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Black-Centered Communities to Visit in Canada

Sep 15, 2022 10:00AM ● By Anand Subramanian

Walking around Canadian towns, we are reminded of the enormous impact individuals of African origin have had - and continue to have - on the country's cultural fabric. Their significant impact may be seen and felt in Canadian towns, cities, and trails. Black communities in Canada have existed for nearly 300 years. They have given birth to many famous Canadians, including singers, inventors, athletes, politicians, and others. In this blog, we will list the Black communities in Canada to visit to comprehend their impact on the nation.

Little Burgundy — Montreal, Quebec


Little Burgundy is a neighborhood in Montreal, Quebec's southwest borough. It was formerly the residence of the city's Black English-speaking working-class population. Little Burgundy in Montreal, formerly known as "Harlem of the North," is a popular destination for Afro-descendants from the United States, the West Indies, and other parts of Canada. The creation of an English-speaking, working-class Black population in Little Burgundy is inextricably related to the history of Canadian railroads, notably the Montréal and Lachine Railroad, which subsequently evolved into the Grand Trunk Railroad and, finally, the Canadian National Railway. While the railway sector provided immense riches for individuals, most successes depended on low-wage Black labor. That history gave rise to a distinct Black community, a solid Canadian jazz culture, and thriving Black institutions that have survived. Popular culture is loaded with lingering memories of Montreal's golden period of jazz and its relationship to a historic and active Black population, thanks to Little Burgundy's musical titans, Oscar Peterson, Oliver Jones, Daisy Sweeney and many more.

Africville, Halifax, Nova Scotia


Africville was a primarily Black hamlet on the outskirts of Halifax, on the south bank of the Bedford Basin. Historically, the earliest records of a Black presence in Africville date back to 1848, lasting another 150 years. Black people resided in Nova Scotia before the city of Halifax was founded in 1749. However, it wasn't until the late 1800s, after the American Revolution, that substantial numbers of Black people came to the province. Many were formerly enslaved people who had been promised freedom and land in Nova Scotia, but when they arrived, they were met with White settlers who saw them as inferior. As a result of this bigotry, Black were driven to the outskirts of society and forced to dwell in the most desolate area. Regardless, they persisted in building strong, thriving communities. Africville was one such location.

The Seaview African United Baptist Church, which opened its doors in 1849, and schools in 1883, owned fishing enterprises, farms, and numerous small shops and began to grow in Africville by the end of the nineteenth century. However, things started deteriorating in 1947, when the City of Halifax renewed and approved plans to convert Africville into an industrial zone. When Nova Scotia de-segregated its education system in 1953, the Africville school was closed. In 1956 and 1957, municipal council reports advised relocating inhabitants to make space for industrial developments. The first parcel of land was taken over in 1964, and dwellings were entirely demolished over the following five years. Many residents were not notified, and their houses were destroyed without their consent. The Seaview United Baptist Church was burned in the middle of the night in the spring of 1967. The final home was razed in 1969, and the last 400 people of Africville relocated. In 2010, Halifax's mayor apologized for the loss of the once-thriving Africville hamlet, and in 2012, a copy of the Seaview church was erected as a museum. Africville Park was named after the locality.

Hogan's Alley

Hogan's Alley, now known as Strathcona, was formerly a vibrant cultural center for mostly Black and  people of color living on the unceded lands of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. Hogan's Alley was founded in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when the first Black immigrants came to the West Coast, settling first in Salt Spring and Vancouver Island. People of Italian, Chinese, Asian, Black, Indigenous and other minority groups gradually built a community in Strathcona's east side area. This working-class neighborhood drew Black homesteaders, formerly enslaved people, railroad porters, and traveling performers from Turtle Island. Hogan's Alley was known as the "first and last district in Vancouver with a significant concentrated Black population," It had a thriving nightlife, with cafés and nightclubs that catered to locals, railway workers, and visiting artists equally. Hogan's Alley once housed over 800 Black community members and included the African Methodist Episcopal Chapel, a residence for the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and the legendary Vie's Chicken and Steak House, where Jimi Hendrix's grandmother Nora, a vaudevillian performer and choir singer, worked as a cook. 

