Skip to main content

To experience the rush and the incredible shopping variety of Hong Kong, you have a choice: Take a 15-hour flight to Asia or take a drive to Markham.

Yes, Markham.

The sprawling Pacific Mall, improbably located at the modern suburban corner of Kennedy Road and Steeles Avenue, is the largest Oriental mall outside Asia, says promotion manager Edwin Lok. It is soon to mark its fifth anniversary.

Just as they would be in Hong Kong, the 400 stores are packed floor-to-ceiling with merchandise. From gemstones to gourd-based drinks, from CDs to cleavers, there's a daunting selection.

"This is basically a mini-Hong Kong, only with wider aisles and parking," said Cheuk Kwan, a Toronto filmmaker. He regularly visits his native Hong Kong for a television series that his company, Tissa Films, produces on Chinese restaurants around the world.

Immigrants from Hong Kong in the 1990s were affluent and did not move into the longer-established Chinese communities in older parts of the city, Mr. Kwan said. Thousands settled in newly developed communities north of Toronto, particularly in Markham and neighbouring Richmond Hill, bringing with them a rich culture and a taste for the good life.

The mall has offerings that cannot be found anywhere else in Canada, such as Asian films fresh from the studios in VCD, a digital format otherwise unavailable.

Dixon Chan is a typical Hong Kong immigrant of the 1990s.

The great-grandnephew of the founder of Chan Chi Kee Cutlery 60 years ago, he opened up a Canadian branch, selling meat cleavers and woks from the original store and factory on Shanghai Street in Kowloon. People come from across the province to buy his restaurant-grade equipment, he said.

Ken So, a scholar and columnist who came to Canada in 1992, said mall merchandise can be a barometer of Hong Kong life since the island reverted to China in 1997. Some imported books for sale in his Chez Moi Book House expose Chinese corruption and would be banned in Beijing, but they can be printed in Hong Kong, Mr. So said.

Cellphones are as ubiquitous here as in Hong Kong. Styles and colours popular in Asia are in the windows here now, probably a season or two before they show up in mainstream shops downtown. (Hint: If you want to stay ahead of the curve, think peach and frosted silver.)

No visit to Hong Kong -- or Markham -- is complete without food. Sampling dim sum at the Chinese City Inn in neighbouring Market Square, Mr. Kwan said he can attest that Toronto's Chinese restaurants live up to their reputation as among the best in the world.