See­ing the city through new eyes

Den­ham Jolly’s story of life as a black man in Toronto is re­veal­ing

Bayview Post - - News - JOHN SEWELL

Den­ham Jolly be­gins his book with a story: three or four years ago he was driv­ing up Par­lia­ment Street (he lives in Cab­bage­town) and was in­volved in a fen­der ben­der. He and the driver of the other car were ex­chang­ing in­surance in­for­ma­tion when a po­lice of­fi­cer in­ter­vened and said a tow truck should be called. Jolly said the dam­age was mi­nor enough that he could take the car to a re­pair shop.

The of­fi­cer re­peated his de­mand to call a tow truck, and again Jolly said it was not needed.

At which point the of­fi­cer said, “What do I have to do to make sure you do, put a gun to your head?”

Jolly, who is black, was aware of enough cases where Toronto po­lice of­fi­cers have shot peo­ple with black skin that he im­me­di­ately com­plied and called a tow truck.

Later, he filed a com­plaint about such threat­en­ing be­hav­iour, but the com­plaint got nowhere. Jolly did see the po­lice re­port that be­gan “The com­plainant, a 77year-old Ja­maican im­mi­grant.…” Jolly notes that if he had been white his ori­gin would have been ir­rel­e­vant, but as a Ja­maican, he was the “other,” even though he has been a cit­i­zen of Canada for more than 50 years. His au­to­bi­og­ra­phy is called

pub­lished this year by ECW Press, and a sec­ond mean­ing of the ti­tle refers to his busi­ness suc­cess. He came to Canada in the mid-1950s to study at the agri­cul­tural col­lege in Guelph, then stud­ied in Truro, N.S. Even­tu­ally, he em­i­grated to Canada and re­turned to Toronto. He started teach­ing high school at For­est Hill Col­le­giate, then he ran sev­eral room­ing houses and es­tab­lished a very strong busi­ness in re­tire­ment homes. With his fi­nan­cial suc­cess, Jolly helped get Con­trast, a news­pa­per serv­ing the black com­mu­nity, up onto a solid foot­ing. He also es­tab­lished Flow 93.5, Canada’s first black-owned ra­dio sta­tion.

Ac­tive in com­mu­nity af­fairs, he founded the Black Busi­ness Pro­fes­sional As­so­ci­a­tion, the Harry Jerome Awards and Schol­ar­ships, and he funded many other schol­ar­ships. He was a mem­ber of many or­ga­ni­za­tions, such as the YMCA and the Mayor’s Eco­nomic Com­pet­i­tive­ness Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee, as well as Carib­ana.

I was sur­prised to learn of the chal­lenges Jolly faced be­cause of his colour. He had dif­fi­culty rent­ing an apart­ment in the early ’60s. He found the only way he could buy a house for his fam­ily was by us­ing a white trustee to sign the agree­ment of pur­chase and sale.

Some banks balked at loan­ing money for his busi­ness op­er­a­tions.

In 1990 he ap­plied for a ra­dio li­cence from the CRTC, hop­ing to es­tab­lish a sta­tion that would serve the black com­mu­nity that had no Toronto source at that point. He noted the CRTC was not ready for him, and the first ques­tion he was asked at the hear­ing was, “What is black mu­sic?” The com­mis­sion re­ferred to what Jolly’s team had to of­fer as “dance mu­sic.”

His ap­pli­ca­tion was re­jected. The CRTC de­cided what Toronto re­ally needed was a coun­try and west­ern sta­tion.

Toronto me­dia was in­cred­u­lous at the CRTC de­ci­sion, as was the chair of the com­mis­sion it­self, Keith Spicer.

He said, “The de­ci­sion ig­nores the mu­sic of prob­a­bly 200,000 black Toron­to­ni­ans.” It wasn’t un­til a decade later that Flow 93.5 made it to air, and while it was re­branded as a pop sta­tion last year, it was a great suc­cess.

Jolly was in­volved in many of the black com­mu­nity’s ac­tions try­ing to de­fend it­self from the Toronto po­lice: shoot­ing, card­ing, and the gen­eral dis­crim­i­na­tion prac­tised by the po­lice force. Sadly, as the Toronto Star re­ported in early July, the dis­crim­i­na­tion con­tin­ues. The re­port re­vealed, for ex­am­ple, that on a per capita ba­sis the po­lice charge three times as many blacks as whites with pos­ses­sion of mar­i­juana.

See­ing the city through the eyes of some­one of a dif­fer­ent colour and meet­ing those who joined Jolly in mak­ing Canada a bet­ter place is eye-open­ing. Post City Mag­a­zines’ colum­nist John Sewell is a for­mer mayor of Toronto and the au­thor of a num­ber of ur­ban plan­ning books, in­clud­ing The Shape of the Sub­urbs.

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