Historically, whether it be the construction of an expressway or due to gentrification, Black communities have been displaced in cities throughout North America. The heart and soul of Eglinton Avenue West, which is colloquially known as “Little Jamaica” or “Eglinton”, is home to the highest concentration of Black and Caribbean-owned and operated businesses in Toronto. From the barbershops and hair salons that act as community spaces to the various restaurants that remind many of home, “Little Jamaica” on Eglinton Avenue West’s history and character should be celebrated and its future must be protected.
However, many Black-owned and operated businesses have been fighting a battle against the potential loss of the character, identity and roots of their neighbourhood for years. Due to rising rents, construction of the Province’s LRT project and now, the COVID-19 pandemic, a growing number of prominent and historic small businesses have been forced to shutter their doors. While these factors have certainly contributed to the challenges Black-owned and operated businesses along Eglinton face, we must not discount the silent yet significant roles of gentrification, Black displacement and cultural erasure. With such pressures mounting, community groups and projects such as BlackUrbanismTO, Reclaim, Rebuild Eglinton Avenue West, and Black Futures on Eglinton have formed to stand with the Black-owned and operated businesses and local residents to call for change.
That is why, at last week’s Council meeting, I was pleased to move a motion that was seconded by Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson and supported by Mayor John Tory, to provide short-term supports and a substantive long-term vision to ensure the retention and growth of Black-owned and operated businesses, while celebrating the identity, and showcasing the resiliency, of the Caribbean community. I look forward to working with an interdivisional team of City Staff I have assembled, along with community and business leaders on this historic initiative.
The spirit of this Motion and the initiatives called for in this Motion are currently being advanced by the City of Toronto as a legacy project of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent, which has its theme: Recognition, Justice and Development. The City proclaimed its official recognition of the International Decade on March 25, 2019.