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Meet a local Good Samaritan standing up to Anti-Asian racism

Jennifer Walker and Rick Matthews
Cabbagetown residents Jennifer Walker and Rick Matthews paint the outside walls of Stanley's Variety, which was vandalized with anti-Asian graffiti. - Joanna Lavoie/Metroland
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Earlier this week, CanadaLoves.ca published an article titled Toronto neighbours band together to support local merchant devastated by anti-Asian racism. Stanley’s Variety at 237 Gerrard St. E., a variety store in the Cabbagetown area, had been the latest victim of anti-Asian hate crime. The local shop had been vandalized with racist slurs, their walls marked with hate. In response, the neighbour united in solidarity.

Rick Matthews, the executive director of the Cabbagetown Business Improvement Area, spoke with the store’s owner, Xun Guo, after the racist message was discovered. Matthews also posted a message on the neighbourhood Facebook group urging community members to do what they can to support Stanley’s Variety. Wanting to show further support, he helped paint over the graffitied walls of the shop.

Canadaloves.ca sat down with Matthews to learn what urged him into action and kindness.

The diversity of our community is truly what makes this one of the best places to live in Toronto.

1) Like you, communities of all different races, backgrounds, religions and beliefs have stood up in solidarity to support their Asian neighbours. Can you tell us why you personally felt compelled to jump into action for the owner of Stanley’s Variety, Xun Guo?

Xun is an important member of our business and residential community and when this happened to her, I wanted to do something tangible that showed we cared, that we were there to support her and truly allies.  I also wanted to send a clear message that racism wasn’t welcome in our neighbourhood.  The diversity of our community is truly what makes this one of the best places to live in Toronto.

2) Anti-Asian hate sentiments have been spiking all over North America, with citizens being murdered and assaulted. And as you are now all too aware of, Asian owned business are being robbed and vandalized.  What are your personal feelings about what happened to Guo, and is happening to Asians around Canada and the U.S.?

Like it has for many Canadians, the recent wave of Anti-Asian sentiment has angered me, it has been upsetting and it has been a wakeup call that we’re not immune to what we see happening south of our borders and around the world.  

Running a small business is hard, and this last year that’s only been compounded by the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic.  Having to then also face racism and hatred on top of an incredibly stressful year? It’s heartbreaking and unacceptable.

Stanley’s Variety located in Cabbagetown, Toronto

3) Can you share with us some of the comments and words of encouragement that were shared on the local Facebook page when you posted about the incident.  How else has the local community reached out to support.

Here are some of the comments:

“My boys go there all the time with whatever change they have, and they are always good to them. Sometimes the boys come home talking about them being so nice because they didn’t have enough money to buy what they wanted. (25-50 cents or whatever it was) And they just say “it’s ok. It’s enough. Enjoy it”. Considering all the rif-raf they have to deal with, I’m glad they make allowances for kids to feel welcome. Despicable for a person/people to be treated that way about their culture. So ignorant.”


“We go there a lot and have really appreciated them throughout this pandemic. We’ll be by again soon to purchase and lend support.”


“This is just NOT acceptable.”


The local resident’s association stopped by to drop off a big bouquet of flowers from the community, as did a number of other residents.  Many people stopped in to say hello and to shop, too.  Overall, everyone wanted the Guo Family to know how loved and supported they are by the community.  And everyone is continuing to do so.

Xun told me how touched she was by the show of support and expressed how much it has meant to her.

4)  It is reported that Toronto police received a report of a second act of anti-Asian vandalism at Church and Gould streets. Are you aware of the incident and if so, can you tell us what happened. Did the community step up to support?

Toronto Police indicated they believe the two incidents are connected and asked for anyone with information to come forward.  Our hope is, of course, that they quickly catch the person(s) responsible soon.

“I know that in situations like this it can sometimes be hard to know what to do to help.  Just do something…”

5) Canada is an inclusive country, one that celebrates diversity and welcomes our differences. Toronto especially is a city that invites everyone to the table.  What does being Canadian mean to you?

I love the diversity of this city.  I wouldn’t live anywhere else.  We are so fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from each other, experience new cultures and traditions and expand our horizons every day.

As a lasting thought, Matthews added, “I know that in situations like this it can sometimes be hard to know what to do to help.  Just do something.  Ask victims of hatred what you can do to support them, listen with empathy, let them know you’re there and that they’re not alone.  It’s a critical and important first step in helping to combat hatred and racism.”