Just hours after Jamaica’s athletes set a world record in the men’s sprint relay at the London Olympics last Saturday night, a record number of nationals and friends of Jamaica celebrated the Caribbean country’s independence in grand style at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
Jamaica achieved independence from Britain on August 6, 1962.
Premier Dalton McGuinty, Senator Don Meredith and Jamaica’s High Commissioner to Canada, Sheila Sealy Monteith, joined the close to 1,500 guests at the star-studded gala that also honoured the significant contributions of Jamaican nationals to Canada in the last five decades.
McGuinty said it’s not by accident that the extraordinary quality of life Ontarians enjoy is due in large part to the efforts of Jamaican-Canadians.
“We marvel at how such a young and small country, through its Diaspora, has exercised its influence for good in so many parts of the world, including right here in Ontario,” said the Premier. “I think, for example, of public servants like Lincoln Alexander, the late Leonard Braithwaite and my own colleagues over the years – Alvin Curling, Mary Anne Chambers and Margarett Best – who worked hard to make Ontario a stronger and more caring place. And I think of all the ways the Jamaican-Canadian community has enriched our province.
“I thank you for the businesses you build and the jobs you create for all our families. I thank you for helping to educate our children. I thank you for treating and healing the sick. I thank you for sharing with us your literature, your music, your culture and, of course, I thank you for the thrill you give us in watching the world’s fastest sprinters from our own Donovan Bailey to Yohan Blake, Warren Weir, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and the magnificent Usain Bolt…It is with gratitude for all that Jamaica has given to Ontario and the world.”
Curling, Chambers and Best are the only Jamaican-born Canadians to serve in the provincial legislature while Alexander was Canada’s first Black Member of Parliament and the first Black to serve in a vice-regal position in Canada. Braithwaite was the first Black elected to a Canadian parliament, the first Black Bencher on the powerful Law Society of Upper Canada’s governing council and the first Black to serve on the Etobicoke Board of Education and on the since dissolved municipality’s city council as an alderman.
Braithwaite, who died last April, and Alexander were born in Canada to mothers who migrated from Jamaica.
McGuinty noted that the golden anniversary provides an ideal opportunity for Jamaican-Canadians to reflect on their rich heritage and traditions from which they draw strength, pride and inspiration.
“Tonight we celebrate the courage, the strength and the spirit of Jamaica,” he added. “These are all noble traits all found in Jamaica’s people who fought hard for their independence, their dignity and their right to self-determination.”
Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, A.J. Nicholson, represented his country at the celebration.
“Your gala event has deep significance,” said Nicholson. “In choosing the theme ‘Jamaica Land We Love’, you have managed to capture the passion and allegiance that our people have towards their country of birth and the land of their heritage during this anniversary year. One cannot but be deeply moved by the strikingly vivid and enthralling tropical décor and the audio-visual offerings as we were carried down memory lane and by the spirit and the magnetic force of unity that permeates every pore of this gathering.”
Nicholson, who represented Jamaica in Ottawa last March at the national launch of celebrations to mark the Caribbean country’s 50th independence anniversary, complimented the local organizers for starting their preparations over two years ago and for the quality of events they organized to mark the country’s golden jubilee anniversary.
“In this kind of exercise, in as much you take lessons from our celebrated athletes, you quickly realized that you cannot be penalized for jumping the gun or picking the start,” he said. “In fact, that is regarded as a plus. We have heard often enough that the early bird catches the worm and that much appears to be the basis for the spirited way in which you continued with this project throughout…You have, with remarkable success, unveiled an outstanding list of endeavours.
“Who would have dared to predict that a time would come when, during the 50th anniversary celebrations, Jamaicans in Canada would have made the kind of statement which has propelled them to be able to make a strong claim to being the Diaspora capital of our island home and perhaps with this metropolis, Toronto as the hub? I have taken the time to glory in what you here in Canada have been able to produce for the simple reason that your every effort constitutes a reflection of the strength that our country projects. The values, creativity, persistence and the dedication which you demonstrate in this cause were in many ways learned at the feet of your parents and grandparents, your schools and churches in your homeland.”
In bringing those attributes to their adopted homeland, Nicholson said, nationals have transported the best of Jamaica which has made it possible for the country’s name and brand to resonate with everything that’s good and positive in Jamaican people.
“None of this was ever possible for persons who simply sat around and waited for ‘manna’ to fall from above, but rather by individuals with a supporting cast that allowed them to rise above the challenges and to assume the mantle of leadership,” he said. “Our young people have more than enough uplifting role models right here in this city, even as we recognize the attractiveness of the easy-come, get-rich-quick, no-need-to-work-hard ethic which prevails in some quarters. We refuse to be overcome by any failure to act, for the determination and brightness with which we have been endowed can light the flame that has attracted the attention of people from right across the globe.”
Jamaican-born councillor Michael Thompson read a proclamation from the city while consul general George Ramocan presented outstanding service awards to the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) and The Heritage Singers. The JCA was established a few weeks after Jamaica achieved independence while The Heritage Singers have been promoting and preserving Caribbean folklore through their music for the past 35 years.
Jamaican Rastafarian dub poet, Mutabaruka and Miss Universe Jamaica 2012, Chantal Zaky, made guest appearances at the anniversary celebration which were kicked off by the Iyah Yant Drummers with a Rastafari Nyabinghi traditional chant.
The Carpenters and Allied Workers Local 27 built and installed the main stage which was in the shape of the Jamaican map.
“This is a very proud moment for me,” said Jamaican-born Ucal Powell, the executive secretary-treasurer of the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario (CDCO). “When the event organizers came to us with the idea about seven weeks ago, we were only too happy to oblige.”
Proceeds from the gala and other Jamaica 50 events will be used to support the JCA’s Legacy Endowment Fund, the People Bridge Charitable Foundation and the Jamaica-based Reaching Individuals Through Skills and Education (RISE) that provides life-saving intervention services in some of Jamaica’s priority neighbourhoods.
By RON FANFAIR