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Story preservation beyond old public archives:

Little Jamaica's cultural erasure is rapidly becoming a victim of gentrification
By: Dorcas Marfo, Master of Digital Media
February 20, 2021
Black man walking across the Eglinton construction site

Check out Dorcas's Instagram account - "20stryreads" !

The Reggae Lane mural (Portrait of Black woman surrounded by greenery and community) sits at Eglinton West and Oakwood Avenue

The Reggae Lane mural sits at Eglinton West and Oakwood Avenue (Samantha Yao/ The Varsity)

Most of us have heard the word "gentrification." According to Google, gentrification is "the process whereby the character of a poor urban area is changed by wealthier people moving in, improving housing, and attracting new businesses, typically displacing current inhabitants in the process."

According to victims of gentrification, it is the complete erasure of their community culture and identity. With their immigrant status and little-to-no resources, these residents work tirelessly to build a community they feel comfortable living in. Gentrification is sugarcoated with words like improvement and attraction to justify the intentions of urban redevelopment. This intention is to push out the underrepresented and make even more room for the represented. 

There are many layers of discrimination and division, but it boils down to the how. How can community members carry the cross of gentrification while struggling, in more than one way, to live within a challenging space? If the powers of gentrification win, how can the community's legacy still live on? How can community members share their stories as a learning tool for actors that are furthering redevelopment?

For my major research project, I'm looking at one of the neighbourhoods on Eglinton West Avenue called Little Jamaica. This pocket of Caribbean culture and community emerged during the 70s and 80s, when approx. 100,000 Jamaicans immigrated (external link)  and came to Canada. Many settled around Eglinton Avenue West and Oakwood Avenue.

Even outside this space, the Caribbean diaspora would find its way into Little Jamaica to get a sense and taste of home. Rich with history and built on relationships, Little Jamaica was filled with Black and immigrant-owned businesses. Now fast forward to 2021, some businesses have shut down (external link) . The remaining ones are losing customer traffic due to the Metrolinx Eglinton Crosstown LRT (external link) , a major transportation infrastructure project that commenced in the summer of 2011 and is expected to be completed in 2022. This project will connect East and West Toronto via transit stations and stops. Also, COVID-19 has put restrictions on small businesses as they resort to take-out and delivery methods.  

The goal of my project is to shed light on the historical and continuing significance of Little Jamaica. As a cultural hub of Caribbean food, finance, beauty, and retail, this strip is a central part of Eglinton West’s cultural identity. 

I plan to further my research and potentially create a prototype of an interactive mobile application (ready by August 2021) that preserves and makes accessible stories of Little Jamaica while promoting awareness and raising support for this pocket of Caribbean Canadian culture.  I hope this objective can be a means of advocacy for endangered businesses and lives displaced.  

With high information accessibility, this type of insight belongs in the digital landscape and not in old public archives. I want to facilitate a personalized experience for the community and City actors' outside this space. They should be aware of Little Jamaica’s cultural identity and potential. We shouldn't sugarcoat the possibility that Little Jamaica’s future is diminishing. However, there have been developments in the preservation of their cultural heritage. As of October 2, 2020, Toronto's city council passed the motion (external link)  to officially name the neighbourhood on Eglinton Avenue West as "Little Jamaica." However, there is more work to be done.  

As an African-Canadian woman whose parents immigrated from Ghana to Canada for better opportunities for my sisters and me, I've witnessed the challenges of finding a place of belonging. As a Black person navigating this world and professional industries, it's difficult to keep afloat without facing neglect, lack of support, and consideration. There's this feeling of walking on eggshells when others don't believe in your craft, and you have to prove yourself always.

As a Black journalist, it's my goal to highlight marginalized communities' stories. My motto is that “everyone deserves to be seen the way they want to be seen”. This motto is my umbrella statement, and through the projects I'm involved in and the people I've met, I hope this can come alive in more than one way!