Walking Through Toronto's Reggae History

Our Jane’s Walk. Reggae History. Eglinton West.

During our Jane’s Walk last weekend on Toronto’s Reggae History, it was Reggae talent Jay Douglas who gave us the background story behind the musicians in the mural.

We also learned a little about Toronto’s role in in Reggae Music internationally.  Our recording studios and artists are known among the best!

According to Mr. Douglas, when Jamaicans back home became enraptured with the new and current music coming out of America, it was the hard core dub fanatics in Toronto who maintained their original sound.  It is said that Toronto still holds the ground for dub music and that we maintain the rhythms for rock steady.

As many growing up on Toronto between the 70s and 90s can attest, Reggae can feel as much a part of local culture as the TTC.

According to Josh Colle, who led the naming of Reggae Lane in our neighborhood, the mural at the Green P Parking closest to Marlee Ave. is the largest mural honoring Reggae History in North America.

As part of his presentation,  Jay Douglas told us about some of the connections between himself and the Toronto Reggae artists in the mural. One friendship that continues today is with reggae legend Bernie Pitters.

The following paragraphs are a collection of on-line media sources that give some insight to the story we heard last week.

Bernie Pitters

Pitters spent the ’80s and ’90s touring with Toots and the Maytals after learning the ropes from Bob Marley’s keyboard player in Jamaica. Pitters is still known to make an appearance on stage or at a keyboard,  despite losing most of his vision through time.

Leroy Sibbles

Leroy Sibbles has received much acclaim as an all-round talent in reggae.  Primarily a bass player, he is a composed and arranged music with a long long list of artists.

The following excerpt from Wikipedia references his Canadian connections making it very clear why he is honoured in this mural. (Please click through for all references.)

After Studio One, Sibbles and the Heptones recorded for other producers including Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry,Harry J,JoJo Hoo Kim, Niney The Observer, Clive Chin, Gussie Clarke, Lloyd Campbell, Prince Buster, Ossie Hibbert, Phil Pratt, Harry Mudie, Geoffrey Chung, Danny Holloway, Rupie Edwards, and Joe Gibbs.  Sibbles also worked with Lloyd “Bullwackie” Barnes,Lloyd Parks, Sly & Robbie, Augustus Pablo, Bruce Cockburn, and Lee Perry, but primarily produced himself.

Sibbles moved to Canada in 1973, where he married and remained for twenty years, and won a U-Know Award for best male vocalist in 1983, and a Juno Award for best reggae album in 1987.He left the Heptones in 1976, midway through a US tour. Also in Canada, he recorded an album for A&M and licensed several albums to Pete Weston’s Micron label, including Now and Strictly Roots. In 1991 he collaborated on the one-off single “Can’t Repress the Cause”, a plea for greater inclusion of hip hop music in the Canadian music scene, with Dance Appeal, a supergroup of Toronto-area musicians that included Devon, Maestro Fresh Wes, Dream Warriors, B-Kool, Michie Mee, Lillian Allen, Eria Fachin, HDV, Dionne, Thando Hyman, Carla Marshall, Messenjah, Jillian Mendez, Lorraine Scott, Lorraine Segato, Self Defense, Zama and Thyron Lee White.

Sibbles is featured in the 2009 documentary Rocksteady: The Roots of Reggae. He continued to perform and record into 2010.

Jackie Mittoo

According to the  Canadian Enclyclopedia, Said to have been a piano prodigy, Mittoo began his career in his mid-teens in Kingston, Jamaica. He worked in turn with the Rivals, Sheiks, and Skatalites and was a major figure (keyboard player, composer, arranger, producer) at Coxsone Dodd’s Jamaican Record Manufacturing Co (familiarly, Studio One), where he led, or was a member of, a succession of studio groups.

In 1969 he moved moved to Toronto, but continued to work in Jamaica and toured, and/or recorded, as a member of the Skatalites and with Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, Sugar Minott, Johnny Osbourne, Willie Williams, and others. He was music director in 1980 for a short-lived Broadway production, Reggae, and further supported reggae’s growing acceptance in mainstream pop through the guidance he offered non-Jamaican bands like England’s UB40, with which he recorded (Labour of Love, Virgin DEPCD-5) and toured in 1983.  In 1985 he was initiated into the Black Music Association of Canada.

Nana Mclean

Our very own Tre Jah Isle was founded by Nana Mclean (under the name Treasure Isle Records).  As the only women to be represented in the mural she must receive a notable mention.

Mclean made her debut recording sessions at Studio One in 1977. She is most known for singing sweet melodies and is rumored to be putting on a number of performances in 2017.

Jay Douglas

According to Ontario Idependant Music Archive, Jay Douglas first appeared on stage in Montego Bay, Jamaica when he was a youth.  In over 45 years of entertainment, Jay has developed a wide-ranging repertoire of American Blues, West Indian Rhythms, Jazz Standards combined with fancy footwork and incredible on-stage charisma.

In the early ’60s, Jay fronted the R&B group “The Cougars” who with their skill and verve lit up the city of Montreal as well as Toronto’s Yonge Street nightclubs in the late ’70s with Soul Funk and Reggae.

Over the past 10 years, Jay has performed around the world, and at annual Toronto events such as the Beaches Jazz Festival, Jerk Fest, Canadian National Exhibition, Yonge and Dundas Square, and a Taste of Lawrence.

In 2012 Jay was nominated for “Reggae Recording of the Year” at the JUNO Awards and was the recipient of the “G98.7 FM Entertainment Award” at the Harry Jarome awards that same year.

By the way, when you’re looking at the mural, Jay Douglas is the one in the green suit.

Thank-you for spending the afternoon with us Mr. Douglas!

Here is a link to the Jay Douglas reggae rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.

Thanks to all business that participated in our 2017 Jane’s Walk:

Wisdom’s Barber

Tre Jah Isle

Kaydee’s Clothing

And yes, those Randy’s patties were so tasty, people lined up for more!


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