Toronto placemaker combats erasure of Little Jamaica through mapping

Years of construction and economic hardships on the Eglinton LRT may have all but disappeared, but plans are underway to re-locate Little Jamaica on Toronto’s map by mapping its history. is in

In the spring of 2021, the city announced plans to make Little Jamaica an official cultural district and hired Jay Pitter Placemaking to lead the process.

“The city asked me to answer the question, ‘Why are we designating Little Jamaica as a cultural district?'” said Jay Pitter, a placemaker and adjunct professor of urban planning. “To answer that question, we had to map the region’s black cultural heritage.”

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In general, a cultural district should have a legacy that spans at least half a century, Pitter said.

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“So my team worked very closely with members of the community to see if Little Jamaica would pass that test,” Pitter said.

Hooray. And then some.

Click to play video: 'Toronto building plans to officially recognize Little Jamaica as a cultural district'

Toronto building plans to officially recognize Little Jamaica as a cultural district

Working with community historian Cathy Grant, examining old community newspapers, interviewing long-time residents on site, and archival mapping and research, we found that the district has been around for nearly twice as long as it should have been. It turns out that it goes back to

“We’ve only been in Little Jamaica for half a century,” Pitter said. “Little he has been a black presence in Jamaica for almost a century.”

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Little Jamaica has been home to a black presence in retail, advocacy, community care and youth programs for nearly 100 years, says Pitter.

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“So we were able to map all these aspects of history,” says Pitter.

It was a huge success, Pitter says, but it wasn’t easy. Unlike other histories, black history is usually not documented, at least not in the traditional, official way.

“Our history tends to be erased or denied because the history represented on the map tends to focus on colonists, war winners and property owners,” Pitter said. .

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For Pitter, mapping Toronto’s Black Caribbean history was crucial to empowering the community.

“The highlight of this project is watching members of the black community get up close to the black cultural heritage map, see all the pinpoints on the map, get very excited, sometimes very sentimental, and suffocate. That was it,” said Pitter.

“We validated that they were important. They were here and they were confirmed that is They will be here as the community evolves,” Pitter said.

As for what happens next, Pitter says mapping will be used to inform the design and policies of Little Jamaica’s cultural districts, including road design and the provision of parks and community spaces.

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“We are now nearing the final stages of developing this plan and are so excited to represent the Black cultural heritage along with all the rich cultural heritage that has come to define this region.

Click to play video: 'Film document changed to Little Jamaica'

Film document changes to Little Jamaica

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