Born in Toronto and raised in Whitby, finding other Black people – and everything we need to feel close to our roots – has often been difficult in Durham. As a teen, I remember listening to k-os albums, proud of the Whitby alum for gracing the world stage. Since those days, now we have artists like Drake, Haviah Mighty, PARTYNEXTDOOR, DVSN, and Paul Chin adding their names to the roster of Black musicians from Toronto who are absolutely repping the culture, paying homage to their Caribbean roots, and showing what underdogs can really do.
There is something about local art that always gets my support, especially if they give the Black kids something to study. It was a big moment back in 2020 when the Obamas gave a shoutout to Oshawa’s very own Daniel Caesar. There is much about Caesar to study and analyze indeed. Even The Arkells give Oshawa a shoutout in their ditty “Don’t Be a Stranger.” Since Kardinal Offishall, the list of artists who proudly place the north as hub of artistry and talent among global contenders has definitely grown, and diversified.
As February marks another observation of Black History Month, I chose to celebrate the innovation of Black people who have enriched the ethos of Oshawa and made it a place to eat, work, play, dance, and recharge.
In 2022, The Food Network’s hit, Top Chef Canada, had its very first Black winner in all of the show’s 10 seasons: Tre Sanderson. Not only did Sanderson win using his culinary prowess, he did so with Caribbean cuisine as his medium. As I have written about, in my post from last year’s Black History Month, Oshawa has lots of delicious food from Africa and the diaspora to taste and devour. Sanderson’s just happens to be Michelin-star. On February 9 and 10, Sanderson, the Durham College Culinary Arts program alumnus, is returning to Oshawa to offer patrons a six-course experience. Hosted at Bistro ’67, get tickets for the 6 p.m. sitting while you still can. As seats are likely to sell out quickly, it would be nice if folks paid it forward and gifted tickets to the Black people in their communities who would additionally rejoice in tasting the talents of Tre Sanderson.
Pair any food you enjoy with a locally-made craft beer. If you are into the craft beer scene, you likely know the name of Kitchener’s own Ren Navarro, a Black beer expert who is absolutely diversifying the industry and holding businesses accountable. Her work creates change, safety, and social inclusion for women, LGBTQ2IA+, and Black folks who enjoy beer all across Ontario.
Readers might like to know that I was recently commissioned to guest edit the Fall ’23 issue of Hamilton Arts and Letters Magazine. The issue is full of art, stories, and even some theory. What I am inspired by in my work these days is Afro-Bubble Gum; the Black mundane as radical, Black joy being frivolous. Check it out if you are seeking artists to patronize or reading to inspire change, rest, and play.
It was during the making of this magazine that I got to reconnect with Natasha Samuels, a Durham-based Black sommelier. While I love red wine from South Africa, Natasha definitely expanded my palate. I first met Natasha in Ajax when she was hosting an educational and savoury food and wine pairing. As it turns out, she promotes her passion all across Durham, and is available for hire. Check her out: www.taste-with-tash.com. Her events are usually sold out, so get in quick!
If you are more into the comforts of home, there are several Black entrepreneurs in and around Oshawa making crafts and cozies just for you. Catherine and Co. is a candle shop founded and operated by an African Black woman with her finger on the pulse of what calm smells like. My favourite is “This Candle Smells Like Crews and Tangos’ Second Floor.” Just read the description: “Charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent! Toronto's #1 drag bar is the only place in the city where you can share a drink with a performer and sing your heart out with a random Bride-to-Be from Innisfil. It's sexy, it's sweaty, and a little overwhelming, but it's perfect and I'm glad it's still standing.” With top notes of sandalwood, and cardamom and cedarwood in the mids, rounded out with leather and iris as its base, this candle is a taste of luxury. With more classic scents such as Bambu, Eucalipto, and Plantain, visit Oshawa’s Robert McLaughlin Gallery gift shop to smell and purchase these candles that have Black joy in their signature.
If you’re anything like me, R&B always comes with a candle, but also a warm tea. While you’re at the RMG gift shop, be sure to check out Briar and Sage. This Black-owned business has Passionfruit, Mango Mist, and Ginger Peach loose leaf teas that are so adorable and so delicious. They also sell macramé book marks, artisanal soaps, and more earthy comforts.
While doing the work of self-care be sure to check out Sorrel and Sage. Also located in the RMG gift shop, this Black business offers a host of herbal wellness products that are healthy for our hair, skin, nails, spirit, and cultures. I have seen Sorrel and Sage products shopped all around local markets and pop ups, so be sure to check them out.
Once you have all the comforts you need to restore yourself, look into “Tales from Afar: African and Caribbean Folklore with Kesha Christie.” Happening on February 1 from 10 to 11 a.m., this online children’s program offered by Oshawa Public Libraries is perfect for anyone in grades 1 to 5, it is important as parents, educators, and community members to remember that there is still much hard work to be done to achieve equity, and it starts with the youth.
Black History Month has always been a time of rest for me, although it is also a time of heightened pressure for Black people to put our cultures on display and do a lot of explaining. Sigh. I offer you the work of Desmond Cole, an absolute jewel right from Oshawa whose National Best-Selling book, The Skin We’re In, explains much about the contemporary experiences of Canadian Black people. Freedom is a constant struggle, and much of the groundwork has already been laid. It will take a chorus to amplify those experiences, uplift those voices, and rejoice.