'Little Ethiopia' gaining ground on Danforth

Signs of local BIA coming around to support the idea

The drive to have a strip of Danforth Avenue between Greenwood and Monarch Park avenues called Little Ethiopia may be gaining traction.

“I am excited about the opportunities presented to the Danforth Mosaic and wish all the merchants involved in developing Little Ethiopia great luck,” says the Danforth Mosaic BIA’s chair, Litsa Kostouros, in a statement emailed to the Town Crier.

In 2009, a group of Ethiopians approached the BIA board with the idea, but community organizer Girma Ayal said then the board refused to consider the idea.

However, after a new board of directors was elected, the BIA’s tune may have changed.

But the idea still faces a number of hurdles.

Ward 29 Councillor Mary Fragedakis says existing bylaws prevent the renaming of a piece of a BIA and exchanging the Mosaic moniker for Little Ethiopia wouldn’t reflect the reality of how the community sees itself, even though the strip is home to some 22 Ethiopian businesses.

“This part of the city already has an identity — it’s the Mosaic,” she says. “It epitomizes exactly what this city is about.”

Getachew says he simply wants to have a street sign added, not to separate from the existing BIA.

“We’re not trying to destroy the BIA,” he says. “We’ve worked hard to ensure the BIA becomes successful.”

Both Getachew and Ayal say the name would have a symbolic meaning to new Ethiopian Canadians, providing a connection to their second home, one to which he says they have dedicated themselves.

“We’re passionate with the Canadian story and we want to live in Canada until the day we die,” Getachew says.

However, Fragedakis says a name shouldn’t be needed.

“I can’t imagine that they don’t feel like they belong here in this city. We’re a welcoming city.”

There are about 9,200 Ethiopians in Toronto, about 0.18 percent of the total population. In the proposed Little Ethiopia area, that number creeps up to 1.2 percent. The highest population in the city is in St. Jamestown, which is 4.6 percent Ethiopian.

Getachew acknowledges the Little Ethiopia idea isn’t yet supported by a majority of the business owners, but says that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it.

“Good ideas have always come and gone but some of the best ideas weren’t supported at the beginning,” he says. “Whether the idea is successful or not, we want the experience.”

He wants to host an event for community consultation and is encouraging people to come forward to him with their thoughts.

“I’m willing to listen to them,” he says. “If they were to convince me the idea is wrong, I will just end my involvement, but they haven’t done that.”

While final approval for a name change would come from both community and city councils, Fragedakis emphasizes it’s up to those affected to make the call.

“If there’s a will in the community to do something, it’s not for the politicians to stand in the way of community,” she says. “But if this is not something that they want, then it’s not for us to force it on them.

“(The Ethiopian business owners) would like to be recognized, but these kinds of things grow organically,” says Fragedakis. “For me, anyways, it’s not a street sign that creates a community.”

About this article:

By: Caitlin Orr
Posted: Aug 22 2011 1:11 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto