Coin Laundry

Coin Laundry

POPULATION OF toronto: 2.79 million   |   Motto: Diversity Our Strength


Walking in to the laundromat it looks like they’ve tried to paint the walls the same blue colour as the sky. Machines line the wall and the noise of them is surprising considering the handful of people present. We’ve come at off-peak. TV shows black & white films we don’t recognise. Detergent and religion are offered free, both with the condition you spread the word.

Amongst the wurring of machines, the sound of clothes being tossed in the dryer and smell of detergent, we spoke to Sue, a 54 year old woman originally from the Philippines. After showing us videos of our dog she told us:

"Going to the Laundromat is like going to Church. It’s something I can do at home but I also do it with others.”

For her the comparison comes from doing something incredibly private in public, a space in in which she spends a lot of time with people she doesn’t know. But it’s also born out of a desire to feel part of her community and that she’s contributing.

“If I see someone struggling and I don’t help then I’ll spend the rest of the day regretting it”. She is in the laundromat, where she comes 3 times a week, washing the clothes for her daughter and grandchildren. She also helps others doing their laundry.

It’s the way she was raised in the Philippines. Laundry was a time for families and communities to be together.

The Coin Laundry is located in North York, where 54.4% of the resident are first or second generation immigrants. According to the Canadian government, Toronto has the highest immigration rate in the world.

Charmaine is originally from St Lucia.

"Sometimes when you come here there is all different types of races. Some speak English some don’t. Some want to talk, some don’t. You might pick a conversation about the day or just moan about the machines not working properly."

Living in Canada for 27 years, Charmaine loves the country and doesn’t plan to leave. But St Lucia will always be home. Before we even broached the subject, she spoke about doing laundry with her mum and sisters outdoors. A family ritual and memories she cherished.

Now she sits alone, waiting for her wash cycle to end, surrounded by strangers.

When asking her to describe a detergent that could encapsulate the smell of St Lucia, she said, "The smell of the rain on the road when it falls. Canada is air free. You don’t smell anything. Empty. You walk the streets and you inhale. What do you breathe? Nothing.”

The Canadian government recently announced they were going to accept a further 10,000 to the 25,000 refugees from Syria. They would be given apartments to live in and laptops to help integrate themselves in society. This proved unpopular with some Canadians, who felt these resources should be available for Canadians not refugees.

The Prime Minister squashed criticisms when he said these people were not refugees – they were ‘new Canadians’.

It’s easy to overlook a laundromat. We saw one on every block in Toronto and we’ve seen them all over the world, with their blue walls, wurring machines and smell of detergent. But each are unique because of the people who inhabit the space and the stories they can tell.

As our time in the Laundromat drew to a close, I mentioned to Charmaine that I didn’t know how to get rid of a stain from my white shirt. She laughed, at me, and said it’s the most important thing you need to know in life.


Text by Sam Lipscomb

Photography by Tom Law