Ask anyone familiar with the Danforth strip what food to try if you are in the neighbourhood and the typical response would be a gyro, followed with baklava for dessert and a frappe to wash it all down.
However, Greek fare is not your only option if you are dining in what’s known as Toronto’s Greektown. Farther east, new Ethiopian businesses are moving onto the Danforth, offering more exotic flavours than their Western counterparts and fighting to have their voices heard in the community by campaigning to call the area Little Ethiopia.
As it stands, the area of the Danforth from Greenwood Avenue to Woodbine Avenue offers little to attract people other than locals to the neighbourhood. The street has been plagued with drab, empty storefronts for quite some time. In the past few years, Ethiopian restaurants and businesses have popped up amongst these deserted stores, bringing some life back to the area.
A movement of business owners and supporters are working to bring change to the area by naming it Little Ethiopia, hoping that it will revamp the strip as well as give Toronto’s Ethiopian residents a visible place in the city.
One major advocate of establishing a Little Ethiopia is Samuel Getachew, recent candidate for City Councillor in Ward 43 in Scarborough. Ethiopian-born Getachew is one of the more vocal supporters of Little Ethiopia. He believes that the designation of Greenwood Avenue to Woodbine Avenue would only benefit the area and its residents.
“It is almost like the experience between an owner of a house and a tenant. When you own the area, you bring change to it. You can even go ahead and compare it to all the rich people, who pay millions and attach their names to government and university buildings. They always invest money and resources for its well being,” says Getachew.
Getachew further explains how Ethiopian businesses would improve the area. “It is about having citizens take ownership of the area. When people see themselves and their history attached to an idea, they tend to invest their money and energy to make it more attractive.”
In addition to the obvious visual improvements to the area, a Little Ethiopia would draw tourists and give the area a sense of community that is visible in the Greek residents west of Greenwood Avenue on the Danforth.
A major part of the Greektown community is the annual Tastes of the Danforth Festival that takes place in the summer. According to a research poll by Decima it is the favourite Greater Toronto Area festival among almost 1000 of its respondents and attracts over one million people to the Danforth strip between Chester and Jones Avenue to sample the best Greek food Toronto has to offer. The inclusion of a Little Ethiopia on the Danforth and in the festival would dramatically change the menu and enhance the atmosphere that residents and visitors have come to love about both the neighbourhood and the festival.
Although some residents are supportive and encouraging of attaching a name to the Danforth strip between Greenwood and Woodbine, not all feedback that Samuel Getachew and other advocates for Little Ethiopia have received has been positive.
“For the most part, the idea has not been received well by the residents only because the Danforth Business Improvement Area is campaigning against it. They think that there aren’t many Ethiopians living in the area even though this is Canada, a country that respects minority rights as much as that of majority,” Getachew states.
The vision for Samuel Getachew’s Little Ethiopia will not be easily attained, but the challenge doesn’t deter Getachew and his supporters from trying because they value the importance of living in a multicultural city.
“Canada is an amazing place and so is our great city, Toronto. Little Ethiopia would confirm to our newest Ethiopian immigrants that their experience matters to their city and that they would not be mere tourists if the designation were to become a reality.”