The Eglinton West corridor/Little Jamaica is a community of great cultural heritage significance. The City is undertaking a study of the area, intended to support and celebrate this cultural corridor.
The Eglinton West corridor is a commercial main street that has been of great cultural heritage significance to the City of Toronto as a distinct ethnic and cultural hub for Caribbean and African immigrants for many decades. Commonly known as both “Little Jamaica” and “Eglinton”, the area is recognized for the clusters of Black-owned businesses of cultural relevance including barber shops, restaurants specializing in Caribbean cuisine, Black aesthetics and hair shops, recording studios, and music stores. The corridor plays an important role as a commercial and cultural destination for both local residents and visitors from other parts of the city and the surrounding GTA.
Community leaders and activists have called upon the City to formally recognize this area for its cultural heritage significance and take action in response to a number of challenges along this corridor including significant closures of Black-owned businesses over the past few years, the impacts to businesses from construction of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, and rising commercial and residential rents. The City is committed to working with the community to connect the area’s past to the future through a process that builds on the neighbourhood’s assets and strength. City initiatives will actively resist the processes of gentrification, Black displacement and cultural erasure.
City Council adopted two separate motions at their meeting on September 30, 2020 that direct staff to develop economic measures to help existing businesses experiencing challenges and to develop a Cultural District Plan, using an equity lens that recognizes the cultural heritage of the area.
The City will:
An interdivisional and multi-disciplinary team of staff from 12 City divisions has been formed to advance the work detailed in the Council motions. All of the City’s available tools are being considered as part of this work, including resources in Economic Development and Culture, City Planning, Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit, Transportation Services, Housing Secretariat, and Parks, Forestry and Recreation, to protect the cultural heritage of the area. The study’s overall design and work plans will be developed through input and collaboration with the community.
Economic Development & Culture and City Planning are working in partnership to lead the Eglinton West / Little Jamaica Study to:
We encourage you to get involved in this process and to check back as the study progresses.
This study is being advanced by the City of Toronto as a legacy project of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent, which has its theme: Recognition, Justice and Development. The City proclaimed its official recognition of the International Decade on March 25, 2019.
The study area is roughly between the Allen Expressway and Keele Street along Eglinton Avenue West.
City staff will conduct an engagement session to obtain community input on other areas that should be considered for inclusion into the boundary, such as:
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Two separate motions were brought forward at the September 30, 2020 City Council meeting:
The motion also directs General Manager, Economic Development and Culture, the Chief Planner and Executive Director, City Planning and the Executive Director, Social Development, Finance and Administration, along with Anti-Black Racism Unit (CABR) to report to Council on the immediate actions required to establish the Eglinton West area as a Little Jamaica Heritage and Innovation Heritage Hub that recognizes and promotes the local Black History and culture of the area.
Council adopted a third motion related to Little Jamaica on April 7, 2021 (Item No. MM31.11) that directs staff to prioritize a survey of the cultural heritage resources of Little Jamaica in consultation with the community, and to report back to Council on the comprehensive heritage survey’s outcome. This work may result in recommendations for individual properties, groups of properties, or landscapes to be protected under the Ontario Heritage Act and/or other land use planning mechanisms.
City staff anticipate the Final Consultant’s Report on a Little Jamaica Cultural District Plan will be available for review online by – September 2023.
An interdivisional team comprised of 12 City divisions will be advancing the work detailed in the Council motions. The study’s overall design and work plans are currently being developed through input and collaboration with the community. We encourage you to get involved in this process and to check back as the study progresses.
City staff have been directed by City Council to develop a Cultural District Plan for Little Jamaica. A cultural district can strengthen a sense of place, local economy and cultural capacity, and work to combat displacement and racial and social inequities.
Toronto does not yet have an official cultural district program for the purposes of protecting or enhancing a local area’s cultural, heritage and community-business assets. Cultural districts do exist informally in Toronto as the name of a Business Improvement Area, such as the Financial District and Riverside District, or for place-based branding purposes, such as the Historic Distillery District or Health Sciences District.
Cultural district programs are well established in the United States. In 2020, the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies reported that collectively, 16 statewide programs have established more than 343 unique cultural districts across the United States.
In 2020, Mississauga City Council approved the City of Mississauga’s Cultural Districts Implementation Plan, which introduces six distinctly themed districts in Mississauga.
