The story of a major Toronto hub that was home to a progressive black community is captured in a new book featuring people whose work helped define it.
Welcome to Blackhurst: An Iconic Toronto Neighborhood Wellproduced by the Blackhurst Cultural Centre, formerly A Different Booklist Cultural Center – The People’s Residence, features the stories of 30 people who lived, owned businesses or continue to call the area home, including veteran journalist Royson James, who wrote a story of the community he lived in when he immigrated to Canada from Jamaica in 1969.
Diversity and inclusion strategist Hamlin Grange, brother of Jamaica’s Minister for Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sports Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, retired pediatric dentist Dr Winsome Smith, advocates of human rights Harry Gairey Sr and Stanley Grizzle, Lloyd Mitchell of Lloyd’s Barber Shop, and Leonard Johnston of the legendary Third World Books & Crafts, whose parents came to Toronto from Jamaica in 1890, are among those highlighted in the pages.
Also featured is Makeda Silvera, writer, editor, editor and activist, and pioneer of the queer, Black queer and trans communities, and feminist from Toronto.
In 1985, with her then artist partner, Stephanie Martin, Silvera founded Sister Vision: Black Women and Women of Color Press – a first. In doing so, she created a centralizing space for the stories of women, especially queer women of color.
“In this age where the phrase ‘giving someone their flowers’ means showing love, appreciation and honoring them while they are still with us, Makeda Silvera has earned her bouquet. For her contribution to the cultural and political life of this city and this country, she deserves a garden, no, a meadow of unreserved gratitude and “nuff respect”, writes Jamaican-born artist and curator Courtnay McFarlane.
Also included is a profile of Walter Alexander Foster who was born in Westmoreland, Jamaica in 1880 and immigrated to Canada in 1910. His family lived in the Bathurst neighborhood for over 100 years. “Walter and his wife, Evelyn, were pillars in their church community, and he was considered the ‘grandfather’ of the community,” writes Micheline Lashley Vega. Foster was the first black conductor of the Toronto Transit Commission when he started working there in 1916.
“Harry Gairey Sr was an active participant in black community protests until the late 90s. Young people were in awe of him, and so am I, and still am. His achievements in civil rights and humanity in Canada should be in our curriculum, especially in Ontario,” writes Juan Emmanuel Gairey of his great-uncle.
Patrick Hunter and Sandra Young, former owners of Ashanti Hall, and Ikeila Wright of vegetarian restaurant One Love – the former site of popular Jamaican Joyce’s West Indian Foods established by the late Carmel and Joyce Shoucair who came to Canada in the 1960s – are also presented.
ItahSadu, Managing Director of the Blackhurst Cultural Centre, says he has put together a document of game changers and trailblazers in the Ward 11 neighborhood who have done exceptional things in Canada to change the lives of not only Afro -Canadians or blacks. Canadians, but to change the lives of all Canadians.
“We’re so lucky to be in a neighborhood where on a good day we can run past Central Tech and reimagine that we’re Sam Richardson and we’re an Olympian. On a good day, we can run down Bathurst Street , and you can go to barber college. You can also go to Markham Street… and remember the spirit of Deborah Brown. So the multiple assets of this community are such that we felt it was important to document their presence… And also to make it accessible to students so that they can do their projects or research or want to be more informed about their identity, we believe that this document, Welcome to Blackhurstthe history of an iconic neighborhood is something they will enjoy having as a resource in their library.