Malta and Toronto Share More Than a ‘t’
In my teenage years, my family would take trips to Toronto’s Little Malta—more commonly known as the Junction—to visit family and eat pastizzi at the Malta Bake Shop.
As I got older and more geographically savvy, I realized how improbable it was that a Little Malta even existed; Malta itself comprises a few tiny pieces of land in the Mediterranean, spanning just over 300 square kilometres, and it was home to less than half a million people as of 2013.
It was not until I visited Malta proper that the existence of Little Malta in Toronto seemed so justified.
Malta’s eyes and tongue
Beside the country’s raw beauty, what left an impression on me was the unique intersection of cultures that all found roots in this tiny island nation.
Occupying a significant strategic position in the Mediterranean Sea, the island has been occupied by numerous powers, many of which left distinct imprints. The island’s most ancient, superstitious past can still be glimpsed in the eye talismans carved into towers and painted onto the luzzu boats, likely originating from the Phoenicians and meant to bring good fortune to fishermen and sailors.
After the Phoenicians, Malta became part of the Roman Empire, and then the Byzantine Empire, after which it was conquered by the Muslims in the Muslim-Byzantine war. Strong echoes of this period can be heard in the Maltese language, which grew out of the Arabic dialect that took root during this time and is unique to the country.
Valletta and the Knights Hospitaller
Following the Muslim occupation, Christianity began to thrive again on the archipelago.
The sixteenth century marked the arrival of the Knights Hospitaller, also known as the Order of Knights of Saint John. Malta’s present-day capital, Valletta, was established at this time, named in honor of Jean Parisot de Valette, Grand Master of the Knights and successful leader against the Ottoman siege of Malta in 1565.
Many of the fortifications that still stand in Malta’s Grand Harbour are products of the Knights’ resistance to the siege.
The Western influence
Although both ancient and eastern influences are recognizable to the observant eye and ear, western culture has a visible place in modern Malta as well.
The Maltese people are very aware of their islands’ draw to Western European and North American tourists, and shopping areas and tourist-directed restaurants are prominent in certain areas. Walking past the tourist beat and into the more local neighbourhoods, we came across graffiti featuring American and British rock icons in and among buildings that predate Jimi, Janis, and the Beatles by centuries.
Toronto’s Little Malta
I fell in love with Malta immediately, and I think one of the big reasons for that was this cultural mosaic. The country reminded me of an older, warmer, more laid-back version of Toronto in many ways.
Toronto and Malta’s respective heterogeneities stem from very different historical circumstances, but both are remarkable in the way they showcase aspects of other cultures. Malta was held by many empires and countries at various points, and Toronto is home to people from all over the world.
While retaining aspects of these different cultures, both Malta and Toronto have managed to carve cultural landscapes that are entirely unique.
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