This digital project (re)creates the space and place of Black Canadian/West Indian immigrants in twentieth-century Toronto, Canada. Marlene Gaynair uses spatial analytic software to transform analog documents into a multidimensional interactive mapping exhibition to create an ongoing public historical archive. 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. 

 Islands in the North 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. Black Toronto's mapping also highlights a long history of Blackness and belonging in the Canadian public sphere, even if the historical texts do 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.



Dr. Marlene Gaynair is a social and cultural historian of the Black Atlantic, with specialization in the United States, Canada, and Anglo Caribbean during the long twentieth century. Her research interests cover twentieth century popular culture, identities, citizenship, diasporas, public memory, immigration, cultural studies, and urban spaces. She is currently working on her book project, which is a comparative transnational study of Jamaicans in urban Canada and the United States during the long twentieth century.

She is currently an Assistant Professor of History at Washington State University.

Islands In The North was partly 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 histories and digital humanities possible. Thank you to Barbara Baillargeon, The Flyer Vault, Torontoist, Toronto Public Libraries, York University Libraries, and Rutgers University Libraries for all the resources and help along the way.

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

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


Creative Commons Licence
Islands in the North by Marlene H. Gaynair is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.