Where Ulysses S. Grant Buys His Choi Sum

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Among the dozens of groceries, butchers, bakeries and other businesses on Spadina Avenue in Toronto is Asian Farm, an oddly-named supermarket that stands out for two different reasons: the fact that it is open 24 hours a day and the fact that it features a portrait of Ulysses S. Grant on its sign. What exactly does a nineteenth century American president have to do with a place where you can buy fried tofu, bok choy and live turtles at three o’clock in the morning?

Not much, is the obvious answer. A Google search on Asian Farm’s strange sign reveals a certain record of insalubrity—it was closed for two days in February because “the operator failed to prevent gross unsanitary conditions; [failed] to provide adequate pest control; [and failed] to maintain room free of animals,” among other things—but no obvious connections to Grant. Perhaps it is an homage of sorts, to a president who, unlike those who followed him, actually encouraged Chinese immigration to the United States: in 1868 he signed the Burlingame Treaty with China, which secured the rights of Chinese nationals living in the US. In 1880, however, a few years after he left office, the treaty was amended to restrict Chinese immigration; in 1882, it was completely overturned with the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act.

But this hardly explains why Grant is found on the sign of a Toronto supermarket. One hint might come from the portrait itself: look closely and you will see that it is identical to the portrait of Grant found on the American fifty dollar bill. Considering this relationship with with money, then, it is reasonable to assume that the owners of Asian Farm consider Grant’s image to be a symbol of wealth or good fortune.

Still, this raises more questions than it answers: why Grant and not the more recognizable image of George Washington, who is found on the one dollar bill? Alternately, why stop at fifty bucks when you can have one hundred, in the form of Ben Franklin?

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Friday July 06 2007at 10:07 am , filed under Canada, History, Society and Culture and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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