Early Chinese immigrants to Brantford established small businesses, including many laundries. Canadian society at this time was often hostile and sinophobic, which severely limited employment opportunities for newcomers from China. Laundries allowed these early immigrants to support themselves by filling a niche in the market. At times, the number of Chinese laundries operating simultaneously in the city reached over a dozen (as seen in this Brantford Expositor advertisement from November 1920, right).
The first Chinese laundry in Brantford, Chong Lee Laundry, opened in 1896. One of the last laundries to be established in the city, James Mark First Class Hand Laundry at 110 Market St., opened in 1952 and operated until 1974.
The earlier Chinese laundries were hand laundries. Proprietors and laundry workers would use metal basins and washboards (as seen in this photograph, left, from the Memories of Brantford 'Laundries, Chopsticks, Medicine' exhibit) to wash customers' laundry by hand. This was a long, labour-intensive and physically-demanding process, carried out in sub-optimal working conditions as many buildings had poor ventilation and therefore suffered from mold issues.
As technology developed, the laundries adopted machinery (such as the 1900 Cataract Electric Washer, seen above) which made their tasks much easier to carry out.