BY: KABRENA ROBINSON
If you happen to be taking a stroll down Eglinton Avenue West, along Dufferin Street to Marlee between now and March 31st, you might be instantaneously captivated by a series of eye-catching displays in storefront windows. This beautification and educational project is the Cityscapes Transit and Transition, a photo installation celebrating the city’s transit history and neighborhood origins. The installation is a collaborative initiative orchestrated by York Museum and York Eglinton Business Improvement Area (BIA), a corporation with a mandate “to create a vibrant and dynamic atmosphere in the public realm and support local businesses through supplementary marketing initiatives and festivities.”
Each photograph on display echoes stories of the area’s rich history and it’s evolution as a working-class neighbourhood built along accessible transit. BIA Coordinator Aadila Valiallah, says the installation is not only an effort to “add colour and life” to the neighborhood during the dreary and uneventful winter season but also meant to inform and enlighten onlookers of the deep historical background presented in the various photographs and the stories they tell.
“Part of our mandate is to create ambience in the neighborhood,” she said. “So, we want people when they walk down the street whether doing various errands or shopping to be inspired and engaged by the different photo installations on display.”
She also added that the decision to use historic photographs for the installation was inspired by the need to showcase various archival collections from the York Museum that are no longer open to the public and also as a result of the recent changes in the neighborhood due to the Metrolinx construction site.
“We thought that this was a perfect opportunity to bring some positive attention to our history and our changes and how our neighborhood has developed over time,” she said. “A closer look at our neighborhood and history reveals many more interconnected stories among the people who have lived here, who work here, who move through our neighborhood and the city which we are part of.”
The photo installations currently at four locations, show early images of the self-built suburbs; roads and railways being built and the people who made it possible, and other photographs that highlight the early life of the neighbourhood’s working class such as an image of an Ideal Bread delivery cart, that delivered bread to the neighbourhood.
The story of Nathan Redmon, the first African-Canadian to own his own carriage business at 122 Belgravia Ave, is the largest photo collection in the installation from York Museum. The photographs available for viewing on 1563 Eglinton Ave show images of his truck yard,family home, business card and his “dapper sense of style”.
Nathan Redmon came to Toronto from the United States in 1913. At the time, he took a job as a sleeping car porter, an occupation that was mostly carried out by black men from the late nineteenth century until the mid-1950s. During this period, black men had very few job opportunities open to them due to racism and discrimination being prevalent in Canada. Though many sleeping car porters tended to be highly educated men, many with university degrees in science, medicine, and business administration, racist hiring policies prevented them for acquiring jobs in their various fields so the best option for them was to find employment as a sleeping car porter for Canadian railway companies. The pay was low and the hours very long.
After working as a sleeping car porter and saving his money for several years, Redmon bought a truck and started his own cartage business. It grew to a fleet of nine trucks, one of the biggest in York Township. The story of Redmon sheds an important light not only on the history of the early working class people of the neighborhood but also the history of black Canadians and sleeping car porters.
“In the conversation of black history in Canada, here is a story of a black man and his family who were here from the very beginning when this neighborhood was being built,” said Valiallah.
“In terms of the post-colonial history and the development of this neighborhood the contribution is the same and equal as every other Canadian and he was a successful entrepreneur at a time when the environment for black Canadians would have been hostile and he came and he worked hard so this story is very inspirational.”
The other photo installations can be found in storefront windows at 1796 and 1596 Eglinton Avenue and at 605 Oakwood Avenue available for viewing up to March 31st , 2018.