In her article, “A Big Vision for Little Jamaica,” placemaker Jay Pitter, a second-generation Jamaican Canadian, describes her grandmother’s arduous journey from Jamaica to Canada. She quotes her grandmother: “I humbled myself and cleaned the floor of a high-ranking judge so I could get a glowing referral letter to come to Canada — God, manners, and hard work will take you through the world.” Pitter explains how her grandmother worked grudgingly in a hotel laundromat, moonlighting as a baker and seamstress, to buy a property in “Little Jamaica” in the late 1960s. Colloquially known as Little Jamaica, the area of Eglinton Avenue West between the Allen Expressway and Keele Street is one of the biggest Black community neighbourhoods in Toronto. It is a prominent heritage corridor, known for its cultural distinctiveness and its residents’ sense of belonging. Pitter describes the Little Jamaica neighbourhood as “likkle but talawa,” or small but strong-willed. Her strong attachment to what the community refers to as “The Strip” inspired her to work with the City of Toronto to produce the Little Jamaica Master Plan, the city’s first official cultural district plan.
According to Professor Joseph Mensah, a first-generation African-Canadian scholar, the earliest Black settlements in Canada date back to the seventeenth century, when people of colour were brought to Canada for heavy labour and were coerced into slavery. However, it was after the inauguration of the 1962 Immigration Act, which outlawed “overt racial discrimination,” and the establishment in 1967 of the Immigration Points System, which was based on professional skills and education, that Black Caribbeans and Africans began to arrive in large numbers in Canada to ensure cultural diversity and in search of better living standards. “Jamaica has always been a major source of Black immigrants to Canada,” Mensah continues, “and [it was] among the top ten sources of immigrants into Canada from 1969 to 1979 and from 1984 to 1988.”
Toronto’s Eglinton Avenue West neighbourhood has seen major influxes of Black immigrants, particularly those who emigrated from the Caribbean in the 1960s. According to historian Jerome Teelucksingh, Caribbean families were looking for less racially segregated regions in Toronto, which led them to the outskirts in quest of more affordable homes.  For decades, predominantly the Jamaican-Caribbean community has given the Strip an eminent ethnic and cultural heritage presence in commercial and residential manifestations. Barbershops, Caribbean food restaurants, Black beauty and hair salons, grocery stores, and recording studios are among the culturally significant Black-owned enterprises across Eglinton. No one can visit Little Jamaica without trying the famous patties while listening to reggae music, inhaling the incredible grill smoke, and marvelling at the colourful stores across the corridor.
“It’s the first place my mom brought me to cut my hair. It’s like a little Jamaica. It reminds me of Jamaica. It’s a Black community down there … you hear their music, you can actually see the Jamaica in the people there … I would have liked to live down there.” When Richard was nine years old, he went to Little Jamaica for the first time. A Jamaican-Canadian citizen who immigrated to Canada to live with his mother in 1984 and eventually became a citizen.
In her book, The Caribbean Diaspora in Toronto, scholar Frances Henry describes the cultural shock, social life, and adaptations to Canadian society that the Caribbean community encountered following immigration. She stresses the need of community, at that time, for Jamaicans living in Toronto to combat homesickness. People would come to the corridor not only to buy or dine, but also, to feel the spirit of the place. Henry explains, “what is maintained in these areas is the sense of open friendliness and communality so characteristic of urban neighbourhoods and small villages in the Caribbean.” At a period when discrimination was the ordinary, the Strip became a haven of refuge and belonging for many Jamaicans, where culture, community, and public institutions were established.
Heather Davis, a travel journalist from Toronto, highlighted the important businesses in Little Jamaica that have contributed to its authenticity. Rap’s Restaurant, the first Jamaican restaurant on the Strip, opened in 1982, and was owned by Horace Rose, a record producer with a studio on the same street. Jimmy Wisdom, the proprietor of Wisdom’s Barbershop in Little Jamaica; Monica Lewis, the owner of Monica’s Beauty Salon & Cosmetic; Vernal Small, the owner of Jamall Caribbean Custom Tailor; and Natty B.’s famous record shop, Treajah Isle Records, all launched their businesses in the 1980s and managed to continue to run them for decades.
