Denham Jolly, a respected Jamaican-Canadian media pioneer, activist, entrepreneur and the driving force behind Toronto’s first Black radio station (Flow 93.5FM) in 2001, will be honoured on Saturday, Feb 4th at the CaribbeanTales Youth Film Festival co-hosted by CaribbeanTales and TIFF. The event will also feature the Canadian premiere of award winning Jamaican feature film Better Mus Come.
“It is important to recognize the broad shoulders on which we stand alongside the powerful leaders among our youth,” said Frances-Anne Solomon, CEO of CaribbeanTales Worldwide Distribution.
“Denham Jolly waged a fifteen-year battle to get our first Black radio station on the Canadian airwaves. He is a tireless community activist, who has also built several very successful businesses. These are accomplishments that young Black people need to recognise and emulate.”
Denham Jolly was born near Negril, Jamaica in 1935. His father was a landowner and entrepreneur who taught his five children independence, self reliance and hard work. Ahead of the Caribbean migration invasion, he attended McGill University in 1955, along with other brilliant Caribbean scholars like Justice Romain Pitt and author Austin Clarke who were at the University of Toronto. Graduating with a degree in Science, he went on to earn an Ontario High School Teaching Certificate and for seven years taught chemistry and physics at the prestigious Forest Hill Collegiate in the heart of Toronto’s upper-class Jewish enclave.
In his book How the Blacks Created Canada, broadcaster and writer Fil Fraser recounts that Jolly, an entrepreneur at heart, recalling his father’s advice, decided to solve his own need for housing by buying a property and renting out rooms to students. Before long he owned properties around the GTA and beyond including a Days Inn Hotel in west Toronto, a nursing home in Texas, two medical laboratories, and the Tyndal Nursing Home in Mississauga, which he still owns.
Unknown to the wider world his quiet philanthropy supported individuals, organizations and entrepreneurs and changed many lives.
An important achievement was the creation of the Black Business and Professional Association. In 1982 he convened a meeting at the Underground Railroad restaurant, of twenty-five people who represented the Who’s Who of prominent Black leaders. He was acclaimed the BBPA’s first president, and one of his first acts was overseeing the establishment of the Harry Jerome Awards to recognise Black Canadian achievement. Thirty years later the event remains a glittering Gala regularly attended by Prime Ministers, Premiers, Mayors and other dignitaries.
Jolly believed the Black community needed a voice in the media to communicate and express its concerns, report on events and celebrate its culture; needs that were being ignored by mainstream media. In 1982 he bought Contrast newspaper and was its publisher and financial backer for 4 years. Then he began a 15-year campaign to get Canada’s first Black radio station on the air.
Denham Jolly’s first application for an urban music radio license, opposed by the broadcasting community and rebuffed by the CRTC was passed over in favor of a country music station in 1990. Jolly explains, “Apart from the frustration, there was money involved. The application cost half a million dollars”. A second attempt in 1997 was thwarted when the CRTC gave the 99.1 FM frequency to the CBC. As Fil Fraser writes, “Many observers considered the decision to have racist undertones. Toronto did not have an urban music station; the CBC simply wanted an FM frequency for its Radio 1 service, already available on AM.”
Jolly’s third attempt in 2001 was successful after he got buy-in from a mainstream broadcaster, and Flow 93.5FM went on air in April 2001. In 2004, Jolly’s Milestone Radio in partnership with CHUM, applied for and received a license to broadcast a similar channel “The Bounce” in Edmonton.Through his media operations Denham Jolly has changed the landscape of Canadian broadcasting.