how does a small and vibrant neighbourhood hold its place in the history of a city like toronto? this may sound like the start of a formal discourse but it’s just me thinking about growing up in toronto and leaving… oakwood village
west of the city’s buzzing midtown and just north of st clair avenue west’s/rasta pasta streets (a maybe/not so fond moniker fashioned from the the better part of accepted streams of caribbean/mainly jamaican immigrants butting up against the already settled italians in the early 70’s) is a neighbourhood that has been housing and growing an ever changing demographic of black folks from africa, the caribbean, and nova scotia since the 1960’s. this being over a century after ‘toronto the good’ was founded and carved out from its prime lake ontario enclave by settlers of different shades and creeds, nationalities, variable and steadfast religious affiliations, and common dreams; including the likes of entrepreneurial black folks who plied the trading of household ice chiseled from the physical slabs of cold which they encountered in the winters of this newly adopted northern clime. between then and the mid 1900’s streets and businesses, politics and households, pride and prejudices determined what the different city neighbourhoods would look and feel like; where sidewalks and trees would proliferate, how fences and gardens would reflect where “we from”, which banks would set up shop, how many hair salons/barber shops or spas would dot the main streets, and whether the eateries would include seats for dining or just counters for take out & delivery.
as the rasta pasta streets between forest hill to the east and corso italia to the west spread north along vaughan road and oakwood avenue, clinching eglinton as the main marketplace (from marlee westward), oakwood village bubbled with aspirations of annexing a burgeoning mississauga valley sprinting toward cityhood, the brampton plains which seemed to have no map, the vastness of scarborough’s savannah, and all which lay east of there. since the 80’s into now much has affected identities within the oakwood village nabe, not the least of which is ongoing ‘regen’ (read re-gentrification) which both feeds and plagues much of the city, the steadily escalating cost of real estate in the surrounding regions of cedarvale, humewood, wychwood, etc., serious and petty street crimes and misdemeanours, younger generations moving out and not looking ‘back’, businesses (especially food shops) relocating to greener pastures in the suburbs, and a mostly blue collared settler class of new comers and long timers still struggling to gain a larger share of our social tax $$$ for more community and green spaces and turf that will attract the artists and entrepreneurs which invariably enliven and revitalize neighbourhoods like these.
but please don’t misconstrue, given that the rasta pasta days of oakwood village are not bygone/yet. now heavily speckled with the tagalog of families from the phillipines, brought over first through the ‘we need new nannies’ movement – given that the former proliferation of caribbean women doing care-taking work in the mansions of forest hill had been moving on to other more reliable and better paying work in the city’s other (often) service industries; and sandwiched between the heavily latin vibes of the st clair west corridor to the south and the north side of eglinton west, between an ever dwindling italian groove and a forest hill buttressed by zooming condo lines (west and east respectively); there are fewer and fewer houses and apartments boasting people with the hues of african heritage.
but i’m just musing out loud… wondering if my old ‘hood is ‘progressing’ like that strip of bathurst street which no longer coddles and barely welcomes transit patrons at bloor; instead waves bye bye to much of our undocumented stories?