This digital project (re)creates the space and place of Black Canadian/West Indian immigrants in twentieth century Toronto, Canada. With the intentions of creating an ongoing public historical archive, Marlene Gaynair uses spatial analytic software to transform analog documents into a multidimensional interactive mapping exhibition. Inserting pieces of oral narratives, music, advertisements and photographs, Islands in the North makes space for “Blackness” in Canadian and Black Atlantic literature, histories, geographies, and experiences. 

This is possibly the first digital map to challenge the narrative of the “Great White North” and “ethnic enclaves” in the heart of Canada’s largest and culturally significant city. Points of interest such as churches, nightclubs, beauty shops, groceries, and restaurants trace the development of Black Caribbean-Canadian communities and Black businesses, along with the dispersal of people and places over time. This mapping of Black Toronto also highlights a long history of Blackness and belonging in the Canadian public sphere, even if the history texts and government does not fully recognize or acknowledge them. Through the (re)creation of space and place in the archive, the mapping of “Black Toronto” challenges what it means to be Canadian.



Marlene Hyacinth Gaynair is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. She studies the cultures and experiences of the African Diaspora/Atlantic World and African-American history in the twentieth century. Islands in the North is a digital humanities exhibit, which accompanies her upcoming dissertation on Jamaican diasporas in Canada and the United States. Jamaican spicy beef patties sustain her.

Islands In The North is funded by the Rutgers Digital Humanities Initiative.

Special shoutout goes out to Francesca Giannetti, Hannah Griggs, and Dr. Paul Israel. All the guidance, advice, and assistance in the last quarter was priceless. You all made learning and loving digital humanities possible. Thank you to Barbara Baillargeon, The Flyer Vault, Torontoist, Toronto Public Libraries, York University Libraries, and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey for all the resources and help along the way.

Of course, all the love to Dr. Francesca D'Amico-Cuthbert, Dr. Taylor Moore, Dr. Ashleigh Lawrence-Sanders, Dr. Rhonda George, Ian Andre Espinet, Reuben Briggs, Jason Cuthbert, and my mother for the motivation, kindness, and support. We made it! Whoever I missed, blame my head and not my heart.

Check the technique! See my curriculum vitae here...

Feel free to contact me here, or follow me on Twitter @blkatlanticCDN.


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Islands in the North by M. Hyacinth Gaynair is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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