When Colin Gulin Su and his wife Ann Bai Yan were strolling along College Street one evening twelve years ago, they spied “The Riverside Florist” and stopped to take a look. The shop had a sign and was labelled a “florist” but appeared to be anything but. Inside an old Chinese proprietor was operating a low-level somewhat ramshackle convenience store, selling chocolates, cigarettes, chips, pop and not much more. Colin asked the proprietor if he wanted to sell the business. Although he had only had the store for three months, the woebegone shopkeeper was happy to sell. Seven months later, the convenience store was gone. Colin and Ann cleaned out the decrepit convenience counters, installed a cooler, built the shelves, the suspended ceiling, the counters for plants and, voilà, “The Riverside Florist” was open again as a flower shop, selling plants and flowers. Colin doesn’t know why it was called “Riverside Florist” but the sign fits and so it stays.
It is totally fortuitous, and lucky for the locals, that Colin and Ann have resurrected a first-class florist shop on the site. They come from Kun Ming, the capital of Yunnan province in southern mainland China. Yunnan borders Viet Nam, Myanmar and Thailand, and has a very temperate climate. Their home town used to be known for rice-growing but, in recent years, has become the centre for growing high quality flowers which are sold all over China and exported throughout east Asia to Korea, Japan, Singapore, and elsewhere. The rice paddies have given way to large greenhouses built with overseas investments and specializing in roses, lilies, mums, calla lilies, tulips, freesia — all the different flowers and house plants consumers cherish. Now known as Spring City, Kun Ming produces, raises and markets flowers all year round.
Colin studied chemistry and worked initially as a chemist. He then spent four years working as manager of a large cosmetic company. His first venture with flowers was a very successful promotion giving a red rose to each customer who purchased cosmetics for Valentine’s Day. When his company transferred him to Shanghai, he discovered the large flower market there, gave up the cosmetic business, and set up his own wholesale flower company bringing flowers from Kun Ming producers to the Shanghai market at favourable prices. For three years, his wholesale flower business kept him more than occupied.
Immigrating to Canada was at the initiative of his wife and her best friend. They wanted to move to Canada and since all had training in chemistry, they were readily accepted. They came with their three and a half-year old daughter Sophia. While Ann took ESL courses and later a Chemical Analyst Diploma at Humber College, Colin worked sharpening knives for restaurants and later at a slaughter-house. The same year that their son Paul was born, he opened The Riverside Florist and has operated it ever since.
The flowers and plants at The Riverside Florist are fresh and lush. To spend time browsing there is like being in a horticulture park. Colin buys his stock at the Ontario Flower Growers Flower Auction in Mississauga at the corner of highways 401 and 410. Twice a week, very early in the morning, he checks out the stock on auction and chooses the best quality products at the best possible price. If a wedding or funeral requires particular types of flowers, he must pay higher prices. Otherwise, he can wait and choose the best value. He says that most imported flowers in Toronto come from Ecuador and Colombia.
The shop has a superb choice of orchids and succulents, and Colin is very knowledgeable about all the plants and flowers in his shop. He is happy to recommend plants best suited to particular growing conditions, and to give advice on watering, fertilizing and re-potting the plants. And he also delivers.
The Riverside Florist is at 600 College Street, just west of Clinton and east of the Royal Cinema. Summer hours are 9:30 to 8:30, Monday to Friday and 10:00 to 8:30 on weekends.