What Black History Month in Downsview means to me

Downsview is my home. This is why a few years ago I worked with other neighbours in the community to create The Downsview Advocate. As one of the places that helped to shape me, Downsview has a special place in my life. I have a history in this place. Black History Month reminds us that we have a shared history and that part of that shared story still shapes us today. We celebrate the history of our black predecessors in February and hope to learn a bit more about who we are in that process. Downsview’s black history is still alive!

We often forget some of the progress that were made in recent times. Until the 1950’s and 1960’s, you could not practice certain professions as a black person in Ontario, such as driving a taxi or being a nurse.

Much of the overt discrimination that used to occur has changed, even as we continue to struggle as a society with many other forms of discrimination. The road towards equity in our society has taken many turns and continues to this day. For most of the early black immigrants in Downsview, the everyday struggle to find a new life in a new country doubled up with the unique experience of being black in Canada.

Most of the residential buildings in Downsview were constructed in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and there are still many neighbours living in the area whose history in Downsview dates back to that time. I can remember my grandmother, Nana Lynn, who came to Canada in the 1960’s, telling me how difficult it was to find the basic food she grew up with (they used to give away oxtail for free sometimes if you could find it!). A simple trip to the supermarket could be an adventure as she and her generation struggled with the cultural shock they experienced, as well as the shock of their new neighbours! She tells me that once on the College streetcar, a little girl asked her why her skin was different, to her mother’s mortification. She explained that some people are different and that she was born that way. The child’s mother was relieved that my Nana was patient enough to explain that to her, but we can only imagine how many times that moment was relived.

Many of the black women from the Caribbean that came to Canada in the 1960’s as domestic workers struggled with barriers and lack of opportunities. Some of them settled well and were able to create homes for their families. Others struggled to find footing in their new country. In February, we remember their histories and struggles and hope to make the path towards a more equitable society in Canada easier for the next generation.

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