Welcome to Blackhurst: An Iconic Toronto Neighbourhood

By Lincoln DePradine

Itah Sadu

Wilson Brooks, a graduate of the University of the Toronto (U of T) and a founding-member of the Ontario Black History Society, was the first Black teacher to be hired by Toronto’s public schools.

Brooks, who eventually became the first Black principal in Toronto, grew up in the city’s Bathurst Street area. Many other longstanding and successful individuals from Toronto’s Black and Caribbean community attended schools such as Central Technical Institute and Harbord Collegiate and spent leisure time in the area; ran businesses and secured various types of services there too; or used the Bathurst/Bloor subway station.

“That was considered our downtown,’’ recalled former MPP Zanana Akande, who lived in the area and graduated from Harbord Collegiate and U of T.

Now, the Bathurst Street community is being memorialized by the proprietors of A Different Booklist and its board of directors.

They soon will be introducing a new book called, “Welcomed to Blackhurst: An Iconic Toronto Neighbourhood’’.

 “This stretch of Bathurst is very special,’’ said Itah Sadu, co-owner of A Different Booklist.

She has described the book as a documentation of “people who are game-changers and trailer blazers in this neighbourhood’’; and, who have done “exceptional things in Canada to change the lives not only of Black Canadians but to change the lives of all Canadians’’.

Because of the “multiple assets’’ of the people who lived, worked and frequented the Bathurst Street area, it was considered as “important to document their presence here in this neighbourhood and also to make it accessible to students,’’ Said Sadu. “We believe this is something that will be great for them to have as a resource in their library.’’

Sadu, together with some of her board members, friends and ardent supporters, met reporters last week to give an update on plans to relocated A Different Booklist from 777-779 Bathurst Street to a nearby space at 756 Bathurst Street in Mirvish Village, where Honest Ed’s once stood.

It will be called the “Blackhurst Cultural Centre’’. Sadu said even now, the new name is already being used. The business, which she operates with her husband Miguel San Vicente, is currently referred to as the “Blackhurst Cultural Centre, formerly A Different Booklist’’.

The cultural centre, comprising four floors, will include a bookstore, rentals and retail stores, art and music studios, and facility for community activities. It’s scheduled to open in the summer of next year, Sadu said.

“In the newness of the centre, we will be a bilingual centre; a facility that will function in dual languages,’’ she said.

The centre will operate under a 49-year lease that has been agreed to between the business operators and the City of Toronto.

 “We are very, very close to having it finalized,’’ city councillor Mike Layton said, referring to the lease.

“I will be with you all the way,’’ promised Layton, saying that he loved the name Blackhurst Cultural Centre. “It’s so fitting,’’ he said.

Akande, a retired school principal and a former Ontario cabinet minister, said she’s “extremely excited’’ at the Blackhurst Cultural Centre project.

“This is where business was done,’’ she said. “This is also where you met all your friends.’’

Sadu said a competition has been launched to obtain a logo for the new Blackhurst Cultural Centre. She encouraged participation from visual artistes, saying the centre is interested in “something edgy’’ as a logo.

Fundraising for the project is also continuing. Of a $10 million target, $3.3 million so far has been raised through various means, including a “Buy-a-Brick’’ campaign.

Sadu said the involvement of people, as well as the diversity of race and gender, have been part of the project.

Among the team of workers, including project manager Eric Delfish, the specialty engineers and the lead architects, are members of the African-Canadian community, she said.

“Everywhere and every time, we try to have the public engaged,’’ she said. “The community is involved in every stage. This is not a journey about one individual, but this is a journey about a collective group of people.’’

Sadu said she’s elated and feels “blessed to be able to develop infrastructure in this city, in this country that I was born in’’.