As in all major urban centres worldwide, Canada's largest city, home to 2.9 million people and representing an important economic engine for the entire nation, has been severely impacted by the necessary health-safety measures requiring restrictive stay-at-home orders and the extended shuttering of dining and retail spaces.

Following an announcement earlier this week in Toronto's historic Distillery District, Canada's federal government plans to invest $19 million aimed at bolstering the city of Toronto's economic recovery.

The Honourable Mélanie Joly, federal Minister of Economic and Official Languages, made the announcement on Tuesday, July 13, alongside Toronto Mayor John Tory, Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson (Scarborough Centre), Member of Parliament Marci Ien (Toronto Centre), Member of Parliament Julie Dzerowicz (Davenport), Member of Parliament Adam Vaughan (Spadina-Fort York), and Councillor Brad Bradford (Beaches-East York).

“Toronto’s vibrancy stems from its diversity of neighbourhoods and main streets throughout this global city. Our government is proud to support the City of Toronto to help retail and main street businesses to bounce back, stimulate local tourism and invite foot traffic back to Toronto’s restaurants, shops and sites, protecting jobs and creating new opportunities for tourism,” said Minister Joly.

Through the support of the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario), the funds will serve to bolster six key programs over the next few years, which are part of the Toronto Main Street Recovery and Rebuild Initiatives. These programs created in response to the challenges faced by small businesses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic include:

  • Retail Accelerator Program
  • Vacant Commercial Space Rehabilitation Grant Program
  • Main Street Innovation Fund
  • plazaPOPS (Privately-Owned Public Spaces)
  • CaféTO
  • Support for Businesses in Little Jamaica/Eglinton Avenue West (in partnership with the Black Business and Professional Association – BBPA)

My podcast conversation below with Minister Joly mainly focused on the portion of the funding aimed at delivering support for the Black-owned businesses in Little Jamaica in the city's Eglington West neighbourhood already challenged by the decade-long construction of the Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit (LRT) line.

The Eglinton West corridor, known as Little Jamaica, has been a vibrant business and community hub for Toronto's Jamaican, wider Caribbean and African immigrant communities since the 1960s. The neighbourhood is home to many Black-owned businesses of cultural relevance, including barbershops, restaurants specializing in Caribbean cuisine, Black aesthetics and hair shops, recording studios and music stores.

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In collaboration with the Black Business and Professional Association, this project will support 40 Black- and Caribbean-owned businesses in Toronto’s Little Jamaica to scale, grow and showcase the neighbourhood’s dining, shopping and cultural experiences.

“Federal funding is vital to the City’s support of main street and small business recovery initiatives. The funding announced today reflects advice from the business community as to the kinds of support that are needed to deliver on the recommendations of the Building Back Stronger report and expand opportunities for small businesses. I am confident that together with our partners in the business and culture sectors, we will build a more prosperous, resilient and successful Toronto,” Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson said.

Showing Toronto love

As the fourth largest city in North America, Toronto's streets and neighbourhoods are full of innovative business owners, entrepreneurs, artisans and diverse people from a wide range of sectors and occupations who look forward to once again enjoying and interacting across the city's retail, dining and cultural spaces.

This federal funding has at its core the goal to help retain and attract new, locally-owned businesses, as well as restore commercial foot traffic and vibrancy to local neighbourhoods. This means revitalizing the much-affected retail sector with an accelerator for retail businesses in the downtown core and inner suburbs, providing them with training, advisory services, mentorship and a contribution of up to $10,000. This comes hand-in-hand with a complementary initiative to provide grants of up to $20,000 to businesses to undertake leasehold improvements and external façade renovations, as well as helping commercial property owners to re-lease space left vacant from the pandemic.

“We need to ensure our businesses are set up for recovery post-pandemic and in years to come. Today’s support from the federal government will provide much-needed help for our hard-hit main street and small businesses. Thank you to our federal partners for this funding, which will be vital to the survival of our small businesses and in the success of our city,” Mayor John Tory said.

But once these commercial spaces, such as strip malls, are given a great chance to recover and succeed, it's also vital to promote an active community ecosystem to support these businesses. The plazaPOPS (Privately-Owned Public Spaces) program explores the potential for strip mall business owners to work with Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) in trading parking spaces for lively outdoor public space — enriching community life, increasing foot traffic and supporting small businesses.

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Another very effective way to use public spaces is to allow Toronto's restaurants, bars, and cafés to use city-owned spaces to open patios in curb lanes and along sidewalks by providing additional room for physical distancing. CaféTO is a City of Toronto COVID-19 response program launched in the summer of 2020, in partnership with Destination Toronto, to provide urgent help to local restaurants and bars.

The program offers up to $20,000 for the installation of decking and fencing at CaféTO sites, improving public safety and accessibility.

Together, these investments will support more than 3,300 Toronto businesses and protect over 5,760 jobs.

In addition to the $18 million investment in the above initiatives, the federal government is committing $1 million to Destination Toronto's ShowLoveTO campaign.

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About me

Meres J. Weche

Expat and digital maven with a passion for telling stories in words & images. Lived & worked in four continents.

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