There were plenty of ideas thrown around as the community came together in Oakwood Village to envision a future for Reggae Lane, which is situated in a community where Caribbean and Jamaican restaurants and shops are highly visible.
The lane, named in 2014, is located behind the south side stores along Eglinton Avenue West, at Oakwood Avenue, in what is known as the International Market area. The laneway had been selected for an improvement project by The Laneway Project.
The Laneway Project’s Michelle Senayah said laneways don’t have a standard defined role in the city, which is why they’re often seen as dirty, neglected spaces. But there are opportunities for them, particularly as the city gets developed and spaces for public places run out.
“What we’re aiming to do is throw some light on them and say, look, this is our space,” she said. “Just the amount of laneway space is astonishing in this city. There’s 250 acres. That’s two-thirds the size of High Park, or seven Trinity Bellwoods Parks of laneway space.”
She said the city already owns the laneways, and in downtown areas where land is expensive, they can become public spaces.
The Laneway Project hosted a Reggae Lane Visioning Charette at the Maria A. Shchuka Library Wednesday, May 27, evening asking members of the community to present their ideas for what they would like to see in the laneway.
Among the residents who came out was Toronto musician Jay Douglas, a Jamaican immigrant who grew up in the Oakwood area, and who has just released his latest single Reggae Lane. He wrote the song after Eglinton-Lawrence Councillor Josh Colle, who pushed for the naming of the lane, had asked the musician to help commemorate the naming of the lane.
Douglas said it’s important to nurture the city’s history with the laneway, and his song speaks to the community’s history.
“You can’t do much without your history. If you don’t know your history, it don’t matter what,” he said.
He called Toronto a beautiful city where approximately 175 ethnicities are present and residents can go out and eat food from any culture.
“(The laneway) is meant for all of us coming together, showing love and respect for each other’s culture,” Douglas said.
“That’s why we have Reggae Lane,” he said. “We have work to do. It’s a great neighbourhood, a great city. We have our challenges, but who said life’s journey is without challenges?”
Douglas will be among a number of performers at the official celebration of the naming of Reggae Lane on July 11.
Another member of the community, Dewitt Lee, said it was a proud moment when the laneway got its name, saying the local community and restaurants had for a long time tried to carve out a Caribbean identity, and this is the first step toward that goal.
“It’s very important we begin positioning our community as a cultural destination,” he said.
“Working with Tourism Toronto, we have an opportunity to put this community on the map and give people an authentic, very genuine and an inspired dose of what the Caribbean community brings to Toronto every day.”
Lee, who is of Grenadian descent, said this can lead to jobs, such as the creation of tours and merchandise sales, which have already started on the website www.reggaelane.org
He said the lane must honour the past generation as well as leave room for future generations to contribute.
“If we try to define what Reggae Lane is today, based on what we only see today, we’re going to ignore our rich past and we are going to close out a bright future,” he said.
Lee had organized a Reggae Lane community clean-up. The next clean-up is scheduled for Saturday, June 6.
Owner and publisher of the former Contrast, a newspaper for Toronto’s black community, Horace Gooden said Reggae Lane is a great idea, but it’s much bigger than a little lane that runs behind a few buildings.
He said the community needs Reggae Place, which could run along Eglinton from Marlee Avenue to Dufferin Street, and which would be a viable destination thanks to its proximity to the subway and access from the future underground Eglinton Crosstown LRT system.
While The Laneway Project, along with the York-Eglinton BIA, are working to improve the laneway, York artist Adrian Hayles will be improving the nearby area as well, as part of a STEPS Initiative project. The artist will paint a mural on a wall at a Green P parking lot, just west of Alameda Avenue. Reggae Lane exits into the parking lot at its east end. The mural is expected to be complete by mid-August.
The Laneway Project plans to host its next Reggae Lane workshop around July, when the organization will present potential options to the community, based on suggestions from last Wednseday’s event. The organization intends to finalize its master plan for the laneway in the fall, in time for springtime implementation.
For more information, visit www.thelanewayproject.ca