The History of Muslims in Toronto – A Special December Jane’s Walk

December 23rd, 2015 Permalink

The History of Muslims in Toronto – A Special December Jane’s Walk took place on Sunday December 20 2015. About 60 people began the walk in Bloor West Village, starting from in front of Runnymede Station. The walk continued north into The Junction, east through the West Bend neighbourhood, north-east of High Park, ultimately winding into Roncesvalles Village and arriving at Jami Mosque. At least one third of the people stayed until the very end. Each picture in this collection of 49 photographs was captured by Brampton Based Professional Photographer, Herman Custodio.

Walking Toronto through its Muslim history A Sunday Jane’s Walk will take participants through the west end, touring the site of city’s first mosque and other Islamic touchstones. The History of Muslims in TorontoA Special December Jane’s Walk was scheduled with a start time of 11 a.m. on Sunday December 20 2015. To make it easy for people, the meeting point was in front of Runnymede Station, in Bloor West Village. People began arriving as early as 10:30 a.m.

2 Dozens of people gathered in front of the main Entrance to Runnymede Station awaiting the official 11 a.m. start time for this Jane’s Walk. In the far right of the photograph, a light green historic plaque may be recognized. This plaque provides background on the formation of what today is known as The Bloor West Village BIA. This Business Improvement Area was the first of its kind in modern times. This plaque was mentioned to walkers to keep in mind for reference during a walk stop location later on. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

3 Walk Leader, HiMY SYeD, introduces himself and provides background on why this particular walk is happening now only days before Christmas highlighting its urgency and importance: “This is not about Muslim heritage, this is a story about Canada. This is about Canadian heritage.”
(Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

4 Denise Pinto, Global Director Jane’s Walk, standing beside Runnymede Junior and Senior Public School, welcomes the crowd and shares news about the upcoming tenth anniversary of Jane’s Walk in May 2016. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

5 Heather Shand, local resident and Indigenous Canadian, begins by acknowledging we are walking on Traditional Territory of The Mississaugas of The New Credit First Nation. Heather shares that she grew up in a small town which had about the same population as the public school beside us. About 1,200 students presently attend Runnymede Public School. She was pleased and enthusiastic to learn a Jane’s Walk was happening in her own neighbourhood. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

6Samridhi Kundra, Jane’s Walk School Edition Coordinator, holding the Poster/Sign for this Jane’s Walk.
She did so for almost the entire distance. She did it just in case any passers-by were curious and may wish to join this already-in-progress-Jane’s-Walk! (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

7 Arriving across the street from our walk stop location, The Albanian Muslim Society of Toronto, at 564 Annette. The architecture and façade of the building was described as a low-rise which fits in with the neighbouring yoga studio, law office, and laundromat. There are no outward Islamic motifs. No dome nor minaret. Other than the sign above the window and the historic plaque in-between the window and front door, one would never imagine this building is home to Toronto’s oldest continuous Muslim Congregation. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

8 Runnymede Road and Annette Street is an intersection neighbourhood holding its own identity distinct from Bloor West Village to the south and The Junction immediately north and east from here along Dundas Street West. This intersection neighbourhood is a mix of residential houses, small businesses, restaurants, convenience stores, an official east-west bike lane, specialty studios, artist space, and one historic building which we will see up close. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

9 In the words of Denise Pinto, Global Director Jane’s Walk,
“In the laneway beside the mosque, people spray painted offensive things. We won’t give them the satisfaction of making this an official stop.”
(Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

10 Bedri, with his friend Selim, were sitting inside The Albanian Muslim Society of Toronto watching us from across the street. Bedri was more than happy to join our Jane’s Walk as a Community Voice sharing a few words, “I came here in 1966, escaping communist Albania. This [The Dundas Street Mosque] was the first mosque in Toronto. Now there are over 100. I thank Canada for taking us. Canada is the best country in the world.” Night Prayers held here during Ramadan have perhaps the latest start times of any Islamic gathering in The Greater Toronto Area. Late start times allow third, fourth and fifth generation Albanian-Canadians now living up to an hour’s drive away to join Ramadan Night Prayers on time. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

11 Selim and Bedri proudly stand beside the only Muslim Heritage Plaque in Toronto which is attached directly into the façade of The Albanian Muslim Society of Toronto building at 564 Annette Street. The plaque is dedicated to Regep “Reggie” Assim, founder of the Muslim Society of Toronto. This address, 564 Annette Street, is not the first Islamic Centre in Toronto’s History, that would be 3047 Dundas Street West. This Annette Street location however, remains home to Toronto’s oldest continuous Muslim Congregation. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

12 Walking north on Clendenan Avenue from Annette Street to Dundas Street West into The Junction proper.
(Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

13 Walking north on Clendenan Avenue from Annette Street to Dundas Street West into The Junction proper.
(Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