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, and cultural and heritage spaces within delineated areas that are meaningful community hubs. They may also benefit Indigenous place-making initiatives.
Cultural districts in Toronto are potentially a unique policy tool that may be used alongside other programs such as Heritage Conservation Districts or Business Improvement Areas. As one of the first tasks of this project, staff have been gathering more information to analyze how cultural districts exist in other cities around the world. That information and analysis will inform consultation with communities to define and develop a cultural district for this project and for Toronto more broadly.
The Little Jamaica Cultural District Plan is a community-informed, equitable and place-based planning process that will examine the people, places, and practices that foster local culture. The Plan will include a collective community vision and framework for the future Cultural District.
The Plan will include conventional components and themes including but not limited to: Built form and Land Use; Housing; Mobility; Parks; Public Realm and Public Art; Retail and Commercial areas; and Cultural and Community Space.
City Planning staff have been directed by Council to conduct a planning framework study that will reflect the new Little Jamaica Cultural District plan and analyze the following: land use, built form and massing; public realm and open spaces; and commercial and residential areas and uses. Staff have also been requested to develop a Public Art Strategy and Plan, as well as a Laneway improvement and Animation Strategy and Plan.
A Planning Framework contains the vision, strategic priorities, principles and general opportunities and challenges of a study area. The analysis done for a Planning Framework study includes looking at the existing policy regime and conditions, engaging the community on their ideas and opportunities, and determining final recommendations to implement the desired changes. The Planning Framework incorporates other inputs and analysis done by other divisional partners including Heritage Planning, Economic Development and Culture, Parks, Forestry and Recreation, and Transportation Services.
The Planning Framework will provide the basis for new or revised Official Plan and Zoning By-law policies required to implement the Little Jamaica Cultural District Plan.
Council has also directed staff to prioritize a survey of Little Jamaica’s cultural heritage resources in consultation with the community, and to report back to Council on the outcomes of this survey.
City Planning regularly conducts heritage surveys through Cultural Heritage Resource Assessments. The Eglinton West/Little Jamaica Cultural Heritage Resource Assessment will begin by developing foundational knowledge of the area’s history, building on previous work by community members and researchers. The goal of this first phase of work is to understand how the area has evolved over time, and how past and present communities have shaped it. As a next step, the Cultural Heritage Resource Assessment will engage with local communities to identify potential heritage resources, which might include buildings or landscapes that hold historical or cultural importance.
Ultimately, the Cultural Heritage Resource Assessment will bring awareness to Little Jamaica’s history and inform future planning policies in the area. It will also identify properties to be protected under the Ontario Heritage Act and/or other land use planning mechanisms. The Ontario Heritage Act is the provincial legislation that provides municipalities with a framework for identifying and conserving heritage resources. While it cannot control a property’s use, the protection of property under the Ontario Heritage Act may recognize and protect the physical elements of buildings and landscapes that contribute to an understanding of the cultural heritage value of a place or area.
With the rapidly changing retail landscape and COVID-19, compounded with LRT construction faced by Little Jamaica businesses, the City will conduct a Retail Strategy to complement the three key studies (Cultural District Plan, Planning Framework, and Cultural Heritage Resource Assessment).
This strategy will be anchored in local issues as well as broader retail trends.
On July 13, 2021 the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario announced it will provide $19 million to the City of Toronto for much-needed relief and support for small retail-based businesses and their workers in neighbourhoods and business districts across Toronto that have been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
This funding will support Toronto’s Main Street Recovery and Rebuild program which includes a City partnership with the Black Business and Professional Association (BBPA) to deliver supports to businesses in Little Jamaica. The BBPA has established relationships with the three Little Jamaica Business Improvement Areas – Eglinton Hill, Fairbank Village and York-Eglinton, as well as other local organizations.
This partnership will support area branding and marketing, bringing businesses online to benefit from e-commerce solutions, support for re-opening, offering one-on-one business development assistance with financial literacy, tax filing, business plan writing, borrowing, property purchase and social media presence, and building connections with professional services such as accountants and legal support.
The study/project is in the initiation phase. This includes conducting background research, assembling relevant resources, scoping the key project deliverables and identifying opportunities to support immediate actions that support Black businesses and culture in the community. Public engagement will commence in late fall and a schedule will be posted in advance.
