Travel and Black: Where to find a ‘Little Jamaica’ in Canada

For generations of Caribbean immigrants, one Toronto neighborhood has provided a soft landing. Today, against all odds, it continues to flourish.

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The last time I visited Randy’s Takeout, there was no line to enter. For the tiny, family-run, counter-service shop, it was a minor miracle.

The restaurant was famous for its Jamaican patties, and, for more than 40 years, people from across Toronto had flocked to this corner of Eglinton Avenue West for one (or dozens) of the hot, freshly baked, golden pastry crescents stuffed with beef, curry chicken, or vegetables.

That weekday there was only one customer in front of us when my husband and I wandered into the shop. A sign on the wall read “Zero tolerance for disrespectful behavior.” Any descendant of West Indies parents, as I am, will understand: Jumping right into an order without a “good afternoon” won’t make you any friends.

The other cardinal rule: Know what you want. The Jamaican woman behind the counter had no patience for the indecisive. “Afternoon,” I said, when it was our turn at the counter. “How are you doing today?” And she smiled.

This kind of cultural connection is exactly why I love this neighborhood. For Jamaicans, Eglinton Avenue West has been, since the 1950s, more than just a collection of restaurants and stores connected by heritage. So-called Little Jamaica has held out the soft landing immigrants appreciated on arrival; it has become the place their children have returned to when our souls sought the comfort of community.

In 2021, Toronto City Council voted unanimously to designate Little Jamaica as a “heritage conservation district understudy.” The designation means the neighborhood can be preserved under the Ontario Heritage Act, which offers some protection from future development, gentrification, and the kind of business displacement that has happened in the past.

Unfortunately, the designation hasn’t come in time for some businesses. Soon after my last visit to Randy’s, it shut its doors for good.

Like the home they left behind

People of Caribbean descent make up more than 346,000 of Toronto’s population of just over 2.9 million, according to the 2016 census. Jamaicans comprise almost two-thirds of that. We are dispersed throughout the city, but there is no question that Eglinton Avenue West—where flags boasting Jamaica’s black, green, and gold colors hang in windows, and lilting accents enliven the street—is the heart of Toronto’s Jamaican Canadian community.

The area—bordered by Allan Road to the east and Keele Street to the west—has been a refuge for new Caribbean immigrants for decades.

(Why Black homeownership thrives in this special pocket of New York City.)

It’s one of the original Black communities in Canada, a haven for enslaved Blacks who fled America to the north. While Italians were (and remain) among the immigrant populations who call the area home, in the early 1960s there was an influx of Jamaicans as part of the West Indian Domestic Scheme

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