Explore Toronto’s African-Caribbean history and discover Black-owned businesses in the vibrant neighbourhood around Bathurst and Bloor Streets.
The Annex neighbourhood around the intersection of Bloor Street West and Bathurst Street is one of Toronto’s Black history hubs. The University of Toronto-adjacent neighbourhood has a rich history dating back over 160 years. Beginning in the 1860s, the area became known as a safe space where Black families and Black businesses could grow and thrive.
In recent years, the Annex has undergone changes as the Honest Ed’s department store that gave the western edge its Mirvish Village moniker was torn down to make way for rental housing, a new marketplace and a public park. Yet Mirvish Village remains home to Black-owned businesses that maintain the area’s pedigree. Read on to learn why Bathurst and Bloor is the cultural landmark it is today.
Black history in the Annex
The roots of “Blackhurst” Street date back to the 1860s, when an African American woman named Deborah Brown is reputed to have settled here, specifically in a house at 691 Markham Street. Brown, a former enslaved person, escaped from the United States with her husband via the Underground Railway.
A hundred years later, in the mid-1900s, waves of immigrants from Jamaica and other Caribbean countries arrived in Toronto. Many of them opened businesses or settled in the area, further cementing its standing within the Afro-Caribbean community.
Black-owned businesses in the Annex
Today, A Different Booklist bookshop and cultural centre is the heart of this hub. The independently owned bookstore highlights literature from the African and Caribbean diaspora. The store—which has changed locations within the neighbourhood more than once over the course of its over-20-year-long history there—now has a permanent home in Mirvish Village, at 779 Bathurst Street.
A Different Booklist is the only remaining cultural stalwart on a strip of Bathurst Street that was once home to the politically engaged Third World Books (a little further north), and other Black-owned businesses such as Too Black Guys, makers of socially and politically conscious streetwear.
The area was also home to the influential Contrast community newspaper, the first Black newspaper office in Toronto. The publication was founded by Al Hamilton in 1969, and, according to TVO, was known as the “eyes, ears and voice of Canada’s Black community.” It also served as a centre where activists and community members met to strategize campaigns against racism and police harassment.
While grown from necessity, today, this part of Toronto celebrates the legacy and contributions of Toronto’s Black community.
Eat, shop & explore
The Annex is a strollable neighbourhood known for leafy side streets and eclectic shops, cafés and restaurants along Bloor Street West. A number of Black-owned and co-owned businesses continue to thrive here and are worth a visit. Add these stops to your must-visit list:
Must-visit #1: Annex Photo
This photo shop and printer carries digital and film cameras, including trendy Instax instant cameras—which are also available to rent.
Must-visit #2: Jerk King
This restaurant will provide you with West Indian favourites such as jerk chicken, curry goat and more!
Must-visit #3: Noir Beauty + Bar
An inclusive beauty bar that caters to all hair types. The salon specializes in curly hair, braids, balayage and more. The next time your hair needs some TLC stop by Noir’s!
Must-visit #4: A Different Booklist
It’s worth mentioning this gem again: A Different Booklist carries everything from new releases to the classics. If you love to read, this is surely the place to go!
Getting to Mirvish Village in the Annex
- Take the Line 2 Bloor-Danforth subway to Bathurst station