Black culture centre closer to permanent home
Plan for the new space shows recognition for community’s importance
A Different Booklist Cultural Centre and bookstore has been on Bathurst Street for decades, it’s just the street number that keeps changing: 746 to 777 and
d come 2022, it’s expected to find a permanent home.
City councillor Mike Layton, who represents Ward 11 (University-Rosedale), will be moving a motion Friday, for the city to begin long-term lease negotiations with A Different Booklist for a new Black cultural space coming to the block where Mirvish Village and Honest Ed’s once stood, the Star has learned.
The centre and bookstore, which is Black-owned and acts as a hub for Toronto’s Black community, spent 22 years at 746 Bathurst St., before the location was bought by Westbank Corp. along with Honest Ed’s and nearly all of the buildings that were on the southwest corner of Bathurst and Bloor streets.
A Different Booklist — with the help of its community supporters — moved across the street to a temporary space at 777 and 779 Bathurst St. in 2017.
The Westbank site is slated for condos with some affordable rental units, a market area of businesses with pedestrian walkways and a public park. When Westbank needed to purchase a laneway from the City of Toronto for the development project, Layton moved a motion to have the city take ownership of a portion of the new Mirvish Village to devote to a Black community cultural space, Layton told the Star.
“What was negotiated was essentially a land swap of the laneway for permanent space in the construction,” Layton said. If the motion is passed next Thursday, lease negotiations will begin, working out terms for A Different Booklist to become city tenants.
“As with many neighbourhoods, communities get gentrified, people move, businesses move with those people,” Layton said. “Only a couple of businesses have been able to … age with the community.”
And Itah Sadu, co-owner of A Different Booklist along with Miguel San Vicente, said they were always determined to stay.
“It is important for the Black community to see that its roots will grow deeper in this city,” and on Bathurst specifically, Sadu said.
The area at one time thrived with Black businesses, was the home of Black-owned Contrast newspaper and is said to be linked to the Underground Railroad, in addition to being an area where, like Little Jamaica, immigrants from the Caribbean flocked.
In 2016, an exhibition called “Welcome to Blackhurst Street,” curated by Chinedu Ukabam, paid homage to this history.
Establishing A Different Booklist Cultural Centre in the new Mirvish Village will cement this history and heritage in the area.
“Our heritage rules and laws are inadequate to address that kind of character. They’re far more focused on buildings than they are about people,” Layton said.
This is an issue that was brought up by community members in consultations on the construction, Sadu added.
For Sadu, the plan for the new space shows that Toronto recognizes the Black community’s significance to the city, and where governments often “fall short on promises” this feels like “a new day.”
Right now, A Different Booklist Cultural Centre is running a “buy a brick” campaign to give the community an opportunity o “cement your legacy” with engraved digital bricks that will be displayed in the new space.
“The acquisition of space in our history has always eluded us,” Sadu said. “People go to war because of space. People deny people access to space. So, infrastructure building is very important and significant.”
Angelyn Francis is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering equity and inequality. Her reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org