Little Jamaica tour participants, Monica's Cosmetic Supplies Ltd., August 8, 2019.
Roland Beggs and other tour participants on the Little Jamaica Walking Tour, Eglinton Ave. West, June 30, 2022.
Photo of D'Andra Montaque, 2021. Courtesy of D'Andra Montaque.
Participants on the Little Jamaica Tour, Pure Vibes Barber Shop, August 8, 2019.
Beauty Salons and Barber Shops
A different community hub
Barber shops and hair salons are important places to the Black Caribbean community. Here, people can not only get their hair done by someone from the Black community, but they also share fellowship, the latest news from “back home”, and also talk about politics, world issues, sports, work, and family amongst other popular topics.
Since the 1960s and 1970s, these services and stores have been an integral part of Black and Caribbean communities in Canada. As the communities grew in Canada, Black people wanted barbers and hair salons where workers were familiar with their type of hair and offered suitable hair products. Many barbers, hair salons and hair/beauty supply stores were established along Eglinton Avenue West during this time. Some of the beauty supply stores were run by Indian or Chinese immigrants who sold bulk and discount products and supported the many beauticians in the area. Black hairdressers visited from as far as London, Ontario to buy products for their businesses.
Listen to D’Andra Montaque’s experience with haircare and beauty providers in Little Jamaica
In the late 1960’s, Monica Lewis and her husband George bought a property at 1553 Eglinton West and began a lifetime of serving the Caribbean community in Toronto and most of Southern Ontario. The couple migrated from England as skilled workers with a British education. Lewis’ business, known as Monica’s, first opened as a record store, selling vinyl records, record player, cds, posters and other electronics. It became a community hub for music enthusiasts and collectors as the store’s collection included sounds popular in the UK.
In the 1980s, Monica’s became a beauty and cosmetics salon and store that still sold the occasional record. It remained a hub for the community and drew women from all around Southern Ontario as it was one of the few Black hair stores catering to the ever-growing Black population. Although closed due to the pandemic and economic pressures from disruptive construction on the streets, Monica’s is a fond memory for many residents and frequent visitors of the community. Many recall visiting for a record or just some conversation with Miss Monica, as she was often known.
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Beauty Salons and Barber Shops
Generations of Hair Care
D’Andra Montaque was born in Toronto in 1996 as a second-generation Jamaican to parents who immigrated to Canada in the 1970s. Her family, including uncles, aunts and honorary grandparents, lived in Little Jamaica until her early 20s and she remains an active community member.
D’Andra’s mother, Jennifer Davis-Montaque, lived in Montreal before moving near Little Jamaica, where she was greeted with familiar sights and sounds. Montaque attended several schools in the area including Humewood Community School and York Memorial High School. Growing up on Eglinton West, Montaque grew in a community that was vibrant and she was familiar with frequent visits to Monica’s with her godmother or to the Barbers of Eglinton with her father who still lives in Little Jamaica today.
Listen to D’Andra Montaque talk about the importance of having beauty spaces in Little Jamaica.
Roland Beggs moved to Toronto from Grenada in 1992 with aspirations to study civil engineering but his dreams would change once he got to the city where became an apprentice in a barbershop. Beggs decided to go to school for hairdressing instead. Since then, he has run a hair studio at different addresses on Eglinton West. He was motivated to start his new life in the neighborhood because it had the community of Caribbean and Black businesses that were providing important services in the community. Beggs has worked in the area since the 1990s when it was notorious with drug activity and crime. He also raised his children in the area.
Hear how and why Roland Beggs began working in Little Jamaica and stayed for over two decades.
Many of the hair and beauty supply stores that used to be found along Eglinton Avenue West have been forced out of business because of a lack of sales and an inability to pay the rent, due in part to the Crosstown LRT construction which began in 2011. Although Monica owns the building that houses her store, she also faces declining sales, noting in an interview with the Toronto Star in March 2018, “We’re not making any business at all. We just come out here and sit. I haven’t sold one dollar… And this is how the days are.”
Martin Jeffrey, owner of Pure Vibes Barber Shop, has been a barber for more than 25 years and has crafted and mastered the skill of cutting hair. Although mostly men come to his shop, women and children are also welcome. When speaking about the cultural longevity and construction that has befallen on the community of Eglinton Avenue West, Martin told the Toronto Star in March 2018, “The concept of the community, Little Jamaica, is no longer going to be in existence, ” and that, “What we are actually fighting for is to keep the community, under the identity of the Caribbean community.”