Community hopeful black heritage will remain in Mirvish Village

On a Sunday recent afternoon in Honest Ed's Alley, a group shared fond memories of A Different Booklist, an independent, black-owned bookstore in Mirvish Village.

'We would like to see our heritage reflected and not erased,' says Kathy Grant

Kathy Grant, founder of the Legacy Voices Institute and vice president of the Ontario Black History Society, said she hopes the Mirvish Village development will maintain the area's strong black heritage. (Laura Howells/CBC)

On a Sunday recent afternoon in Honest Ed's Alley, a group shared fond memories of A Different Booklist, an independent, black-owned bookstore in Mirvish Village.

"We don't just see it as a bookstore," said owner Itah Sadu, who has run the store for more than two decades.

"We see it as a meeting point for people, and a space that on any given day they can reimagine it."

People shared stories and memories of black heritage in Mirvish Village during a participatory walk. (CBC)

A Different Booklist is one of several black-owned businesses in Mirvish Village. There's the restaurant Caribbean Roti Palace, to start, the Spence Gallery, which specializes in showing contemporary Caribbean, Latin and African art, and around the corner was the offices of Contrasts newspaper, one of the first black newspapers in Toronto.

But the area near Bathurst and Bloor Streets will soon be uprooted, as work begins on the new Mirvish Village condo and retail development.

"We would like to see our heritage reflected and not erased," said Kathy Grant, president of the Legacy Voices project and vice president of Ontario's Black History Society.

Alternative, independent Toronto bookshop A Different Booklist has been on Markham Street for more than 20 years. (Dave Morris)

Leases expire on January 31

The Westbank Development Corporation has purchased1.8 hectares of land at Bathurst and Bloor Streets, with the plan to build a new condo and retail project.

Tenants who currently live and work in the Mirvish Village area have been given eviction notices for Jan. 31.

Westbank has been supporting community initiatives recognizing and celebrating Mirvish Village's black history. This fall, an exhibit called "Welcome to Blackhurst" commemorated the black history of the area with archival footage, photography, artwork and stories.

At a walk in November, community members had the chance to reflect on black heritage in the area — and talk about how to incorporate that heritage into the new development. Staff from Westbank were on hand taking notes, and the company says the design team will use that information to inform their planning.

Employees from Westbank were at the walk to take notes (CBC)

"A lot of the prominent people in the black community would go and frequent this neighbourhood," said Grant, noting Canadian businesswoman Beverly Mascoll and Judge George Carter, the first Canadian-born black judge.

She also talked about how many immigrant families would often come to Honest Ed's — an affordable place where they find just about anything.

"A lot of these stories are not really well known, so it's making sure these stories are preserved and having us tell those stories," she said.

Welcome to Blackhurst is an exhibit at Markham House running until December 11. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Hopeful businesses can move back in

Westbank spokesperson Anne O'Hagan has said the company plans to preserve many of the heritage houses on Markham Street, while interspersing townhouses and slim towers that could be up to 29 storeys tall.

Grant said she's hopeful that Mirvish Village businesses will be able to move back into the neighbourhood once the development is complete.

City officials say the plans for the area will not be finalized until Spring 2017.