Custom Search 1

A black Brit's guide to Toronto

A TEMPORARY HOME: Davina driving in Toronto

THERE WAS something fitting about arriving in Toronto at the start of February – Canada’s Black History Month.

Myself, my husband and our two children, aged three and four, touched down in Toronto on February 1, ready to embark on a five-month adventure in the famed Canadian city. Having enjoyed a wonderful two-week holiday in Toronto last summer, my family and I went back this year – in the midst of the infamous Canadian winter – to see what life would be like out there over a longer period of time.

We’d spoken to numerous black Brits who are now based in Toronto and all of them agreed that they enjoy a better quality of life in the city famously dubbed ‘the Six’ by Toronto’s very own rapper, Drake.

Professionally, they said they enjoyed more opportunities in Toronto, and those with children were adamant that their youngsters – whose ages ranged from six to 17 – were safer and had more opportunities to thrive in Toronto than they did in London.

These testimonies made my husband and I all the more determined to return to Toronto to see if our family could also enjoy a better quality of life out there. The outcome? We loved our time in the city. As a young (ish) black family, we were encouraged by the experiences we had out there and also felt that we were in a home away from home, with Toronto bearing several similarities to our London hometown.

As such, here are six of my personal observations as a black Brit in ‘the Six’:

1. There are more black people in TV adverts

I couldn’t help but be struck watching Nike’s equality advert that aired during the Grammys in February. Featuring a predominantly black cast of sports stars including Serena Williams, LeBron James and Gabby Douglas, the advert sought to promote the message of diversity, ending with the tagline ‘equality has no boundaries.’

I tried to imagine a black British version of the ad airing on UK telly and concluded it probably wouldn’t be wise to hold my breath and wait for that to happen. Sports stars aside, it was the norm to see black folks in a range of adverts – noticeably more than we see here in the UK.

2. Caribbean takeaways are much the same as they are in London

An example of just one of my experiences in a Toronto-based Caribbean takeaway:
Me to the Jamaican proprietor: “Please can I get a small stew chicken with white rice?”

The Jamaican proprietor: “We don't do white rice on a Monday.”
Me (obviously perplexed): “Ok... Rice and peas is fine. Please can I get some plantain too?”
Jamaican proprietor: “Plantain dun.”
Me (irritated, but not surprised): “Ok... any dumplin’?”
Jamaican proprietor: “You haffi come before 1pm to get dumplin’. After 1, dumplin’ dun.”

As I left the shop (without the white rice, plantain or dumplin’ I'd requested), I could only laugh at the familiarity of it all. And yet, I did return to said takeaway on several occasions because the food was sweet! Caribbean takeaways: If you know, you know!

3. Jamaicans are everywhere

I was aware that there is a large Jamaican population in Toronto, but it was nice to experience this for myself. It’s my heritage after all. At the local hair salon that became my go-to salon for braids, I got chatting to (and exchanged numbers with) a Jamaican lady, who’d moved to Toronto some 20 years ago. I met Jamaican staff in supermarkets; in restaurants (not just Caribbean takeaways); at Toronto’s Pearson Airport; at the local park where I took my children... Jamaica to di world!

As such, I had no trouble finding Caribbean groceries when I needed them. In fact, we were fortunate enough to be located round the corner from popular street, Danforth Avenue – home to several Caribbean takeaways and grocery stores stocking yam, green banana and plantain a plenty!

4. Hooray for black music

Imagine my delight at hearing Toots and the Maytals’ Sweet and Dandy blaring out of our car radio in the middle of the day. And it wasn’t a pirate radio station, a local radio station or a digital station that could only be heard via DAB radio.

Toronto station G98.7FM was like a Godsend. A legal radio station that serves listeners throughout the entire city, it plays everything from reggae to R&B, hip-hop, soca, gospel, Afrobeats... an array of black music – classic and contemporary – all day every day.

And with us arriving in Toronto during their Black History Month, it was an added bonus that the station delivered short segments that celebrated a host of black Canadian historical figures throughout the month. Listening to this station reminded me why UK lovers of black music were saddened by the demise of much-loved Choice FM.

5. Celebrations for independence days
On February 22, I heard that Toronto’s City Hall would be holding a flag raising ceremony to mark St. Lucia’s independence. Convinced it was a random one-off, I headed to City Hall's website and discovered that the city in fact marks numerous independence days throughout the year.

“Flag raisings enhance public awareness of activities such as fundraising drives, multi-cultural events and national or independence days,” the website reads. And indeed, subsequent flag raising ceremonies took place to mark the independence days of countries including Dominican Republic (February 27), Ghana (March 6), Sierra Leone (April 27) and many more throughout the year. I thought this recognition of other countries’ independence days was nice.

6. Black Brits love life in Toronto

Ok, I didn’t speak to every black Brit in Toronto. But those I did speak to – friends I made, as well the countless connections I made via social media – were adamant that moving to Toronto was the best thing they could have done for their families.
Those with sons insisted that their youngsters are less susceptible to the pitfalls that face some of our young black boys in the UK.

One father admitted to me that he sometimes wished his 14-year-old son was “a bit tougher” than he is. But he said he always reminds himself that part of the reason his family left London for Toronto four years ago, was to ensure that said son didn’t end up “being hardened” by life in London – something he saw happening to several of his son’s peers – fellow black boys – in their former east London hometown.

No black folks I spoke to told me that Toronto is racism free. But they all say they have no regrets about leaving London and insist they’re all living their best lives in the Canadian city.

Read every story in our hardcopy newspaper for free by downloading the app.

Facebook Comments