Children participating in Caribana (courtesy Archives of Ontario)
Image: Children participating in Caribana, an annual celebration of Caribbean heritage among Toronto's large West Indies population (courtesy Archives of Ontario, Ministry of Transportation collection/RG14-151-3-149).

Canada's long connection to the Caribbean began with European expansion to the west and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Canada provided lumber and food for the slave ships and received rum, tobacco, sugar, and enslaved Africans in return. Enslaved Africans were "seasoned" in the Caribbean before being brought to North America.

When the slave trade was abolished and enslaved Africans were freed, the movement of Africans to Canada slowed. While there continued to be migration within North America, there were few African arrivals from outside North America until the 20th century, when immigration from the Caribbean increased as Cape Breton sought coalminers. The periods around the two world wars saw changes in immigration that made it possible for Africans to enter Canada to fill the gaps left by Canada's war effort.

African-Canadians were excluded from most employment except domestic work or as railroad porters. Domestics were paid little but porters, who assisted passengers, were able to earn tips. Porters later organized a powerful union to address their need for promotions and better pay.

African-Canadians like Donald Moore, Dr. Norman Grizzle and Harry Gairey worked to change Canada's immigration policy. By 1955, the Domestic Workers Scheme recruited women from the Caribbean to live in Canadian homes as domestics, allowing Canadian women to enter the workforce. Some of these arrangements went smoothly, and some did not, with the domestic at a disadvantage. After one year, they could apply for landed immigrant status, allowing them to remain in Canada legally, and many did.

Rosemary Sadlier