultures, and new ideas. Surely, before the Greek immigrants came, there were for lease signs in windows everywhere!
I asked some of my relatives that live in Toronto what they thought of Greektown and how it is changing. They told me about how much they loved going and visiting but it was just not as viable for them to live in as it once was. They did not leave because of a lack of love for the area. My cousins still go to the street festivals and shop at the businesses very often. They did say that it has changed in the way that it is now a mixture and celebration of many different cultures in the area. That sentiment was really refreshing to me, to see communities live in harmony together and embrace each other was very beautiful and was a positive note to end my research on.
Greektown started as a settlement for Greek immigrants fleeing unrest from their home country. It is now home to lively street festivals, great restaurants, greater people, and is known to be one of the safest places to live in the city. It has changed in many ways due to more connections with different cultures, the COVID-19 pandemic, and urbanization, but one thing will always remain the same, it always feels welcoming, like coming home. You can still go to the Alexander the Great Parkette and enjoy the sounds of the Greek language being spoken by Greektown residents. You can go to a café and get a Greek coffee, which is not for the faint of heart. Both visitors to the area and residents can enjoy activities that people have been enjoying there for decades. That is what is important for a cultural centre, shared traditions. If traditions like these are held and continue to be held, Greektown will always be in a sense, Greek.