The City of Vancouver revealed intentions to demolish the Georgia Viaducts as part of a reconciliation process in 2015. The concept proposes the construction of a 27,000-square-foot Cultural Center in Hogan's Alley. The Cultural Center and its programs will concentrate on Black Canadian history and community participation, with the surrounding area being utilized for local, culturally-specific enterprises. The city also plans to expand pathways in the region to make it more pedestrian-friendly. Barbara Howard, Nora and Jimi Hendrix, Leonard Gibson, Thelma Gibson-Towns, Chic and Sy Gibson, Ernie King, and many more are notable residents.

Little Jamaica 


The Eglinton West neighborhood of Toronto is also known as "Little Jamaica," It dates back to 1958, when a significant number of Caribbean immigrants, most of whom were Jamaicans, arrived there. As the number of Jamaicans traveling to Toronto swelled to about 100,000 in the 1970s and 1980s, many moved to the Eglinton West neighborhood, making Little Jamaica one of the world's most significant expatriate Jamaican communities. Jamaicans brought their culture, notably reggae music, with them. Little Jamaica is the second biggest reggae music hotspot in Jamaica, behind Kingston, where they established record stores, labels, studios, nightclubs, barber shops, beauty salons, restaurants, supermarkets, and tailor shops. Monica's Beauty Salon and Cosmetic Supplies, Randy's Take Out, where they also sell their famed Jamaican patties, Rap's Jamaican Restaurant, and Spences Bakery are all well-known businesses in the region. 

The neighborhood has been a bustling cultural center and a commercial and residential zone. During the summer, you may get fresh coconut water, mangos, Jerk Chicken, and other favorite Caribbean foods and drinks from sidewalk vendors. In April 2021, Toronto City Council approved overwhelmingly designating Little Jamaica as a "heritage conservation area proposal." This enables the city's planning department to conduct research and surveys to conserve the land under the Ontario Heritage Act. This would safeguard against future growth in the neighborhood, hastening gentrification and displacement of current businesses and inhabitants who give the area its charm.

Dresden. Ontario


Located on the Sydenham River in southern Ontario, Dresden is mostly an agricultural hamlet. One of the Underground Railroad's last stops was the Dawn Settlement, located not far from Dresden. It was common knowledge by the middle of the 20th century that certain Dresden establishments actively discriminated against Black Canadians. A former American slave named Reverend Josiah Henson arrived in the Dresden area in 1841. To protect African-Americans who were trying to escape slavery in the United States, he helped build a community called Dawn Settlement. Henson also contributed to the establishment of the British American Institute, a technical institute for residents of the Dawn Settlement. The Dresden region served as the last stop on the Underground Railroad for many African-Americans. The book Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe was based on his experiences. Several civil rights activists garnered public prominence in the middle of the 20th century for their efforts to end racial segregation in Dresden. 

Hugh Burnett and other members of Dresden's Black population banded together under the National Unity Association to combat this prejudice (NUA). The NUA successfully lobbied for a townwide prohibition on racial discrimination in the workplace. In response, a referendum was convened in 1949. Customers were polled on whether or not they thought it should be unlawful for businesses to discriminate against customers based on their race, color, or religion. The anti-discrimination bylaw was defeated by a ratio of five to one. Even when segregation was illegal, the NUA and Burnett did not stop fighting against it. As a result of their efforts, Ontario Premier Leslie Frost's government passed the Fair Employment Practices Act (1951) to prevent discrimination in the workplace and the Fair Accommodation Practices Act (1954) from preventing people from being denied access to public services and housing on the basis of race, religion, or ethnicity. A plaque remembering Hugh Burnett and the National Unity Association's advocacy was installed in 2010 by the Ontario Heritage Trust.

 Anand Subramanian is a freelance photographer and content writer based out of Tamil Nadu, India. Having a background in Engineering always made him curious about life on the other side of the spectrum. He leapt forward towards the Photography life and never looked back. Specializing in Documentary and  Portrait photography gave him an up-close and personal view into the complexities of human beings and those experiences helped him branch out from visual to words. Today he is mentoring passionate photographers and writing about the different dimensions of the art world.

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