Legal Squabble over the Meaning of “Patty” Inspires Canadian Jamaican Filmmaker

When Canadian Jamaican filmmaker Chris Strikes learned about a 1985 dispute in Toronto that called into question whether an iconic Jamaican food favorite could be called a patty or not, he was shocked. His disbelief led him to document the debate in his 2022 film entitled “Patty Vs Patty.” The film tells the story of a Jamaican family who migrated to Toronto and established a thriving business among customers asking for “coco bread and patty” and the unique legal debate that followed.

A Taste of Home

Immigrants to foreign countries face many challenges as they work to adapt to new surroundings and customs, but one thing that often brings them comfort is finding familiar, traditional foods of their home countries. In 1985, when Michael Donaldson and his family migrated from Hopewell in Hanover Parish, Jamaica, to Toronto, they realized they could make a good living by establishing the Kensington Patty Palace, a bakery where they offered Jamaican products to customers happy to have a taste of home.


Business Thrived

When Michael took over the bakery while his parents were visiting Jamaica, he had no shortage of customers, many of whom asked for “coco bread and patty,” as the signature product allowed them to enjoy some familiar cuisine from the home island. As Davidson said, “A patty represents our tradition.” He noted that the patty was very familiar to Caribbean nationals in Toronto who flocked to his bakery to savor the patty and other baked goods. His business thrived.

Then, One Day …

One day a Canadian food inspector visited his shop with an order to “cease and desist” the illegal sales of the patty, claiming the bakery was misleading the public as its product misrepresented a Canadian food. According to Canadian authorities, a “patty” is defined as “shaped lean beef,” and since Davidson’s patties did not meet the standards established by Canadian law, she ordered that he change the name of his product within three months. She even suggested alternative names, including “Canadian turnover,” “meat pocket,” “Caribbean pie,” or “ground beef patty.” Davidson was not impressed. “It’s like calling a donut a sugar circle,” Davidson said.

A Very Public Case

So Davidson presented the case to his customers, some of whom suggested the big franchises that sold burgers were behind the effort to take away his business. Many theories concerning sabotage arose until finally Davidson took his case to the “Patty Parliament” in Ottawa. At this point, the media began to cover the issue, which was presented to the public via major Toronto newspapers and television outlets. Davidson continued to provide his fresh-baked products to his clamoring customer base and then brought the matter to the attention of Jamaica’s consulate and Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga. Eventually, the Canadian authorities and the Jamaican baker compromised. A decision was made to distinguish the Canadian patty from a Jamaican patty. Davidson calls his product a “Jamaican patty,” and his business continues to flourish. It has even expanded to a second outlet in Scarborough.

Enter the Filmmaker

Filmmaker Strikes discovered Davidson’s story on Instagram and was compelled to unearth the incident and explore how it came to be. His film, “Patty Vs Patty” was completed in 2022 and was nominated for that year’s Best Short Film award at the Directors Guild of Canada Awards. The film won a Best Short Documentary award at the 11th annual Canadian Screen Awards in 2023 as well. Stikes is now hoping that his documentary will be among the finalists for an Academy Award in 2024. He has previously had his film screened to high acclaim at international film festivals in Cannes, France; London and Manchester in England; Toronto, Halifax, and Hamilton in Canada; and Los Angeles, California.

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