14 A brief mini-walk stop in front of Dencan Books. This business is the oldest Used Bookstore in Toronto. It was founded in the 1950s, first located in downtown Toronto, migrating north to Bloor Street, before re-locating here at 3113 Dundas Street West in The Junction. The current owner is a former customer who purchased the business from the founder some twenty years ago. The store’s name Dencan, is a portmonteau of DENmark and CANada. The original owner being from Denmark, newly arrived in Canada, wanted to start a bookstore. Hence, Dencan Books and Magazines, has written itself into Toronto’s History. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

15 For convenience, we are standing beside 3047 Dundas Street West underneath the overhanging arcade of this closed storefront. This allows for the still strong crowd of sixty to remain on the sidewalk and not spill onto the street. For the next three quarters of an hour, two family members whose parents respectively founded the first Islamic Centres in Toronto and Edmonton, become Community Voices in the best Jane’s Walk tradition. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

16 Eileen Alije Kerim (Left), her father, Sami Kerim, along with her two uncles Regep Effendi Assim and Neim Sali were the Founders of the Muslim Society of Toronto. Mary’s (Right) Parents helped establish The Al Rashid Mosque, Canada’s First Masjid in Edmonton, Alberta. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

17 Following a brief introduction of who Eileen and Mary are, HiMY SYeD hands the floor over to Eileen Alije Kerim. She shared her first person eyewitness accounts of how her father and uncles transformed the Albanian Society of Toronto, into the Albanian Muslim Society of Toronto, culminating into the Muslim Society of Toronto in 1954. “My father and my uncle went around to the Albanian community to get donations to build the mosque. My father passed away, but my uncle made a promise that they would realize his dream. Two years later, they did. It wasn’t just the Albanian community that used the mosque. Every ethnicity and nationality shared the space. So in 1954, it was changed from the ‘Albanian Muslim Society’ to just the ‘Muslim Society’.” (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

18 From the very beginning of the Dundas Street Mosque, its congregation was diverse in ethnicity and school of thought. Unlike in Europe where Muslims living in Germany, France or The U.K. were thought of as being of Turkish, North African, or South Asian background respectively, Muslim-Torontonians are from the world over and defy automatic identification with any specific national background. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

19 Only weeks before his assassination, Malcolm X visited the Dundas Street Mosque in 1965. This visit is mentioned in a memorial plaque placed down the street by The Junction Business Improvement Association (BIA). Eileen and Mary recount how everyone present was enthusiastic about Malcolm’s visit yet saddened upon learning of his death. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

20 Mary shares a history of Muslims in Canada not normally thought of. Early Muslims in Alberta were trappers, earning for their families. Edmonton’s nascent Muslim community had made fundraising efforts for their Islamic Centre during visits to Toronto, which in turn become an impetus for local fundraising for Toronto’s own eventual Muslim Society of Toronto. That local fundraising culminated in the project of the Dundas Street Mosque, here at 3047 Dundas Street West in the 1960s. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

21 Eileen and Mary were generous in allowing a great deal of time for Q&A with the Jane’s Walkers. The resulting discussion included how the Dundas Street Mosque had women on its initial Board of Directors and how perhaps ahead of their time they were in terms of Gender such as it was in the 1960s. In 1965, regular Friday Prayers began being held in Hart House on the Campus of the University of Toronto. Hart House until relatively recently, did not allow women inside its building, unless it was a rented event. The Muslim Society of Toronto would rent space in Hart House for Fundraising. Many, many more memories and stories were shared during our walk stop, that are beyond the scope of this short photo caption…. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

22 Denise Pinto, Global Director Jane’s Walk, thanking both Mary and Eileen for being Community Voices and making this a truly unique walk stop experience. Both Mary and Eileen expressed a desire to know when the next such Jane’s Walk would take place so they may speak again. We’ll have to ensure this happens, InshAllah (God-Alone Willing). (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

23 Left to Right: Denise Pinto Global Director Jane’s Walk, HiMY SYeD Walk Leader, Eileen and Mary as Community Voices
(Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

24 HiMY SYeD stands on the front stoop of 3047 Dundas Street West. As recounted by Eileen and Mary moments before, this building was Toronto’s First Islamic Centre, The Dundas Street Mosque. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

25 The building today has a restaurant on its main floor, Bricco Kitchen & Wine Bar. 3047 Dundas Street West originally was a leather shop which was purchased by the Muslim Society of Toronto in the early 1960s then converted into a place of worship. As the congregation outgrew this space, it was sold with proceeds going towards purchase of Jami Mosque. In recent years this was a picture frame shop which had closed before being purchased and transformed into the present restaurant. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

26 Eric Gennaro, the owner of Bricco Kitchen & Wine-Bar, was kind enough to spontaneously speak as a Jane’s Walk Community Voice upon being alerted by his father that a crowd of people were in front of his restaurant. Eric was well aware of the significance of this address being the former Dundas Street Mosque. He related that the former owners of the building had on rare occasion found Muslims praying on the front stoop doorway, though Eric himself has never seen this. Since opening, Eric shared that Muslims do sometimes visit his restaurant out of curiosity. Many thanks to Eric Gennaro for being a Community Voice. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

