A moving story told in visual art and fiction about gentrification, aging in place, grief, and vulnerable Chinese Canadian elders
Bringing together ink artwork and fiction, Denison Avenue by Daniel Innes (illustrations) and Christina Wong (text) follows the elderly Wong Cho Sum, who, living in Toronto’s gentrifying Chinatown–Kensington Market, begins to collect bottles and cans after the sudden loss of her husband as a way to fill her days and keep grief and loneliness at bay. In her long walks around the city, Cho Sum meets new friends, confronts classism and racism, and learns how to build a life as a widow in a neighborhood that is being destroyed and rebuilt, leaving elders like her behind.
A poignant meditation on loss, aging, gentrification, and the barriers that Chinese Canadian seniors experience in big cities, Denison Avenue beautifully combines visual art, fiction, and the endangered Toisan dialect to create a book that is truly unforgettable.
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Daniel Innes’s extensive portfolio includes painting, installation, graphic and textile design, illustration, sign painting, and tattooing. He uses traditional commercial art techniques, with a focus on the process. He has a special interest in creating works that have the possibility of an immersive physical experience.
Daniel was born in the north end of Toronto and has lived in the Spadina–Chinatown neighbourhood for over 20 years. Watching the neighbourhood change over the years has ended his love affair with Toronto. His time is now spent between Toronto and his studio (an artist residency project) in Hyōgo, Japan.
Christina Wong is a playwright, prose writer, and a multidisciplinary artist who also works in sound installation, audio documentaries, and photography. Her plays have been performed at Factory Studio, Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, and Palmerston Library Theatre. Her work has also appeared in TOK Magazine, the Toronto Star, and on CJRU 1280AM.
Christina grew up with the sights, smells, and sounds of Toronto’s Chinatown and Kensington Market neighbourhoods, which have shaped her identity and view of the world.
Published: May 2023
Dimensions: 6 x 9 in.
“In Denison Avenue, we watch a recent widow desperately tread water in a city drowning under waves of gentrification. This tender lyrical novel is an anthem of grief, a swan song to cities as we know them and the loved ones we lose along the way.” — Catherine Hernandez, author and screenwriter of Scarborough, the novel and film
“Christina Wong writes from the perspective of an elderly immigrant widow who collects bottles and cans in the streets and alleys of Toronto. It’s a thoughtful account of a difficult journey in a vanishing neighbourhood, complete with time capsule illustrations of Chinatown and Kensington Market by Daniel Innes. Denison Avenue is designed for people like me who fall in between the cracks of culture. I enjoyed reading the phonetic Cantonese and Toisan dialect translations in English that connected me to familiar languages and my neighbourhood.” — Sook-Yin Lee, filmmaker, musician, and broadcaster
“What is a city but its stories? In Denison Avenue, Christina Wong’s elegant prose and poetry are accompanied by beautifully rendered illustrations by Daniel Innes, bringing to life the portrait of a Chinatown that is both disappearing and emerging. Through Mrs. Wong’s eyes, we witness a rapidly changing city. We travel with her through streets with names like Nassau, Cecil, Ulster, pass familiar noodle joints and Chinese bakeries, follow her cart from bin to bin. And yet Mrs. Wong shows us with keen observation the small joy one can have by eating a doong on a park bench or the delight in bumping into an old friend at Honest Ed’s, shopping for deals. I can hear her voice in Toisan, a song of love, kinship, and a collective memory of Chinatown. What is a city but its stories? Denison Avenue is a Toronto story.” — Carrianne Leung, author of That Time I Loved You
“The book reminds those of us who live in cities across the world that it is important to consider the heritage and legacies of neighborhoods in many cities and the ways that gentrification affects the people who live there.” — Shondaland
“Both Innes and Wong show their devotion to this vanishing world in their careful recreating of it in words and images. As Chinatowns all over the country become gentrified and disappear, Denison Avenue provides an important reminder of what is being lost.” — New York Journal of Books
“With its intricate line drawings and poignant story, Denison Avenue transports me to a place I’ve never been, but also to a place that feels like home. From canned fried dace and butter cookie tins to the sonorous tones of the Toisanese dialect, this is the world of my ancestors — the lo wah kiu who flourished in Chinatowns all over Canada. And as we walk alongside Wong Cho Sum in her personal journey through grief, we grieve, too, for past generations and the loss of a once-thriving community.” — Teresa Wong, author of Dear Scarlet
“I spent my formative years in Kensington Market. I still go to Chinatown multiple times a week to eat. I love it so much, it’s a place that truly brings me so much joy. Denison Avenue shows us the realness of how the buildings are changing, the restaurants are changing, and the love that has slowly been taken away in the process. A beautiful book that shares stories of love and loss.” — Matty Matheson, celebrity chef
“Denison Avenue is a heart-wrenching story about a demographic that is often ignored or not even seen in the first place...The book gives voice to senior citizens and also shows how gentrification destroys mom and pop businesses and communities as a whole.” — Asian Review of Books
“A tremendously moving story of strength and resilience, of love and courage, and friendship and community...The nature of cities, of course, is that cities change, but in Denison Avenue, Wong and Innes manage to capture a unique view of the city as it was for just a moment, all the while making their readers consider what the city might become if we think about what it’s true heart is, which is to say the people who live here.” — Pickle Me This blog
“Author Christina Wong's powers of description transport us to specific locations, as do the beautiful illustrations by Daniel Innes that offer a separate but complimentary visual story inside the book. Wong's intimate details make the mundane captivating.” — Spacing Magazine