However, the years of long-term construction on the new Eglinton Crosstown LRT, as well as the global pandemic, have both had effects on a rapidly rising real estate market. These events have been a burden on such businesses, forcing them to close after enormous losses of income. As more residents are displaced by the high cost of living and unaffordable housing, the local community is fearful that gentrification may break Little Jamaica apart. Debbie Gordon’s recent graduate thesis on the obliteration of Little Jamaica suggests that the transit project’s stated goals don’t align with the area’s heritage and history, and argues, “Considering that the section of Eglinton Avenue West that is Little Jamaica is not only deemed a gentrifiable area in Toronto, but also currently has three LRT stations under construction … it seems that gentrification is very likely to occur.” Gordon claims that the drive to revitalise Eglinton Avenue West is detrimental rather than beneficial because it is depriving present neighbourhoods of their cultural values. Gordon contends that Eglinton Avenue West requires a different, more historical perspective through which to be examined.
CP Planning emphasised the approach of cultural planning in their study, “Black Futures on Eglinton,” to use the community’s cultural assets to enhance the components of local planning. This was also highlighted at the September 30, 2020 City Council meeting, which discussed measures to encourage black-owned companies and the preservation of black heritage. “[Consider] the area’s Jamaican-Caribbean heritage and cultural heritage potential, including historic culturally significant structures and a prospective cultural heritage landscape designation,” the report says.
In 2014, the City of Toronto named the historic alleyway at Eglinton and Oakwood “Reggae Lane.” A 1,200-square-foot mural by artist Adrian Hayles was created in recognition of the alleyway’s storied history as a hub for Jamaican migrants and reggae music in the 1970s and 80s. This music genre became popular in Little Jamaica and musicians like Jay Douglas and Frankie Paul performed in the Strip, where they settled.
As Toronto Mayor John Tory said: “Cultural districts are a proven strategic approach to protect and promote a stronger sense of belonging for diverse communities through a combination of tools to support businesses, cultural and heritage spaces within delineated areas that are meaningful community hubs.” Jamaican Canadians are speaking out to support the designation of Little Jamaica as a historic site in order to avoid further deterioration of the built environment and preserve the neighbourhood. Romain Baker, chairman of Black Urbanism Toronto, believes that Little Jamaica needs more than simply heritage. Its significance stems from its ties to the whole Caribbean and African Diaspora in Toronto. “It’s a physical manifestation of culture, cuisine, and art. We need to recognize that this place is worthy.” It is the proper moment to connect the past with the future of this neighbourhood so that it can serve as a living memorial to Caribbean Canadian history for future generations.
 Jay Pitter, “A Big Vision for Little Jamaica,” AZURE, December 17, 2021, https://www.azuremagazine.com/article/a-big-vision-for-little-jamaica/.
 City of Toronto, “City of Toronto moves forward with creation of Cultural Districts Program and working with equitable placemaking practice,” City of Toronto, City Planning Division, November 26, 2021, https://www.toronto.ca/news/city-of-toronto-moves-forward-with-creation-of-cultural-districts-program-and-working-with-equitable-placemaking-practice/.
 City of Toronto, “Little Jamaica & the Eglinton West Neighbourhoods,” City of Toronto, City Planning Division, 2021, https://www.toronto.ca/city-government/planning-development/planning-studies-initiatives/eglinton-west-corridor-little-jamaica-study/.
 Joseph Mensah, Black Canadians: History, Experiences, Social Conditions (Halifax, Fernwood Publishing, 2002), 71.
 Mensah, Black Canadians, 101.
 Channon Oyeniran, “Black History in Canada: 1960 to Present,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, July 20, 2021, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/black-history-in-canada-1960-to-present.
 Jerome Teelucksingh, “Scarred and Exiled: Race and the Caribbean Immigrant in Toronto 1970–2004,” in Ethnic Landscapes in an Urban World, Research in Urban Sociology 8 (Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2006), 137.
 Frances Henry, The Caribbean Diaspora in Toronto: Learning to Live with Racism (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999), 49.
 Henry, The Caribbean Diaspora in Toronto, 232.
 Heather Greendwood Davis, “Where to find a ‘Little Jamaica’ in Canada,” National Geographic, April 13, 2022, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/article/where-to-find-a-little-jamaica-in-canada.
 Debbie Gordon, “The Erasure of Little Jamaica: Exploring the Role of Design in the Gentrification of Toronto’s Eglinton Avenue West” (MA thesis, York University, 2018), 19, https://yorkspace.library.yorku.ca/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10315/35802/Gordon_Debbie_M_2018_Masters.pdf.
 City of Toronto, “City of Toronto moves forward with creation of Cultural Districts Program.”