Dominica will have a diplomatic presence in Toronto before the end of the year.
The island’s permanent representative and ambassador to the United Nations, Vince Henderson, made the announcement last Saturday night at the Commonwealth of Dominica Ontario Association’s (CDOA) 41st anniversary celebration in Scarborough.
The decision to establish a consular office in the city comes in the wake of last month’s closure of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) High Commission in Ottawa which was operational since in 1982. In light of the international financial crisis and global recession, the OECS Heads of Government concluded it was no longer sustainable or viable to operate the diplomatic office.
The organization’s full member states Antigua & Barbuda, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, St. Lucia, Grenada and St. Kitts & Nevis have diplomatic offices in Toronto. Full member Montserrat and associate members, the British Virgin Islands, are British Overseas Territories and, as such, their nationals will be serviced by the British Consulate here.
The now-defunct OECS office in Ottawa used to provide some consular services to Dominican nationals in Canada in the absence of a consulate.
“The concentration of Dominicans in Canada is in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and we felt it necessary to have an office here,” Henderson said. “We will need you here to identify a suitable person to provide that service.”
Dominica-born Justice Dr. Irving Andre welcomed the announcement and said there are many qualified nationals who can fill the post of honorary Consul General.
“Having a Consulate here is something that has been discussed for the past few years,” he said. “There is a significant Dominica population in the GTA and the CDOA has donated thousands of dollars to Dominican institutions so one would have thought that would have justified something.”
Passport renewals will be processed through the New York Consulate until the Toronto office is established.
Henderson also revealed that Dominica plans to open a trade, tourism and investment office in Vancouver.
“We have an interest in doing business there and we felt it would be a suitable location for that purpose,” he said.
In his feature address, the high school teacher-turned-politician acknowledged the CDOA’s longevity and the significant contributions it has made in the past four decades.
“To be around for 41 years is quite an achievement,” he said. “You are older than independent Dominica and the quality and quantity of your work, primarily in health care, have improved the lives of all Dominicans.”
Known as the Nature Isle of the Caribbean for its exceptional flora ands fauna, Dominica gained its independence from Britain on November 3, 1978.
The theme of this year’s CDOA celebration was “I am Dominican: Are You?”
Dr. Kwame McKenzie, who was born in England to Dominican parents, was presented with the Dominican of Distinction Award for exemplary professional and community service.
He’s a professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto and deputy director of Community & Continuing Care at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).
Prior to coming to Canada, he was a Mental Health professor at the University of Central Lancashire and a senior lecturer in Transcultural Psychiatry at University College London.
Scholarships were also presented to Cheyenne Shillingford, Kimmon Kirton and Kasim Jules.
Shillingford, 17, graduated from Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School in Ajax and is enrolled in the University of Ontario Institute of Technology’s Criminology & Justice program while Kirton is a first-year George Brown College Construction Engineering student. He graduated from Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy in Markham and is an active volunteer.
Jules graduated from the Scarborough Centre for Alternative Studies and is pursuing independent music studies at Seneca College.
The Madam Wob Dwiyet pageant is a popular feature of the CDOA celebration. This year, it was won by Fairview Mall Body Shop manager, Juliana Gregoire. She will serve as Dominica’s cultural ambassador for the next year.
The competition showcases the island, its culture, language and rich history and the contestants are judged, among other things, on poise, grace and stage presence.
The Wob Dwiyet is a style of ladies dress that emerged in the French West Indies towards the end of the 18th century and its design is believed to have originated in southern France where women at the time wore a similar outfit.
The dress, which is considered a significant aspect of Dominica’s colonial heritage and is usually worn on special occasions, comprises a long petticoat made of cotton or satin and decorated with rows of lace and ribbon, a full length outer dress with a trail and narrow sleeves that extend to the wrists, a scarf and a folded headpiece that’s decorated to suit the wearer’s taste.
The other contestants were Bernadine Williams, Iris Shillingford, Claudia Panther-Bannis, Hetty Lawrence, Natania Jno-Baptiste, Magdalene Ashton and Avonelle Pinard.
“They are truly representative of that which is our homeland which is their pride, support, love of country and their culture,” said CDOA president Frances Delsol.