For years local politicians refused to recognize the Eglinton West strip as Little Jamaica, despite the many Jamaican and Caribbean businesses that occupy the area. In 2020 though, things were a bit different. On October 2, 2020, following many years of advocacy, the motion to officially recognize the Eglinton West area as Little Jamaica, was passed.
The motion put forth by Mike Colle in collaboration with activists, means that the neighbourhood will be established as a heritage hub to celebrate the cultural and economic contributions made by Black communities in Toronto, with the goal of deepening and expanding the neighbourhood’s legacy.
This designation as a heritage hub, means that all new infrastructure and economic development in Little Jamaica, will have to take into consideration the neighbourhood’s heritage and identity.
One of the newest advocacy groups for the area, Rebuild Reclaim Eg West (RREW), had a large part to play in the latest decision. RREW is a youth-led change seeking group that is demanding justice from leadership for the negative impacts of continued gentrification in the Eglinton West area.
“We want to focus on the preservation of Caribbean culture in the city of Toronto,” said Marcus Pereira, Co-founder of RREW.
“We want to ensure that the future generations of Caribbean-Canadians have a cultural hub to call home, with a sustainable network of businesses and resources.”
The strip has been under the foot of construction challenges since 2011. Businesses have been literally blockaded by fencing and continued construction for a decade. This has led to the closure of more than 124 businesses in the neighbourhood since the beginning of construction.
Families have been displaced to make room for high-rises and businesses have crumbled to make room for a crosstown LRT with constantly changing end-dates.
“It’s ridiculous to think a city that prides itself on its diversity and cultural richness, is allowing most of Toronto’s Black neighbourhoods, which have been safe havens for immigrants for decades, to perish in the name of development,” said Pereira.
Times were challenging for the people in this community prior to Covid-19, but with restaurants and hair salons making up a large portion of the businesses in the area, the community experienced even deeper financial setbacks.
Through continued advocacy and community outreach, RREW has been able to raise over $25,000 to support local businesses in the community, with an end goal of $600,000.
“We want to raise as much money as possible to get that money back into the hands of business owners to help pay their rent or any other outstanding expenses,’ said Pereira.
He is encouraged by the legislative victory with the official recognition of the neighbourhood, and hopeful that there will be equal if not greater significance placed on economic empowerment to match the symbolic empowerment that comes with an official title.