Scarborough, My Home

Scarborough is Toronto’s most eastern suburb, home to more than 600,000 people. Most families here are either first-generation immigrants or descendants of those who came around the same time my family did in the 1970s. When we first came to Toronto from Hong Kong, we took up residence downtown. Eventually, we settled into a semi-detached in what is now called Scarborough Junction. Almost 30 years later, I now call Scarborough my home again, living near where I grew up.

Like many large cities, Toronto’s suburbs were envisioned in the 1950s and '60s to be desirable places to live; where families can realize their dream of a house with a yard. However, poor city planning led to urban sprawl and made the suburbs inaccessible by public transit, especially when compared to Toronto's west end. Residents here are still relying on a light rapid transit that opened in 1985 and is now well past its best-before date. It can take commuters between an hour to two hours for a one-way trip downtown.

Scarborough is commonly referred to “Scarberia” because some people still think it’s a cold wasteland devoid of culture and sophistication. A recent report found northern Scarborough has seven of the poorest of Toronto’s 140 neighbourhoods. And while Toronto is a relatively safe city, reports of gun-related crime in pockets of Scarborough add to the stigma the suburb often struggles with. At the same time, Toronto’s hot housing market has pushed homebuyers further out into the suburbs, creating a ripple effect that is making some parts of Scarborough unaffordable, especially for newcomers.

Still, even with such challenges, you will find a rich diversity of people living, working and playing here – each with their own unique stories. This ongoing series of images offers vignettes of the beauty that can be found in communities that are often marginalized and literally pushed to the edges of the city.

January, 2020

A man carries his belongings in an Eglinton East strip mall. In its heyday, the mall would have been bustling with activity. Today, the area is one of Toronto's poorest 48 neighbourhoods.

Newcomers to Canada make up the majority of Scarborough's population who arrived within the last four decades. For new immigrants, it's possible to live, work and play in neighbourhoods that almost exclusively reflect their own ethnic background.

Toronto's major subway line connects to a light-rail system in Scarborough that opened in 1985. Residents have been asking for, and promised, a replacement for the aging system. A one-way commute to downtown can take residents between one and two hours from some parts of Scarborough.

Children play in a park fenced-in to separate them from four lanes of high-speed traffic on Warden Avenue. In trying to attract prosperous families with cars decades ago, urban planning favoured the almighty car.

Marty relaxes with his dog Leica in Cliffside, a neighbourhood in transition in south Scarborough. He and his family relocated from downtown 11 years ago, escaping the "concrete jungle." He likes that there are parks and other amenities close by. The neighbourhood, dominated by three blocks of strip malls, is now seeing more condos and businesses moving in.

Sunset on a summer day in the Eglinton East neighbourhood.

Rosetta McClain Gardens in south Scarborough is becoming increasingly popular among nature lovers.

Sabu has lived in Scarborough since she was 12. She believes people's perception of Scarborough is wrong. "There is life here," says the 21-year-old, waiting for friends outside the movie theatre at Scarborough Town Centre, a very busy shopping mall next to city hall and a brand new library. "It's a very lovely community... most people know each other."

"Big box" stores are more common in the suburbs, where there is more space.

A used car lot on Danforth Avenue during a snowfall.

Diners dig in at Pho Metro on Lawrence Avenue East, a popular local spot for Vietnamese pho, vermicelli and steamed rice meals.

Riding the late-night Kingston Road bus.

Shoppers at the Scarborough Town Centre, arguably the city's central hub. The stores have changed over the years, reflecting the changing demographics of the city.

A multi-screen theatre complex is one of Scarborough Town Centre's major attraction and meeting spots.

Sunset along a power line corridor in northern Scarborough.

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