By PAT WATSON
Before there was the Eglinton West Black business district running westward from Marlee Ave. toward Dufferin St., and before there was the Lawrence Ave. West-Weston Road business area or the Jane-Finch business district, there was the Bathurst and Bloor Black business district.
A few decades ago, Bathurst north of Bloor, most particularly the west side of Bathurst, used to be where people newly emigrated from the Caribbean would find themselves on a weekend, or any other day of the week for that matter. Bathurst subway station was the one known to just about every Caribbean immigrant to Toronto. As such, the Vaughan bus, which has for decades carried its share of Black residents living in proximity to and from what used to be our shopping district, used to terminate at Bathurst Station.
Long before Caribbean people began arriving here in larger numbers in the late 1960s and early 1970s, among Canadian-born Black families, the Jacksons – whose patriarch Albert Jackson was Toronto’s first letter carrier – owned a significant amount of real estate in the area. This was before the arrival of Jewish immigrants to the area.
Within the later era of Jewish immigrant settlement came Honest Ed’s. Over its 65-year history the well-known bargain store – a complex, really – has grown to be a landmark with its Las Vegas-style exterior billboard lighting. Along the way, the Mirvish family, whose patriarch Ed Mirvish founded Honest Ed’s, expanded their own real estate holdings in the area.
The number of Black businesses at Bathurst and Bloor have shrunk somewhat as succeeding waves of arriving Caribbean immigrants have spread out beyond the city’s downtown core, out to places like Ajax and Brampton. And as developers seem hell-bent on erasing as much of the city’s past as possible, the news has come recently that Honest Ed’s is now up for sale. All the ensuing talk about the value of the land at that intersection suggests that the gaudy edifice’s days are numbered. There is talk of building condominiums there and all sorts of other possibilities.
Gentrification and mega-billions does nothing so much to a neighbourhood as suck the humanity and character out of it. And, with the anticipated sale of this piece of real estate it is just a matter of time before Bathurst and Bloor goes the way of Yorkville of old.
For immigrants from the Caribbean and other arriving immigrants of a now fading era, Honest Ed’s still holds a great deal of nostalgia.
This is where those putting all their energies into establishing themselves in a new country would come to get the staples they could afford as they tried to make ends meet. Then, when things got a little better, it is where they would come to buy the things that would fill the barrels that were going to be shipped back home; evidence they had not forgotten those left behind, as well as a show that things were getting better – at least well enough to share in their good fortune in a new and prosperous country. So there is some regret at hearing of the beginning of the end.
One day, there will only remain a photographic history of the Bathurst and Bloor of the mid-20th Century. Still, there are a number of businesses carrying on the tradition in this part of Toronto, also called the Annex. South of Bloor, there is A Different Booklist, co-owned by Itah Sadu and Miguel San Vicente, and Caribbean Roti Palace. North of Bloor you can still get a haircut or get it styled at Lloyd’s or Golden Beauty Supply.
But gone now are places like Mascoll’s Beauty Supplies, Joyce’s Foods, Joe Chin’s Jamaican Chinese Restaurant and Wong’s Restaurant, Theo’s Record Shop, Third World Books and Crafts and Higher Marks Educational Institute which used to be housed in the former Canadian Negro Women’s Association building at Wells St.
Perhaps the shift away from Bathurst and Bloor are an indication of our integration into the Greater Metropolitan Area but, as in all change while something is being gained, something worth preserving is being lost.
A note on not being defeated…
The non-Black, six-woman jury in Florida that found 200 pound, armed vigilante George Zimmerman not guilty in the admitted shooting death of unarmed, 145-pound teen Trayvon Martin has left masses among African Americans and other Americans deflated but not defeated. That is because this case was never just about this one incident. In order to correct this legal injustice African Americans now have to ‘stand their ground’.