African art and culture can be found in city arts and crafts stores, restaurants, and in performances by African theatre and musical groups such as the 1988 World Drums Musical Festival held at Roy Thomson Hall. Writers, including Wole Soyinka, Nigeria’s Nobel Prize winner for literature, have lectured at the city’s universities, where African studies programs are offered.
Toronto’s African communities represent a diversity of cultures, races, religions, and linguistic groups from the second largest continent in the world. African Blacks, Whites, Asian Indians, and other ethnocultural groups who are viewed as African after several generations of settlement on the continent are represented. Among these later groups are Asian Indians of Muslim, Hindu, and Goan Christian religious-cultural backgrounds, Europeans of British, Portuguese, Afrikaner-Dutch, and Jewish ethnocultural origins, and people of mixed descent.
The first Africans to come to Canada were brought as slaves as early as 1628. From 1791 to 1792 many returned to Africa from Nova Scotia. Immigration to Canada before 1950 was sparse, increasing between 1968 and 1970 when many Africans from Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Zambia, the Republic of South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zaire arrived in Toronto. In the 1970s, a large number of Ugandan Asians immigrated to Canada after they were expelled by President Idi Amin. The city also gained new citizens of Portuguese descent who left newly independent African nations such as Angola and Mozambique.
Immigration continued throughout the 1980s and 1990s with the return of many African students of the 1960s. The African communities are spread throughout the city and are largely represented by the countries of Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Uganda, Angola, Mozambique, Sierre Leone, Somalia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
Many African Torontonians share cultures with European and British communities in the city. The Cape Verde community, which numbers around 500, originates from the African island nation ruled by Portugal from the 15th century until achieving independence in 1975. For the most part, the community associates with Toronto’s Portuguese, sharing a common language, religion, cuisine, and the celebration of festivals and holidays. The Cape Verde Community Centre of Toronto was the community’s first organization in the city.
Other Northern African nations represented in the city include Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, and the Western Sahara.
People from Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia, and Kenya represent a large majority of Toronto’s Eastern Africans.
Amharic-speaking Ethiopian students began arriving in Canada in the 1960s and 1970s. Following the 1974 Ethiopian revolutions, refugees fled to neighbouring African countries and eventually immigrated to Canada, many settling in Parkdale and downtown Toronto. The Ethiopian Association in Toronto was formed to assist newcomers to the community.
Italian and Tigrinya are spoken by Toronto’s Eritreans who represent nine different cultural groups. Eritrea, independent from Ethiopia, was occupied by Italy during the Second World War. In the late 1980s, refugees from Eritrea arrived in the city, often immigrating indirectly from countries such as Sudan, Italy, and Greece.
In 1972, with the “Africanization” of Uganda by Idi Amin, some 50,000 Ugandan Asians were expelled from the country. Approximately 7,000 arrived in Canada, with about 40 percent settling in Toronto. Included in this group were the Gujarati Hindus, traditionally a business caste in India and East Africa, and Goan Indians.
The majority of West Africans in the city are from the countries of Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia, Liberia, and Toronto’s largest West African community, Nigeria. Representatives from these West African nations who studied in Toronto in the early 1960s later returned and settled in the city.
A few Nigerian students came to study in Canada as early as the 1930s and 1940s, but the largest groups to settle in the city arrived in the late 1960s and in the early 1970s following the Nigerian Civil War. Nigeria is a country with over 200 ethnic groups and languages. There are a large number of Yoruba, and some 2,000 Ibo-speaking peoples in the city. The Nigerian community’s religious activities centre around St. Bartholomew’s Church on Dundas Street. There are also several Nigerian soccer clubs active in the city.
New settlers from the Central African nations of Zaire, Rwanda, and Burundi have also made Toronto their home.
The largest African communities in the city are represented primarily by the Republic of South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria and Angola. There are 50,000 South Africans living throughout the area, with concentrations in Thornhill, Mississauga, and Oakville. From 1973 to 1983, some 16,000 South Africans, mainly of non-Black ethnic origins, entered Canada. These included English-speaking South Africans of British and Jewish descent, and smaller groups of Afrikaners (Dutch-French Huguenot), mixed descent, Asian Indians, Chinese, and a small number of Black Africans.
Traditional African costumes
Members of Southern African communities in Toronto have organized social clubs and newsletters. English-speaking South Africans of British, Jewish, and Afrikaner origins hold rugby matches, and braai (barbecues) where delicacies such as boerewors (spicy farmers’ sausages) are grilled on a wood fire.
Members of more than a dozen African nations represented in the city celebrate their respective liberation or republic days with cultural displays, dancing and dinners.
GHANA NATIONAL DAY is celebrated by the community on March 6.
REPUBLIC DAY. On April 19, the Sierra Leone community celebrates Republic Day.
