Long Time No See
Stories and Photos
of Spadina Chinatown
In the summer of 2021, Chinatown was faced with a period of change and uncertainty with businesses battered by COVID lockdowns, with Anti-Asian Racism and with development pressures in Toronto’s over-heated property market.  Some of us got together hoping to put a face to our community to show what and where in Chinatown we work, shop, eat and love.

We invited Chinatown folks to send in selfies, local photography and old family photos, and to share with us their stories. Under the name "Long Time No See", we created a public art display of all the submissions we received. The Public Exhibition ran from Aug-Sept 2021.


Exhibition Photos

Neo Home Wall with LTNS postersWhippersnapper Gallery with LTNS posters
Click here to view the Submissions Gallery

About the Project

"Moh Gihn Ho Noi,”  (didn’t meet you for such a long time), translated into pidgin English became  "long time no see.”  This expression comes from the earliest Chinese sojourners and settlers who came from the four counties in the Toisan region.   In the 1850’s American and British contractors began bringing Chinese men over to the North American west coast to use as cheap labour.  The seaports in the south of China, far away from the eyes of Beijing, allowed people living in the Toisan area, poverty stricken at the time, the opportunity to find work to support their families.

“Moh Gihn Ho Noi” (冇见好耐,翻译成中英混语是 “Long Time No See”)。这个说法来自最早广东省台山地区四个县的旅居者和定居者。 1850 年代,美国和英国的承包商开始将中国人带到北美西海岸作为廉价劳动力。中国南方的海港远离北京的视线,让当时生活贫困的台山人们有机会找到工作来养家糊口。 

For well over 100 years Toisan was the language of North American Chinatowns.  Many of the “loh wah kiew” (old overseas Chinese), in creating and sustaining “Chinatown", experienced social, emotional and financial hardship in Canada, suffering the early riots and looting, displacement and discriminatory laws passed by our government specifically targeting the Chinese, which has an even longer history passing laws targeting Indigenous peoples.  

100 多年来,台山话一直是北美唐人街的语言。许多加拿大的 “loh wah kiew”(老华侨)在创建和维持“唐人街”的过程中,经历了社会、情感和经济困难,遭受了早期的骚乱,掠夺和流离失所,以及我们政府专门针对华人所制定的歧视性法律。这项歧视性法律的通过比针对原住民的法律的历史甚至更长。

Over the years Chinatown has been a place of refuge for all kinds of people, pushed out of or made to feel unwelcome in other places. “Long Time No See” takes place in downtown Chinatown, also referred to as Dundas Spadina Chinatown.  Spadina, from the Ojibwe “Ishpadinaa,” has been an Indigenous trading network and place to gather for thousands of years, reminding us that we are guests on this land.   Many Chinese children grew up being told to be “haak hei” when visiting someone’s home.  “Haak hei,” often involving polite manners and bearing gifts, is a way to show respect to the hosts by being thoughtful and gracious guests.   How can we, as individuals and collectively, be better guests on this land?  How will we support Indigenous rights?­

多年来,唐人街一直是各种人群的避难所,被赶出其他地方或在其他地方感到不受欢迎。 “好久不见”发生在唐人街市中心,也被称为 Dundas Spadina (登打士士巴丹拿) 唐人街。 Spadina (士巴丹拿)来自 Ojibwe(奥吉布瓦语) “Ishpadinaa”,数千年来一直是原住民贸易网络和聚集地,提醒我们是这片土地上的客人。许多中国孩子从小到大,在去别人家做客时都被提醒要 “haak hei” (客气)。 “Haak hei”(客气)通常是指访客时,客人的行为举止端庄大方且有礼貌并要携带思考周到的礼物,以此表达客人对主人的尊重。作为个人和集体,我们如何才能成为这片土地上更好的客人?我们将如何支持原住民权利?

After multiple lockdowns and losses due to the Covid 19 pandemic, “Long Time No See - Moh Gihn Ho Noi” seems like a poignant moment of encounter.  It can refer to recognizing one another’s faces after being masked for so long or recognizing the face of Chinatown, an old friend we may not have truly seen or looked at for awhile.  This project is just a beginning, a beginning to build relations among people who care about Chinatown.  We hope it can lead to learning more about each other, honouring story and memory, and to building a more equitable community with shared responsibilities to this land and the Indigenous peoples of this land.

在 新冠病毒(Covid 19) 大流行导致多次封锁和损失之后,“Moh Gihn Ho Noi” (冇见好耐/好久不见) 似乎是一个令人心酸的相遇时刻。它可能发生在戴了这么久口罩后认出了彼此的脸的时刻,或是重返旧地认出唐人街时,也可能是在遇到一个我们久未见面的老朋友的时刻。这个项目只是一个开始:一个使关心唐人街的人们之间建立关系的开始。我们希望它可以导致更多地了解彼此,尊重故事和记忆,并建立一个更加公平的社区,与这片土地上的原住民共同承担对这片土地的责任。

Artist Statement From Project Leader Brenda Joy Lem:

My mother spent her early years in our ancestral village, then, orphaned with her sisters, on the run for thirteen war torn years before she could return to her country of birth, Canada.  Later, our family moved to a WASPy suburb, where there was little to reflect my mother’s life or her humanity.  

My mother took the bus, subway and streetcar, to get to Chinatown.   I recall my mother bumping into old friends and saying, “Moh Gihn Ho Noi” and as they chatted mom would express what it meant to her to “gihn mehn,”  (see her friend’s face).  There was such a depth of feeling that, today when I think of it, there was a sense of “I am so glad that you are alive and I am alive and we are here standing face to face”.  


我妈妈坐公共汽车、地铁和有轨电车去唐人街。我记得我妈妈撞见老朋友说:“Moh Gihn Ho Noi” (好久不见/冇见好耐),当他们聊天时,妈妈就会表达出对她来说“gihn mehn” (见面)的意思。那种深刻的含义,今天回想起来,有一种 “我很高兴你还活着,我还活着,我们此时此刻就面对面地站在这里” 的感觉。 Brenda Joy Lem – 艺术家

Brenda Joy Lem as a small girl posing in front of a house with her mother, a tree is flowering in the background

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