The Jane and Finch community, also known as Black Creek or University Heights, is a densely populated neighbourhood located in north-west Toronto, Ontario. Its residents hail from over 80 ethno-cultural groups from Africa, Asia, South America, the West Indies and the Middle East.
BRIEF HISTORY OF JANE & FINCH
The earliest inhabitants were the First Nations tribe which established a village along the banks of the Humber River, just to the north of present day Finch Avenue. This First Nations village was in existence from 1400 to 1550 (From Longhouse to Highrise, 1986). The peoples most likely were part of one of the main groups that originally inhabited what is now considered the City of Toronto including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, Inuit, Métis or Wendat peoples.
Like many other areas in Southern Ontario, it was once a small farming district for 150 years prior to its urbanization. Named Elia, it was home to a community of German pioneers travelling from Pennsylvania in the 1700s. Then followed a wave of English and Scottish pioneers in the 1800s. Tourists can still experience the city’s rural period at the Black Creek Pioneer Village.
In 1962, The Ontario Housing Corporation (OHC) along with the North York Planning Department devised a plan to develop existing farm lots (‘District 10’) into a model suburban community with a mixture of low-, medium- and high-density housing, employment, commercial and social services. The plan was created to accommodate Toronto’s growing immigration population.
1960s: RAPID GROWTH
Within the coming years, a series of high-rise apartments were constructed along Jane street, later known as the ‘Jane-Finch corridor.’ A high influx of immigrant families from all over the world begin to settle into the new Toronto neighbourhood. Between 1961 to 1971, the area experienced astronomical growth when the population went from 1 300 to 33 000, thereby accounting for more than 40% of the growth in North York. By 1975, reached almost 50 000 with half of its residents units coming from a concentration of high-rise apartments (From Longhouse to Highrise, 1986).
POVERTY & ISOLATION
By the mid 1970s, several social issues have surfaced from the rapid growth of the community and large concentrations of low-income households. The area soon becomes notorious for its prevalence of gangs, drugs and criminal activity. These social issues were known to be a result of “overcrowded schools, disconnected social services, inadequate recreational facilities, isolation from the rest of the city and the area’s overall poor self-image” (Lovell).
Over the next three decades, many local activist groups, city programs and non-profit organizations were birthed to address the needs of the community and to improve the neighbourhood’s negative image and create a sense of community pride. Documentaries, books, articles and music also helped to bolster morale and spread awareness to the systemic issues and racialized discrimination that local residents face.
2000s: MASSIVE CHANGE
The new millennium marked a fresh set of high-profile and sometimes controversial changes for Jane-Finch residents, including (but not limited to):
- Jane-Finch re-branding to ‘University Heights’ campaign
- Yonge-University-Spadina line extension
- re-location and transition of the Humber River Hospital Finch site to a long-term care facility
- creation of the Black Creek Community Farm
- Toronto Community Housing’s Firgrove-Grassway revitalization project
- San Romanoway revitalization
- Yorkwoods Library renovation (in progress)
THE PANDEMIC YEARS
The initial Covid-19 pandemic season struck the Jane-Finch community particularly hard. Not only did the area experience higher levels of Covid cases than other pockets of Toronto, there was also an up-surge of gun violence, which exacerbated the increased stress and anxiety already caused by the rising costs of living, un(der)employment, failing infrastructure and police prejudice among residents (Bowden).
THE FUTURE OF JANE-FINCH
The Jane and Finch neighbourhood still remains one of the most vibrant, ethnically diverse and resilient neighbourhoods in Canada. Major projects on the horizon for 2022 and beyond include:
- Finch West LRT line (under construction)
- Jane and Finch Community Hub and Centre for the Arts (pre-construction)
- potential Yorkgate Mall re-development (proposal phase)
- potential Jane-Finch Mall re-development (proposal phase)
From Longhouse to Highrise. Downsview Weston Action Committee, 1986.
Black Creek Neighbourhood Profile. City of Toronto, 2011.
Jane-Finch Neighbourhood Improvement Area Profile. City of Toronto, 2011
Lovell, Alexander. “Overview of Development in Jane-Finch” ACT for Youth CBR Presentation
Neighbourhood Equity Score. City of Toronto, 2014.
Jane-Finch City Planning Memorandum. City of Toronto, 2022.