As part of their 10th anniversary celebrations, the owners of a Toronto bookstore that promotes literature from across the Africa Diaspora (and some of their friends) have established a publishing company and plans to honour the legacy of late Third World Books & Crafts founders, Leonard and Gwendolyn Johnston.
Miguel San Vicente and Itah Sadu, who own A Different Booklist, launched their first book – Mathieu Da Costa: First to Arrive — under the new publishing banner recently.
Da Costa was the first Black man to set foot in Canada. The navigator accompanied Samuel de Champlain on his historic voyage in 1603 and played a pivotal role in the success of the trip by acting an as an interpreter.
“We are very excited about Mathieu Da Costa because he speaks to a need in Canadian literature for materials on the African-Canadian experience,” said Sadu. “For a long time, people have acknowledged his presence here in Canada, but there are still many other things that have not been said about him and so many other Blacks who have contributed to our great history.”
Sadu, a popular raconteur, visits schools in the Greater Toronto Area to share stories about the Black Canadian and Caribbean experience.
“Mathieu Da Costa is a story that I have been telling to students and I have watched how they have responded to it,” she said. “I took the position to put it into poetic and calypso verse so that young kids could sing it, teenagers could feel cool about it and adults too could tap and sing along and also celebrate history.
“It was a fabulous experience putting the book together, to see it in its development and also to, along the way, be encouraged by educators and people who wanted to get their hands on the book before it was published.”
Roy Condy and Ossie Gurley produced the illustrations and music respectively while Quebec Liberal Member of Parliament, Marlene Jennings – the first Black woman from Quebec to be elected to Canada’s parliament – wrote the foreword. The MP for the Montreal riding of Notre Dame de Grace-Lachine introduced a private members bill last year that would proclaim the first Monday of February as Mathieu Da Costa Day.
In 1996, the Department of Canadian Heritage launched the Mathieu Da Costa Challenge which is an annual creative writing and artwork contest that encourages young people across the country to discover how diversity has shaped Canada’s history and the important role that pluralism plays in this society.
“I hope that the new book will be a resource that will engage students into the discussion around Mathieu Da Costa and they too would even be inspired to write their own stories,” said Sadu.
The book costs $24.95 plus tax and is available in Canada’s leading bookstores.
A Different Booklist has also erected a bench in memory of the Johnstons outside Bathurst St. subway station. The official launch takes place on November 13, starting at noon.
“We decided to do it in the daytime so that children can come,” said Sadu. “The reason we chose a bench is because we want it to be something that’s functional and something that would become part of people’s conversation. We think it’s critical to acknowledge the people who came before us and recognize their important work.
“Our bookstore is an extension of what the Johnstons started. When people talk to us, they would say we are so happy you are here because we used to go to Third World. There is hardly a separation, even in people’s minds. You are connected and that makes you more conscious of the history.”
The Johnstons opened Third World Books & Crafts in 1968 on Walton St. It later moved to Bay St. and then Bathurst St. Leonard, who saved $16 a month from his earnings at Canadian Pacific Railway to open the bookstore, died in April 1998 while his wife passed away last May.