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How Toronto’s Dixon Road inspired this playwright to create a ‘musical journey’ about its Somali Canadian community

Tuesday June 29, 2021

When civil war broke out in Somalia in the 1980s, Mohamed Adar fled to Canada for asylum and became one of the first Somali refugees here.

With a job at a car rental company near the Pearson Airport, he was one of the first to settle in the apartment towers on Dixon Road, at Kipling Avenue, in 1988.

From then on, whenever a compatriot was arriving in Toronto or at Buffalo, they would somehow find his number and ask for his help. He would put them up in his place before they managed to find their own homes, and help them look for jobs near the airport whether as cab drivers or luggage carriers.
And that’s how Toronto’s “Little Mogadishu” was born.

“Dixon is the closest thing you could get to the airport. So, they saw a bunch of towers and were like, we’re gonna choose here. With everything that they had to leave behind, they found a small way to recreate it,” says Fatuma Adar, 29, the eldest of Adar’s six Canadian-born children.

“When folks were leaving Somalia, and somewhere in a refugee camp in Kenya, when they’re talking about coming to Canada, they would only talk about Dixon. That’s because Dixon was that signifier for hope for them.”
More than three decades after the arrival of the first wave of Somalis in Canada, there’s something the younger Adar, a playwright, would like to recreate: the narrative about the Somali Canadian community.

In an upcoming musical, aptly titled “Dixon Road,” Adar wants to show a side of the community that outsiders have never seen before: the resilience of Somali Canadians who overcame the divisive tribalism back home and found each other in their adopted homeland.

“This is the story of the origin of the Somali diaspora in Canada,” says Adar, who will present the highlight of her musical to wrap up the Myseum Intersections Festival of art and culture on Wednesday.

Dixon Road, produced by the Obsidian Theatre Company and the Musical Stage Company, is about the story of a Somali family who immigrate to Canada in 1991.

It has been four years in the making and was first conceived when Adar returned to Toronto after finishing her degree in fine arts and English at the University of Saskatchewan, in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement across Canada.

Coming across so many like-minded young Somali Canadians at anti-Black racism events reminded her of the stories of camaraderie from the fledgling community in Dixon Road that her father once told her.

“Knowing that I could even try, through a medium that I love so much, to tell people the story of families that immigrated from Somalia to Dixon Road, and had to find themselves again,” says Adar, “that read to me as a musical journey.”

Although her family ended up moving around in the city — and even out of the country for a few years during her teenage years, Dixon Road has always been the heart of the community.
There are always the folks gathering in the courtyards between the apartment buildings and running into each other in the street sharing stories about “your dad’s school” and “where you’re from.”
There are also the memories of hopping around buildings to visit uncles, aunts and cousins who spread across the towers, as well as the many picnics and fireworks in the middle of the community where people celebrate both Canada Day and Somalia Independence Day.

(And only recently did she learn how her father and mother, who had known each other and were in love back in Somalia, met again at 370 Dixon Rd. years after they parted ways, him to North America and her initially to Europe. She actually was living just two floors above him.)

“If somebody on the 11th floor needed sugar and you were on the 9th floor, they would put sugar in the elevator and hit 11 and then have it sent up,” says Adar with a chuckle.

“So much of the inspiration behind this show was like, people (outside) not really feeling Dixon the way that I remember it and the way that my dad tells me about it.”


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