The city is ready to help Little Jamaica, Mayor John Tory told a virtual meeting on March 4.
The Little Jamaica district on Eglinton Avenue West, west of Allen Road, has struggled for more than a decade, starting with the Eglinton Crosstown LRT construction. The public meeting, hosted by the city, is the start of a plan to give Little Jamaica the attention it deserves, the mayor said.
“If you go back over all the time the construction has gone on, and perhaps even before that, there were signs of trouble and they should have been picked up before now, ” Tory said in his opening statement.
Tory said he is committed to revive Little Jamaica.
“We’re starting to understand what the elements are that are going to be necessary to bring Little Jamaica back to its feet,” Tory said. “It says something not good, about us as a city, if we could just let this go and not bring it back. And it can be brought back.”
Also in attendance at the online meeting were residents and business owners of Little Jamaica, nonprofit founders, urban planners, and city council members, who all agreed it has taken too long to recognize the help Little Jamaica desperately needs.
“The city has not been able to live up to the expectations of Black Caribbean communities and communities of African descent within our city, but there is still an opportunity here,” said Anthony Morgan, manager of the city’s Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit.
The community frequently asked for support after struggling throughout Metrolinx’s LRT construction. Long-term businesses in the community permanently closed after COVID-19 restrictions were added to their woes.
Eglinton-Lawrence councillor Mike Colle said the community deserves compensation, including affordable housing and paying respect to those who came before.
“We’ve got to build on what they’ve been building and they have built a very vibrant community despite the construction that’s gone on for so long that’s made it even more challenging,” Colle said.
Deputy mayor Michael Thompson recalled the impact of his childhood visits on Eglinton Avenue West but also sees the importance of its future for generations to come, he said.
Thompson spoke on how the city plans to relieve the financial pressure on small businesses shedding some light on a long-awaited small business initiative that could help small businesses across the city.
‘The city is looking to establish a small business tax subclass that will provide relief to small properties in Little Jamaica and across the city,” he said. “We will develop this initiative with public input and of course in direct consultation with the businesses owners in the area.”
Reversing the trend
Toronto St-Paul’s councillor Josh Matlow, who has advocated for Little Jamaica since being elected in 2018, said he hopes the area will receive the same recognition as other neighbourhoods in the city.
“The Jamaican, Caribbean, Black communities have been a critical part in the success of Toronto, and while we have fostered and supported and celebrate many other neighbourhoods and their identities and cultures, Little Jamaica has not received the same type of support historically,” he said.
Reversing the trend of the displacement of Black communities is an accomplishment Matlow would like to see begin in Toronto.
In North America, Black communities have frequently been displaced by gentrification.
“We have an opportunity to reverse that trend,” Matlow said. ” We have an opportunity to do something here in Toronto that should be a model for jurisdictions around the world.”
The March 4 meeting is the beginning of a series of consultations conducted by the city of Toronto to improve and rejuvenate Little Jamaica. To get updates on their next meeting visit Toronto.ca/LittleJamaica.