I needed an idea for my first entry, and there is no better place than to start from the beginning…
Islands in the North comes from an idea I had while working on my MA in History at York University in Toronto. I spent the spring and summer of 2014 in the archives, looking at hundreds of newspapers, pictures and microfilm from Toronto-based periodicals. My eyes and my mind grew numb, searching for something, anything that would support my arguments. Ultimately, I ended up accumulating far more documents than I ever needed.
As I transitioned to my new role as a doctoral student at Rutgers, I wondered about what I would do with all of this stuff. Stuff? Yes. A plethora of scanned pictures, articles, photographs and more from Black Toronto in the late twentieth century. All things considered, these documents were too good to go to waste. Yes, they will be useful for my dissertation, but who has that much time to wait? I wanted to use them up now, because I didn’t want them wasted, like when you shot far too many oxen in the Oregon Trail.
I decided to do another project, where I could display and present Black Toronto in one of its forms. In addition, I did not want to presume that Black Toronto as I saw it in my visions, started in the 1960s when immigration in Canada really started to open up. I wanted to be clear, that blackness and black bodies were not a late twentieth century conception. Black people. Black bodies. Black men, women and children have been on this northern land for centuries. Way back since Olivier Le Jeune, or even Mathieu Da Costa.
However, since I am a modernist, I was partial to the twentieth century. I loved to listen to older relatives and close family friends talk about “the good old days” when they first arrived in Canada. How it was normal to walk in the streets of Toronto, and maybe see only one other black person. How it was normal to meet and greet each other, hug and hold each other, without even knowing each other’s names. I wanted to memorialize, preserve and protect the “Black Toronto” our elders knew/know, and let the rest of us know that the foundation of what we love and appreciate today in my hometown, comes from somewhere. That Toronto was not a false imitation of an American city, but something local that we could call our own.
I spoke out loud about my vision of Islands in the North, before I even knew what it was going to be. My colleagues and friends… my village, heard about my dreams of reclaiming the past for us and for the future. How I wanted an on-going interactive online project, that would not end when the school year was done. I wanted to have this as something I could continuously work on, and as a platform where I could collaborate with other enlightened and like-minded diasporic kinfolk. My friends encouraged me to go through with this. To get it online and out there, so other people could see my vision too. If y’all are reading this, I thank you.
Truthfully, this project is something I needed to help me challenge my procrastination into a productive and positive endeavour. (yes, Canadian spelling!) I know as a Jamaican-Canadian and a member of the worldwide Jamaican diaspora, we are out here. We are connected and plugged into the internet, social media and all that. I hope this finds more people out there, who want to collaborate and build too. Let’s get it poppin’.
Until my project is complete, however, this blog will be the only active thing on my website. I will probably write an article about this eventually, but this blog will be my random musings and thoughts about this entire process.