Mounted in a drywall-covered corner of the Galleria Shopping Centre last weekend, an old news article lay claim to the mall’s rightful place in the history of multicultural Toronto.
“Looking for squid, octopus, prosciutto, pig’s ears, or fresh sardines?” read the piece from the August 18, 1972 Toronto Star. “You’ll find them all at North America’s first ethnic food plaza in Toronto’s west end.”
It turns out that the Galleria, infamous for its time-capsule quality (and, increasingly, as the heir to nearby Dufferin Mall’s “ghetto mall” designation), was once a trailblazer in bringing ethnic diversity to the city. More recently, the building, one of the oldest enclosed shopping centres in the GTA, has developed a reputation as a lost cause. During last Saturday’s 40th anniversary celebrations, a series of musical performances took place in front of plastered-over windows of what was, just a few weeks ago, a Zellers.
But the bash at least proved that the mall’s original function—providing a gathering place for the neighbourhood’s large Portuguese and Italian population—remains intact.
“I’ve come here for 28 years,” said Miguel Da Silva, bongo player for the band Amigos da Dundas, while warming up to perform Spanish and Brazilian tunes at the festivities. “I’d like to see it stay how it is.”
With Price Chopper currently transforming into FreshCo, a newly opened outlet of the Ontario Conservatory of Music, and ongoing discussions about what will occupy the former Zellers location, Da Silva’s likely to be disappointed. But a Dufferin-style remake isn’t in the works either, as Galleria management is trying its best to stay true to the mall’s beginnings.
“It’s a community hub,” said Cristina Jackson, the mall’s property administrator, who started working there in 1979 and hopes to see it updated without compromising its familiarity to customers. “A lot of people who were in one way or another associated with the Galleria, they come back. I know people who used to come here with their grandparents who are now bringing their own children.”
If the lineup for cake was any indication, the kids wouldn’t have it any other way.