The Toronto Action Plan to Confront Anti-Black racism is a five-year plan, 2018-2022, to address five issue areas: children and youth development; health and community services; job and income supports; policing and the justice system; and community engagement and Black leadership. Little Jamaica is one of the largest concentrations of Black-owned businesses in the city and is an important hub of Black business and culture over the last 50 years. Increasing support for Black-owned businesses in the area will advance the economic opportunities of people of African, Black and Caribbean descent, celebrate the city’s Black history and culture, and help Black communities grow in place.
The City is conducting ongoing consultation and engagement with local stakeholders and Business Improvement Areas (BIAs). The City will also be forming a sub-committee of the Confronting Anti-Black Racism Partnership and Accountability Circle to inform discussions about Little Jamaica and relevant community engagement. Public engagement will commence in late fall and a schedule will be posted in advance.
As directed by Council motions, heritage will be a key component of all aspects of the Little Jamaica and Eglinton West Neighbourhoods work program, including work on a Cultural District Plan and a Planning Framework. A first step in conserving Little Jamaica’s heritage will be the Eglinton West/Little Jamaica Cultural Heritage and Resource Assessment (CHRA). The CHRA will begin by developing foundational knowledge of the area’s history, building on previous work by community members and researchers. The goal of this first phase of work is to understand how the area has evolved over time, and how past and present communities have shaped it. As a next step, the Cultural Heritage Resource Assessment will engage with local communities to identify potential heritage resources, which might include buildings or landscapes that hold historical or cultural importance.
At its meeting on September 30, 2020, City Council directed the direct the General Manager, Economic Development and Culture to collaborate with an interdivisional team to develop a Cultural District Plan, using an equity lens, and anti-Black racism lens to inform development for the neighbourhood.
The City is pursuing multiple strategies to address the housing challenges for current residents who live in the immediate area around Little Jamaica and has already developed and expanded eviction prevention programs, as part of the City’s human rights-centered approach to housing, as described in the HousingTO 2020-2030 Action Plan. As part of this tenant-centered approach, the City has established a Tenant Advisory Committee to protect renters in communities such as Little Jamaica experiencing significant neighbourhood change. The work on the Cultural District Plan will look at how we can support renters, protect existing rental stock, prevent Black displacement, and create new and innovative forms of affordable housing.
Please check back for future public consultation events!
The City hosted Open houses, Virtual meetings and Deep Listening Circles with over 300 people in attendance to these events. City staff and the team from our Consultant, Jay Pitter Placemaking, was there to speak to the public during these Open Houses and Virtual Meetings sessions. City staff had meaningful conversations and received a significant amount of feedback.
A summary and materials from the Community feedback are posted in the Information and Reports.
Reports from Economic Development and Culture and City Planning detailing the city-wide cultural district program and the Little Jamaica cultural district plan, are intended go to City Council in the first quarter of 2023.
In May 2022, the City initiated a Deep Listening Circles Series as part of a process in which community members are integrated into the community engagement team, while Land-Use Professionals, Policy Professionals and Municipal leaders participate as “Listeners.”
The topics included Community and Systemic Safety, Being a Good New Neighbour, Affordable and Dignified Housing, Indigenous Peoples and Places, Open Topics, Cross-Racial Respect and Understanding, Black Food Accessibility and Sovereignty, Cultural Arts & Creative Expression, Missing Services & Amenities, Aging in Place, Shared Local Prosperity and Community Cultural Mapping. The series also concluded with a special Participatory Workshop with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
On March 4, 2021, the first meeting for the initiative included a diversity of speakers and voices from members of Toronto City Council, Community Leaders and City Staff. Speakers included Mayor John Tory, Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson and Chair of the Economic and Community Development Committee, Deputy Mayor Ana Bailão, Councillor Josh Matlow and Councillor Mike Colle.
The event also included Community Leaders: Jay Douglas, Jamaican-born Reggae, soul and R&B singer, Ross Cadastre, Vice President of the Black Business and Professional Association BBPA and thelittlejamaica.com, Dane Williams, co-founder and Director of Partnerships Black Urbanism TO, Romain Baker, co-founder and Board Chair of Black Urbanism TO and Cheryll Case, Founder and Principal of CP Planning and author of Black Futures on Eglinton.
City Staff members included Cheryl Blackman, Acting General Manager of Economic Development and Culture, Anthony Morgan, Manager, Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit, and Gregg Lintern, Chief Planner and Executive Director of City Planning.
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