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Toronto’s Little Jamaica will become heritage conservation district understudy after unanimous city council vote
April 9, 2021

It was a great moment for members of Toronto’s Little Jamaica community Thursday evening after Toronto city council voted unanimously in favour for the neighbourhood to become a heritage conservation district understudy.

The vote was in favour of Coun. Josh Matlow’s motion recommending the city planning department to study and survey the beloved Caribbean neighbourhood on Eglinton West to be preserved and protected under the Ontario Heritage Act.

“This has been an ask of community members for years,” said Matlow, adding that a heritage conservation district is not the “only tool that we need in the tool box.”

“We also need to look at tools that will address affordability, opportunities for Black ownership of buildings, preservation of culture and identity, and the purpose of the buildings themselves,” said Matlow, who emphasized the importance of barbershops and record stores and how they contribute “to the fabric and identity of Little Jamaica that we value.”

The motion was amended by Coun. Mike Colle who said he wanted to make sure that Little Jamaica would be protected amid active and future development applications along Eglinton West that are gentrifying the area at a “rapid pace.” He asked that the plans in the heritage conservation understudy “will not be overrun by all the rapid development that’s taking place right now.”

Although chief planner and executive director Gregg Lintern said there could be no “legislative pause” on existing developments in Little Jamaica, the council voted forward the motion with Colle’s amendment.

Lintern did mention that his department will review applications with further “understanding of the area” and assured Colle that they will “keep our response measured.”

“There are some development applications that do threaten and gentrify the area to the extent that we worry about displacement of business and residents,” said Lintern. “And that’s something that we’ll have to be mindful of as we continue to both embark upon this study and review applications that are already in the pipeline.”

Little Jamaica, a staple in Toronto since the ’70s, has been in urgent need of protection and preserving after years of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT construction, the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic and gentrification destroying the neighbourhood.

Under the Ontario Heritage Act, a neighbourhood that is a designated heritage site is preserved and protected against deterioration.

Matlow’s passed motion asks city planners to consult with organizations like Black Urbanism Toronto and Black Futures on Eglinton in developing a plan for Little Jamaica.

Matlow put the motion forward after a public conversation held by the city of Toronto on March 4, during which city staff stated Little Jamaica was not a good fit for a heritage conservation district and instead proposed making it a “cultural district” for which there was no given definition. He said the meeting did not “earn public confidence.”

“What I’m making an effort to do now is to reset the initiative so that the community is in the driver’s seat,” Matlow told the Star when he first brought forth the motion last month. “That the objectives (the community) is asking us for aren’t sidelined, but prioritized.”