Saturday, 18 of January of 2020

Hidden in plain view

Greetings fellow travelers. As you know, on May 8, 2011 Miss Canadiana lead her first walking tour of the Grange’s Hidden Black history. We are now pleased to present guest blogger and fellow Afrofuturist, Kunle to share his thoughts on the event.

I learned about the power of Miss Canadiana on my birthday, Sunday May 8, 2011, on the Miss Canadiana Mother’s Day edition of Jane’s Walk. Miss Canadiana, think African Princess Diana of Canada, gives heritage and cultural walking tours. Her theme of this walk is the hidden black history of the Grange. She started at the north-east corner of Peter and Adelaide where, in the mid-to-late 90’s, I was the doorman at ‘Apothecary’, the coolest night spot on the block when Jeff Campbell, a Canadian of Afro Caribbean heritage opened his food and entertainment emporium. For the record, I suppressed potential conflicts at the door with primal elegance. Now I know where the strength and compassion came from. I was called to work here by the ancestors. I used to think ancestors meant only ancient.

Miss Canadiana is ‘rocking the red’ in full length taffeta satin with white gloves and sparkling tiara. I note how the sun transforms prismic head pieces into halos. And there is a film crew! This isn’t a walk it’s an event. But I am starving; don’t ask why. As we proceed, I grab a roti from a Caribbean eatery that magically appeared on Peter. I was not immediately aware of the poetry in me eating food of the islands as we celebrated the purpose of early Caribbean (primarily) residents of Toronto. I_t  w_a_s  g_o_o_d!! With a full belly, I could really appreciate the knowledge and presence of Miss Canadiana. I really liked how she facilitated conversation between participants with having us engage with each other through questions such as, “What is your family heritage in Canada?” Did I mention there was a film crew? A guy could feel very important walking down the street with a bunch of people, eating a roti – with a knife and fork, and being followed by a film crew. On his birthday! For the record, the day was complete with a moment with my mother.

We stopped at another key point of reference on Queen at the top of Peter. I can see this history is hidden in plain view. I am intrigued by what people passing by are thinking. Miss Canadiana is cool as she is tall. She doesn’t need the cameras to cause a stir: she is the stick! I hear voices saying, “It’s Miss Canadian”. I guess when you wear a full length red gown with matching tiara, white gloves and sash that says Miss Canadiana, the “a” could be silent, eh. What is the difference? Does canadiana imply canadianish, and so maintains a certain artistic integrity while Canadian is? We on the walk have an awareness of what Miss Canadiana really is while people passing by see her as ‘real’. We on the walk are inside a story of the past while passers by, the community surrounding the audience, aka the status quo, are outside a story of the present. Sounds like the story of Azani, towards an afro future.

On this day, it is clear Miss Canadiana’s spirit is imbued with heritage excellence. It is magnified by the red and the white, the essence of Canada. It is the flag. In Miss Canadiana, the sublime warrior spirit of Shango is also evoked. Red and white are his colours too. Jane Jacobs, a spiritual afro futurist and a model of resistance and resilience would have loved Miss Canadiana and what she is walking for.

“No one can find what will work for our cities by looking at … suburban garden cities, manipulating scale models, or inventing dream cities. You’ve got to get out and walk.”
(Jane Jacobs, Downtown is for People, 1957.)

Through stories of the past, Miss Canadiana is bringing communities together. To walk along Spadina Avenue at Dundas, and to cross over on any Sunday afternoon is an experience of deep sea human navigation. To do so in the presence of an African Princess Diana of Canada, who everyone now perceives as “Miss Canada!”, transcended communal boundaries. To recognize the juxtaposition of the Grange, Chinatown and Kensington Market, how Toronto evolved as a place of plurality, and the contribution of English Caribbeans to the social ecology of the world’s city, on my birthday, was a gift.

Adding further resonance to the day’s spirit, the patron saint of Jamaica, Marcus Garvey, is part of the story. He stayed in a house in the Grange when he came to Toronto in support of the UNIA’s (Universal Negro Improvement Association) Toronto chapter. In revealing the story, Miss Canadiana also exposed the hidden legacy of Caribbeans from all nations working together to achieve a common goal. The precept that they can’t is a post modern concept. Remember, Donald Willard Moore was from Barbados and Garvey from Jamaica. Moore co-founded the UNIA and the Toronto Negro Citizenship Association for all Afro ascendants. The Baileys, who lived on Sullivan St and facilitated Garvey’s visit to Toronto, had a legacy of their own. Ruth Bailey, was one of the first Canadian born Afros to successfully graduate from a Canadian university in nursing, along with her friend, Gwennyth Barton. Ruth Bailey and her siblings were elementary school contemporaries of Frank Gehry, one of the most important architects of the 20th or any century. Could his success be attributed in some small way to sharing space with the Baileys?

The recent history of the Grange includes The Bamboo, in close proximity to the plaque erected by a cohort of Miss Canadiana in memorial to Peggy Pompadour. I could have expected to see ‘Peggy Pompadour’ in performance at The Bamboo, where Afro Caribbean music, including reggae, was the mainstay. Miss Canadiana herself is a ‘put on’ and grounded in reality. Such is the nature of art in contextual practice, when concerned with the study & production of every-day-life as art, place-based & engaged with its environment, naturally. The learning is exponential, the experience eternal. This is the kind of art that heals. We need more of it.

Kunle is a Kittitian born artist and afro futurist who champions art & expression that enhances the cultural ecology of earth.

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