Now known as one of the most diverse local municipalities in Durham Region, the Town of Ajax was named after the WWII British War Ship HMS Ajax. Once recognized as a more rural area of Pickering, Ajax was officially incorporated as a town in 1955, after years of colonial settlements, and being home to the largest shell filling plant in the British Commonwealth that provided supplies for the Allies in WWII in 1941.
Where many herald Ajax’s war history as worthy of celebration and a textbook example of Canada “being on the right side of history”, reactions to Ajax’s current ethnic, cultural and racial diversity exposes the myth of a post-racial Canada.
Currently, Ajax is known for having the highest percentage of Black residents of a major city in Canada. At just 16%, however, the Black population of Ajax’s Black population pales in comparison to Preston, Nova Scotia - a community with a rich and complex history and the highest Black population of any community in the country at over 64%. Additionally, within Ajax itself, Black folks do not represent the largest visible minority population of the town*.
Anti-Black racism has resulted in the hyper-visibility of Black folks in the town of Ajax. Despite the aforementioned statistics, the Black population in Ajax have been a focal point of discussions in the region. Where some folks respond with positive curiosity and are drawn to the area by a desire to live among community outside of the city, racist and particularly anti-Black preoccupations with the town’s racial and ethnic demographics tout baseless claims that “a town that was once mainly white people is now the highest gang area in Durham”.
To quote Urban Dictionary, “If you are found in a scenario where you are in North Ajax pray that your either black or have police escorting you.”
This anti-Blackness and hypervisibility in and about the region has led to the development and circulation of race-based and anti-Black terms used casually in many spaces. One of the most prominent Ajax-specific terms used is “Blackjax”.
- Used as a synonym for Ajax, used by non-Black populations derogatorily to hyper-visibilize the Black population in the Town of Ajax.
- Also used informally within Black communities to visibilize the Black population in Ajax to Black folks outside of Durham and address the myth that Durham Region’s racial demographic is exclusively white (less common).
Counterstories: Reimagining Blackness in Ajax
Black folks in Ajax continue to live, strive, and thrive even as they are forced to navigate anti-Blackness.
We want to hear from you: Have you heard these and/or other racially coded words in/about Ajax? What have been your experiences of being Black in Ajax? Or, do you have a counterstory to share that highlights Black resistance and joy in the region?