By TOM GODFREY
A campaign is underway for developers and the City of Toronto to install a historic plaque in honour of Contrast newspaper, where many of this city’s top Black journalists learned their craft.
The trailblazing weekly newspaper that claimed to be the “Eyes, ears and voice of Canada’s Black community” was founded by Al Hamilton in February, 1969. He operated the publication until 1983 and had managed to attract some of the sharpest writers, editors and photographers from the community.
The newspaper was purchased by businessman, Denham Jolly, in 1983 who sold it to the late Horace Gooden in 1985. It folded in 1986.
Activist Itah Sadu of a Different Booklist Cultural Centre said an event is planned for the community to remember Contrast and called for a cultural heritage site plaque to be installed.
She said the event will take place on Saturday, October 1 from 5 to 7 pm at the site of the Contrast founding office at 28 Lennox St., in the Bathurst and Bloor St. W. area.
Sadu warned that the former Contrast building will soon disappear as a new mega-construction project is planned to transform the former Mirvish Village and surrounding areas.
“A committee is working with Westbank (the developer) and the City of Toronto, to ensure that this cultural history is reflected and interpreted in the new vision,” she told Share.
Sadu admitted a plaque has to be installed to mark the existence of one of the early Black newspapers that served the community proudly for 17 years.
“There is a willingness to entertain that legacy,” she said. “What it looks like will be defined. They are receptive to a legacy that makes up the village and that includes us.”
Sadu said the newspaper, which fought for the rights of Black people, attracted some talented journalists, many who went on to work with major daily publications or television.
“We are reaching out to folks who worked with Contrast over its existence,” she said. “We are reminded of the many careers that began at Contrast.”
The evening will be a celebration of founder Hamilton and the Contrast family, which also included Lionel Gayle, Harold Hoyte of the Barbados Nation, the late author, Austin Clarke; Royson James of the Toronto Star, Arnold Auguste, founder and publisher of Share; Tom Godfrey, JoJo Chintoh, Hamlin Grange, author, Cecil Foster; Norman “Otis” Richmond; photographer, Al Peabody and Olivia “Babsy” Grange, a long-time Jamaican parliamentarian, to name a few.
Sadu said the area surrounding Contrast on Bathurst Street was bustling and at the time attracted a contingent of Black businesses.
“People came to Bathurst Street just to start their businesses,” she said. “It was a busy area with a lot of commercial activity taking place.”
Long-time community activist, Kingsley Gilliam, said Contrast held the community together in the early days.
“Contrast was a fundamental organization for the Black community in Canada,” he said. “Back then, there was no social media, Internet or Twitter.”
James, in a 2012 column in the Star, said Contrast came at a time when Black folks were dismissed as a bloody nuisance and troublemakers not worthy of Canadian citizenship.
“Contrast was a bulwark, a shelter against a storm of media criticism and unfair caricature and representation,” he wrote. “Contrast called for a boycott of South Africa, refused advertising from firms that did business with the racist regime, urged artists to not perform there.”
He reminded us that before the Jamaican Canadian Association and other community agencies found root, Contrast was a community centre, information hotline, ombudsman, integrity commissioner and human rights provocateur.
James recalled Hamilton spent almost as much time battling social and political causes as he did running the business of the paper. His upstairs office was a war room to strategize advocacy on issues, he wrote.
“It was there that Bromley Armstrong, Wilson Head, Al Mercury and others met before they travelled to the Star, Globe and Sun, imploring the publications to hire reporters of colour,” James wrote.
A scholarship in Hamilton’s memory at Centennial College is awarded annually to a second-year student of colour who “demonstrates a willingness and ability to affect social change”.