27 Samridhi Kundra, Jane’s Walk School Edition Coordinator, holding the Poster/Sign for this Jane’s Walk during our walk stop in front of Bricco Kitchen & Wine Bar at 3047 Dundas Street West, address of the former Dundas Street Mosque. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

28 The Junction Business Improvement Area has placed Historic Plaques along Dundas Street West. Rather than expected words-on-a-board-attached-to-a-pole markers, The BIA has creatively re-purposed Train Wheels, tying into The Junction’s railroad heritage, into these Historic Plaques. This one is outside The Junction BIA office at the corner of Dundas Street West and Pacific Avenue. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

29 This Junction BIA plaque mentions the visit of Malcolm X to The Dundas Street Mosque, the city’s first.
(Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

30 In talking about Business Improvement Areas, the green plaque pointed out across the street from Runnymede Station at the beginning of this walk was cited. That plaque gives a history of what today is The Bloor West Village BIA. It is a model which has gone province-wide and is now replicated in cities the world over. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

31 Before leaving The Junction BIA plaque, a very brief overview of the history of West Toronto and Prohibition is begun, and will then be concluded at our next walk stop at another historic plaque. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

32 Walking east along Annette Street in The Junction towards the West Bend Neighbourhood.
(Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

33 Passing by The Masonic Temple on Annette Street in The Junction.
(Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

34 Placed in the middle of Baird Park, on Keele Street at Humberside, is a 1989 Toronto Historical Board plaque. Here, we conclude our story of West Toronto and Prohibition, begun at the end of our previous walk stop. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

35 HiMY SYeD shares that from a certain point of view, because this particular historic plaque was installed in 1989, prior to Amalgamation in 1998, and as the text of this plaque states that Prohibition is still in effect here, this plaque itself is a kind of time capsule. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

36 Before leaving Baird Park, and heading towards our final two walk stop locations, Denise Pinto Global Director Jane’s Walk suggests an exercise where the Walk Leader will ask a question, and walkers can discuss it with one another while walking towards our next stop. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

Toronto Historical Board 1989
(Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

38 We arrive at the Radcliffe Avenue side of Jami Mosque for a mini-walk stop. We will shortly be entering through the front entrance on Boustead Avenue. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

39 7 Boustead Avenue, at Roncesvalles Avenue. This address was Toronto’s First Halal Meat shop. The International Food Centre was founded by Abdul Qadir, an observant Muslim who did his best to adhere to halal dietary laws. Once asked why he started a halal butcher shop, Abdul Qadir answered, “After seven years, I got tired of eating fish!” (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

40 Lettering and Arabic Calligraphy above the front doors of Jami Mosque at 56 Boustead Avenue.
(Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

41 Jami Mosque seen through leafless tree branches in late December, a view unavailable in summertime.
(Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

42 A brief recap to begin tying all the threads together in the earlier history of Muslims in Toronto leading to the purchase of this building, the former High Park Presbyterian Church, which became the Jami Mosque in 1969. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

43 Toronto Star photo dated Friday January 21 1972, is shown by HiMY SYeD. The article, “LOCKED-OUT MOSLEMS PRAY IN THE SNOW” shows 19 Muslims sitting on prayer mats spread out approximately where people are now standing at this walk stop. The early history of Jami Mosque is also the early history of the Islamic Foundation of Toronto now at 441 Nugget Avenue in Scarborough and also the Bosnian (née Croatian) Islamic Centre at 75 Birmingham Street in Etobicoke. Indeed, as almost every local congregation can ultimately trace their roots here, Jami Mosque is essentially the “Ummal Masjid” of Toronto — Toronto’s Mother Masjid. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

44 Before entering Jami Mosque, a few words about what to expect. We are entering in-between the midday and mid-afternoon prayers, only a few worshipers will be present. Shoes are removed before entering the prayer hall. What it is, when it comes down to it, is an empty room with a carpet, and some bookshelves…
(Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

45 …granted, a BIG empty room with a carpet, and some bookshelves.
(Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

46 On the bookshelves of Jami Mosque, one will find copies of Islam’s sacred text, The Holy Qur’an.
(Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

47 Before entering the main prayer hall, HiMY SYeD shared personal memories of a childhood which included Weekend Islamic School in Jami Mosque. Some notable Canadians who also grew up here were cited, emphasizing the significance of Jami Mosque not only to Toronto’s History, but to Canada’s History as well. This Jane’s Walk concluded with a final Q&A lasting about ten minutes. People were then invited to quietly explore Jami Mosque on their own if they wished. (Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

48 Inside Jami Mosque. One of the Jane’s Walkers who stayed until the very end, having a quiet word with Samridhi Kundra and Denise Pinto.
(Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

49 Inside Jami Mosque, final walk stop, The History of Muslims in Toronto – A Special December Jane’s Walk.
(Photo Credit: Herman Custodio) #

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