When Bromley Armstrong arrived in Toronto in 1947, there was a sprinkling of Jamaicans in the city. Amy Nelson’s migration 11 years later coincided with a shift in Canada’s migration policy that emphasised labour-force and labour-market considerations that resulted in Jamaicans coming to Canada in significant numbers.
There are close to 500,000 Jamaicans in Canada, the majority in the Greater Toronto Area, who have made remarkable contributions in their adopted country.
Armstrong and Nelson are among an exclusive group highlighted in a special 50th anniversary coffee-table book – Jamaicans in Canada: When Ackee Meets Codfish – which was launched in Toronto last week.
Much has changed since Armstrong, who was part of a delegation that went to Ottawa in 1954 to press for changes to Canada’s discriminatory laws, came to Canada.
“When I arrived here, you had about 1,600 Blacks in Toronto,” he said. “There was one Black lawyer, no doctor, dentist or garbage collector. You just couldn’t get jobs.”
A surgical nurse by training, Nelson came to Canada in 1958 to work at the Toronto General Hospital’s ophthalmology department. She was the only Black surgical nurse at the time.
Sensitive to the experiences of Jamaican women facing racial bias, she spearheaded efforts to establish the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) which she envisioned would serve as a meeting place for newly-arrived West Indians.
As a founding JCA member, Nelson helped draft the constitution and arranged a community meeting at the then Central YMCA on College St. where the constitution was accepted. She also founded the Caribbean Seniors Association and represented a senior citizens group to lobby politicians in Ottawa on health care.
“We enabled ourselves to become part of a fabric of the society that we are involved in,” Jamaican-born city councillor, Michael Thompson, said at the book’s unveiling. The event also launched celebrations to mark Jamaica’s 50th independence anniversary and five decades of diplomatic relations between Canada and Jamaica.
“We are willing to take on the tough tasks, we are willing to challenge the system and we are also willing to embrace the system. We are also really willing to contribute to the system and its success because we know when we put our hands to changing the system, it’s better,” Thompson added.
The book is a compelling mix of images and stories about the presence of Jamaicans in Canada with individual profiles and creative pieces.
Jamaica’s Consul in Toronto Nadine Mendez said all Jamaicans should be inspired by the extraordinary accomplishments of nationals in Canada.
“With the captivating photographs and images of Jamaica and the distinguished individuals profiled, the publication leaves no room for the imagination, but it evokes various emotions, pride, dignity and hope,” said Mendez. “It’s anticipated that this publication will enrich lives, build public awareness and act as a tool to inspire Jamaican nationals and descendants in Jamaica to build on the existing legacy as well as to consistently document our sustained greatness over the next 50 years.”
Jamaica achieved independence on August 6, 1962.
BY RON FANFAIR