I’ve been visiting Little Jamaica with my Dad since I was a kid, grabbing food and groceries, jamming with his friends in one of the many recording studios, and listening to tales of the area when they were young, new arrivals from Jamaica. I remember the waves, the nods, the energy, connection, and camaraderie as we strolled through Eglinton Avenue West—the area known as Little Jamaica.
Since the 1950s, Toronto has been home to a large Jamaican diaspora. Through the West Indian Domestic Scheme that ran from 1955 to 1967, over 3,000 young Caribbean women came to the city as domestic workers. After one year of work, these women were able to sponsor their family’s immigration to Canada. They worked long hours for little pay and suffered racism when attempting to secure housing, education, and additional work. In the 1970s, Canada eliminated race-based immigration laws, which allowed many more Caribbean people into the country. Little Jamaica’s cultural influence on Toronto is overwhelming: Toronto Carnival (aka Caribana) is one of the world’s largest Caribbean festivals.
Unfortunately, over the past few years, the area has been under threat. The pandemic, ongoing construction, and gentrification have shuttered many businesses in Little Jamaica, including Randy’s Patties, a renowned Jamaican shop that shut down in February 2022, another victim of the pandemic. Fortunately, in 2022, the city launched a Cultural District Plan that focuses on protecting the long-standing heritage of Little Jamaica under the Ontario Heritage Act. This initiative will provide resources and financial support for residents and businesses, ensuring that they not only remain open but also are able to grow and flourish while maintaining cultural expression (though the timeline of that initiative hasn’t been specified).
Little Jamaica attracts people from all over the world in search of authentic Jamaican food, groceries, fashion, and reggae music. Here is how you can explore.
What to do
Take a picture in Reggae Lane
Reggae Lane is a colorful laneway off Eglinton Avenue West, decorated with a historical 1,200-foot mural; officially unveiled in 2015, it depicts some of Canada’s most famous reggae musicians who recorded music, performed, and lived in Little Jamaica. Artists Leroy Sibbles, Jackie Mitto, and Ernie Smith also all hailed from the area, making it a must-visit stop for any hopeful musician of the rocksteady era.
Revamp your hair
Barbershops have always been a place of community gathering and this is still true here in Little Jamaica. Whether people are getting crisp fades, weaves, or long braids, there is a warm, inclusive environment in every hair salon on Eglinton Avenue West. Prepare for chilled reggae tunes and community updates; for long appointments, some salon owners bring in some of their favorite local foods like Spiced Bun or Chicken Curry. Nadine’s Hair Studio has been serving customers on the strip for decades, as has Casual Hair Salon.
Buy a record
Treajah Isle Records is a Little Jamaica institution with over four decades of history. Launched by Jamaican-born singer Nana McLean, this record store became the ultimate destination for those in search of Jamaican reggae and ska. In its heyday, Treajah Isle Records was a place to dance and party, especially on Friday and Saturday nights, the music felt pounding from blocks away. Nowadays, it remains a cultural hub, selling records, CDs, digital music, books, as well as Rastafarian apparel and goods. Trejah Isle still hosts community events such as spoken-word performances, reggae, and dubstep DJs.
Check out Sinting Fest
Launched in 2022, Sinting Fest is a family-friendly annual event at the end of August, showcasing local Caribbean chefs, their favorite dishes, techniques, and restaurants. If you’re looking for fried plantain, bammy, or your other favorite Jamaican foods (as well as indulging in new, unknown tastes), Sinting is the place for you. As well as delicious food, Sinting Fest also features music, local fashion, crafts, and dancing.
Where to eat
The smell of freshly made hardo (hard dough) bread and spice-filled bula cakes wafts onto the street as you walk past this nearly 40-year-old bakery. Inside, the walls are covered in maps of Jamaica, aged portraits of cultural Black heroes, and pamphlets for other local businesses, showing the support this community has for one another. From between tall metal racks of cooling baked treats, Sun-Light Bakery also has delicious patties, pastries, and buns waiting to be devoured.
Irie Veggie Take Out
For every vegetarian wishing there was a way to enjoy a traditional Jamaican Curry Goat, there is Irie Veggie and its tofu-based alternative. Serving flavorful curries and dumplings, Irie Veggie provides vegan takes on classic Jamaican dishes. This vegetarian restaurant has been a Little Jamaica staple since the ’80s and has a long-standing, loyal clientele.
On Little Jamaica’s “BBQ Row,” a stretch of Eglinton that boasts a number of side-by-side eateries, it’s not unusual to see a chef outside Hot Pot on a hot summer evening cooking Jerk over a traditional black drum. At this colorful, inviting, and lively restaurant, listen to some reggae while enjoying a hearty portion of some of the city’s most delicious Jerk Chicken.
Sheryl’s Authentic Caribbean Cuisine
Sheryl’s Authentic Caribbean Cuisine launched in 2016 and quickly became a favorite, drawing hungry eaters from all over the city. Known for authentic ackee and saltfish and for oxtail, there is always a line snaking down the street at mealtimes. Every day its owner, Sheryl Bryan Phillips, is in the kitchen prepping, cooking, and serving her tropical tastes of home. Formerly called Judy’s Island Grill, Sheryl’s is a family operation with five sisters running four additional restaurants in the States and one in the United Kingdom.
Where to stay
- Book now: Ode
Ode is an artsy, boutique Black- and female-owned hotel on Dundas Street West, another cultural hot spot in the city. This unique venue is all about community, reflecting the vibrancy of Toronto’s restaurants, galleries, music, and above all, people. Each modern room is individual, brought to life by local designers, manufacturers, and artists.
How to get to Little Jamaica
Located on a stretch of Eglinton Avenue West between Keele Street and Marlee Avenue, Little Jamaica attracts visitors who linger for a few hours. From downtown Toronto, where most tourists stay, Little Jamaica is easily accessible by car, taxi, or rideshare, with both street parking and public lots available. Alternatively, you can use a TTC bus and subway or once it is complete, the LRT to Eglinton Avenue West station. (Don’t hold your breath—this route has been about a decade in the making.)