Canada’s established and close relationship with Jamaica was highlighted last week at the national launch of celebrations to mark the Caribbean country’s 50th independence anniversary.
Shortly after breaking ties with Britain on August 6, 1962, Canada established diplomatic relations with the first independent English-speaking Caribbean territory and opened a High Commission in Kingston that welcomed its first High Commissioner – Graham McInnes – on March 4, 1963.
Marjory LeBreton, the leader of the government in the Canadian senate, said then Prime Minister John Diefenbaker loved Jamaica and was proud that Canada was one of the first countries to recognize the newly-independent country.
Prior to becoming prime minister, Diefenbaker and his wife, Olive, visited Jamaica and his Progressive Conservative Party government provided $10,000 to establish a scholarship in Canada to mark Jamaica’s independence from Britain.
“He enjoyed going to Jamaica,” said LeBreton, who campaigned with Diefenbaker as a teenager in his 1957 breakthrough election win, at last week’s “Jamaica 50” national launch in Ottawa.
Diefenbaker sent labour minister, Michael Starr, to represent Canada at the independence celebrations five decades ago. Before leaving Kingston, he said skilled Jamaican workers would be a welcome addition to Canada’s workforce. In 1966, the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program was established to bring Jamaican workers to help make up for a shortage of apple pickers.
Some 6,000 Jamaicans come to Canada annually under the organized labour mobility initiative to meet the temporary seasonal needs of local agricultural producers. The two countries also enjoy historic and healthy bilateral relations that include security and defence cooperation, trade and investment links and official development assistance.
LeBreton acknowledged Jamaica has come a long way in five decades as an independent nation.
“Today, Jamaica is a modern, pluralistic country with a flourishing democracy that is the envy of many,” she said. “The saying, ‘Out of Many, One People’, is more than a national motto. It’s a statement and an affirmation of a people proud to be Jamaican. The Jamaican brand is incredibly strong…What sets Jamaica apart, however, is its people who are proud, friendly, vivacious and creative. For a nation of less than three million people, the contributions that Jamaicans have made on the world stage to music, art, culture and sports are staggering.”
LeBreton read a message from Prime Minister Stephen Harper who was on a week-long official visit to Asia.
“The occasion (the independence celebrations) provides an ideal opportunity to highlight the invaluable contributions Jamaican-Canadians have made and continue to make to our country,” he said.
As patron of honour for the launch, Jamaican-born Canadian senator, Don Meredith, recognized the strong relationship between Canada and his birth country and encouraged Canadians to take advantage of trade opportunities in Jamaica.
Two years ago, a Canadian company acquired a Jamaican technology firm owned by Andrew Simpson and moved the operations to Ottawa. Simpson is the chief operating officer of CaseWare RCM Inc., a subsidiary of CaseWare International Inc. which is a global software company that provides technology solutions for finance, governance and audit professionals.
“Although it’s unfortunate to see companies like these leave Jamaica, this testifies to the world of global competitive technology that is coming out of Jamaica,” said Meredith. “Technology transfers like these are just the beginning as Jamaica grows as a Caribbean technology centre.”
Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Arnold Nicholson, represented his government at the Canadian launch. He said the 50-year relationship between the two countries has been rich and beneficial to both sides.
High Commissioner Sheila Sealy Monteith welcomed Nicholson and representatives from Jamaican committees across Canada which have organized events to mark the country’s golden jubilee anniversary. A total of 10 committees from Halifax to Montreal, and from Victoria to Winnipeg, will host celebrations in their cities in the next few months leading up to a grand gala at the Metro Convention Centre on August 11.
“As I travel across the country, I find every reason to be proud of Jamaican-Canadians and I have every assurance that we are far more than the problems we have,” said Jamaica’s top diplomat in Canada. “It’s therefore a joyful opportunity in more ways than one, allowing us to reflect on our country, Jamaica, and the excellence we have demonstrated in all areas and endeavours.”
A special 50th anniversary coffee-table book – Jamaicans in Canada: When Ackee Meets Codfish – was officially unveiled at the “Jamaica 50” launch. The book is a compelling mix of images and stories about the presence of Jamaicans in Canada with individual profiles and creative pieces.
Kamala-Jean Gopie, the chair of the commemorative book committee, presented copies to LeBreton and Nicholson.
“I wanted us to have a legacy, something that we could point to with pride for our children and grandchildren to say that we as a people of Jamaican ancestry who have come to this country have not only contributed, but have done so punching above our weight limit,” said Gopie, an educator and former Jamaica Canadian Association (JCA) president.
“We wanted it to be reflective of the kind of endeavours in which we have been engaged in Canada and also for it to respond to the motto of our nation, “Out of Many, One People’, because before Canada discovered multiculturalism in 1972, we had already discovered “Out of Many, One People’ in Jamaica.
“In addition, it had to include Jamaicans from across Canada.”
Printed in Manitoba, the book contains profiles of 250 Jamaican-Canadians.
Ottawa-based Carole Ann Crawford, the first Jamaican to win the Miss World pageant in 1963, attended the launch.
The “Jamaica 50” Toronto launch takes place on April 12 at Harbourfront Centre’s Miss Lou’s Room.
By RON FANFAIR