Tamil Co-operative Homes, Inc.

Tamil Co-op Homes

Image of a low-rise grey concrete apartment building with brown accents. On the first floor there are small shops. In the foreground there is a one-storey store with peeling red paint.
Tamil Co-operative Homes as seen from Lansdowne Avenue, February 26, 2017. Image by Michael Monastyrskyj, via Flickr.

Tamil Co-operative Homes as seen from Lansdowne Avenue, February 26, 2017. Image by Michael Monastyrskyj, via Flickr.

Image of two white high-rise towers viewed from a high angle. Between the two buildings are paths that cut through the grass, and a parking lot.
St. James Town looking south-east to Wellesley and Rose, between 1972 to 1986. Courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives.

St. James Town looking south-east to Wellesley and Rose, between 1972 to 1986. Courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives.

Image of two storefronts. On the left is a shop with a sign with Jubilee Grocers in red letters. In the window of the shop, there are packages of items stacked one on top of the other. On the right is a shop with a sign reading Malton Sarees & Fabrics. In the windows there are several mannequins wearing saris and on the sidewalk are clothing racks packed with colourful clothing.
1417-1419 Gerrard East, 1975 to 1988, Courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives.

1417-1419 Gerrard East, 1975 to 1988, Courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives.

Navigating New Lives

When Tamil refugees began arriving in the early 1980s, finding work was of the utmost importance. Many of these refugees had gone into debt trying to flee Sri Lanka, or had families back home that they were hoping to sponsor to Canada. The existing Toronto Tamil community, while small, played a vital role in helping them settle into their new lives.

Tamils provided references for other Tamils, or scouted out employment opportunities at their own jobs. Networking happened at the back of late night TTC buses, where Tamils shared leads on potential jobs on the commute home. Tamil refugees were often sponsored or billeted by other Tamils, giving them a place to stay while they looked for work. In time, it became clear that being in contact with the rest of the Tamil community was an important step to surviving in Canada. 

A New Community Hub

For these new arrivals, a hub was needed where they could go to find help in their search for accommodation, work, and education. Areas like St. James Town had large Tamil populations due to cheap housing, but lacked the services to help Tamils acclimatize to their new homes. Several community organizations popped up in the Tamil community, including the Society for the Aid of Ceylon Minorities (SACEM). SACEM successfully approached the federal and provincial governments with a proposal for a 10 million dollar, 129-unit housing co-op at 20 Wade Avenue, in the Bloordale area.

Tamil Co-Operative Homes, Inc. (or more informally, the “Tamil Co-op Homes”) was subsidized by both levels of government, and became one of the major co-operative housing projects in the city. Before the space even opened, it had waiting list of about 100 people. 80% of the occupancy was reserved for Tamils in the city, with priority placed on seniors, widows, and those in need. One apartment was held as emergency short-term housing for new refugee claimants.

Living Together

At Tamil Co-op Homes, refugees were able to build new lives while living and working amongst already-settled Tamils. The building was run by a volunteer co-op committee that provided advice to new arrivals on work, school, and government assistance. The complex provided English and French classes on site as well as a community hall for weddings and other cultural events.

While areas like Little India were popular amongst all South Asians in the city, the Tamil Co-op Homes was one of the first places in the city that was solely for Tamils. Beyond its benefits in helping Tamils navigate new lives in Toronto, it also served to alleviate loneliness and build community by connecting refugees with other Tamil-speaking residents. It remains an important fixture in the Tamil community today.