SOUTH AFRICAN REPUBLIC DAY is commemorated on May 31, with a reception held at the South African Consulate.
MOZAMBIQUE INDEPENDENCE DAY is celebrated by the community on June 25.
SOMALI UNION AND INDEPENDENCE DAY, July 1, sees more than 1,000 Somali Torontonians gather to celebrate. The event commemorates the independence of Northern Somalia from Britain, which took place on June 26, 1960. Celebrations include singing, dancing, food, and film presentations.
CAPE VERDE NATIONAL DAY is celebrated on July 5.
NEW YEAR’S DAY is celebrated by members of the Ethiopian community with festivities on September 11.
ETHIOPIAN NATIONAL DAY is celebrated on September 12.
NIGERIAN INDEPENDENCE DAY is celebrated by the Toronto community on October 1.
UGANDAN NATIONAL DAY is commemorated on October 9.
CHRISTMAS AND EASTER are celebrated by Ethiopian Orthodox Christians according to the Julian calendar. The faithful fast the day before Christmas and attend an evening church service. At 2:00 a.m., a big breakfast that includes meat, dairy products, and injera is eaten.
BURUNDIAN INDEPENDENCE DAY is celebrated on July 1, to commemorate Burundi’s independence from Belgium in 1962.
AFRICA TODAY, CHRY 105.5 FM, York University Community Radio, (Tel. 416-736-5293, www.yorku.ca/chry, 4700 Keele St., Sunday, 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m.).
BLACK PAGES, (Tel. 416-784-3002, Fax 416-784-5719, www.blackpages.ca, 1390 Eglinton Ave. W)
CRESCENT INTERNATIONAL, (Tel. 905-474-9292, 300 Steelcase Rd. W., Unit 8, Markham). A bi-monthly news magazine of the Islamic Movement.
PRIDE (AFRICAN AND CARIBBEAN NEWSPAPER), (Tel. 416-335-1719, 5200 Finch Ave. E., Suite 200A). Publisher: Michael Van Cooten.
SOUNDS OF AFRICA, CKLN 88.1 FM, (Tel. 416-595-1477, www.ckln.com, 380 Victoria St). Saturday, 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Features the latest rhythms from the African continent along with concert listings and information.
AFRICAN WOMEN AND FAMILY, CIUT 89.5 FM, (Tel. 416-978-0909 ext. 203, Fax 416-946-7004, www.ciut.fm), Saturday, 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. Station Director: Bryan Burchell.
Almost every group, nation, or tribe of African descent is represented by clubs or cultural groups in the city, including:
AFRICAN COMMUNITY HEALTH SERVICES, (Tel. 416-591-7600, 76 Gerrard St. E., 2nd floor).
AFRICAN WOMEN RESOURCE AND INFORMATION CENTRE, (Tel. 416-214-4823, 203 Sackville Green).
CANADIAN-AFRICAN NEWCOMER AID CENTRE OF TORONTO (CANACT), (Tel. 416-658-8030, 21B Vaughan Rd., Unit 114). Assists refugees and African immigrants with the immigration process, problems, and government agencies. Organizes workshops, educational programs, and the All African Conference.
ERITREAN CULTURAL AND CIVIC CENTRE, (Tel. 416-516-1246, 120 Carlton St., # 309).
ERITREA RELIEF ASSOCIATION OF CANADA, c/o Eritrean Cultural and Civic Centre. A developmental and educational organization with 10 branches. Assists the people of Eritrea and offers an educational program that includes lectures.
ERITREAN CANADIAN COMMUNITY CENTRE, (Tel. 416-658-8580, Fax 416-658-7442, 50 Euston Ave).
ETHIOPIAN ASSOCIATION IN TORONTO INC., (Tel. 416-694-1522, 2064 Danforth Ave., 3rd floor). Provides assistance to newcomers, sponsors refugees, and offers heritage programs and computer training courses. Publishes a newsletter.
FRIENDS OF THE SPRINGBOKS, (Tel. 416-920-5466, 1491 Yonge St., Suite 300). A South African travel club which helps organize reunions and provides special low air fares and insurance plans. The organization publishes a bi-monthly newsletter and organizes wine and cheese parties where more than 500 members attend. President: Lucille Sive.
ORGANIZATION OF BLACK TRADESMEN AND TRADESWOMEN OF ONTARIO, (Tel. 416-921-5120, 22 College St., Suite 104).
SOMALI CANADIAN ASSOCIATION, (Tel. 416-742-4601, 925 Albion Rd). President: Osman Ali.
SOUTH AFRICAN NETWORK, (P.O. Box 112, Port Credit Postal Station, Mississauga). This social club, established in 1987, organizes an annual dinner dance in November, country hikes, a picnic in May, a prawn evening, and a braai (barbecue) in September. It also publishes a newsletter. Contact: Mr. Debbo.