The St Vincent and The Grenadines Association of Montreal marks 50 years
In marking its 50th anniversary this year, the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Association of Montreal (SVGAM) continues to define itself not only for its longevity but also for its consistency of service and for enhancing the lives of the 5,000 or so Vincentians in Quebec and those at home.
Today, the association remains a dynamic force that has over the decades helped to strengthen the roots of the present day Black and Caribbean community in this province and beyond.
High on its list of achievements and contributions is the role that the SVGAM has played in establishing the Vincy Family Day and Picnic at Brown’s Bay, Ontario, an event that brings together the largest congregation of Vincentians outside St. Vincent every summer.
It has also maintained an unwavering obligation to youth development and education, having provided tens of thousands of dollars in bursaries and scholarships to hundreds of students in St. Vincent and Montreal over the past 50 years.
And just as important is the association’s commitment to support, financially and otherwise, causes here and in the home country when the need arises.
Thomas Austin, whose tenure as president extended from 1991 to 1992, then from 2004 to 2011, stands today as the longest serving in that capacity and is among four past presidents, together with Maurice Conliffe, Osborne Allen, and current leader Alfred Jack Dear who are still active in the association.
They all agree that the continuing vitality of the SVGAM rests upon the foundation built by a group of quality individuals who established the association and those who have served and participated in various capacities over the years.
“We have been fortunate to have had among our founders and past leadership people like Alfie Roberts, George Glasgow, Kerwyn Morris, Theodore George Richardson, Jean Cambridge, Laurette Solomon, Noel King, Viola Daniels and so many other dedicated individuals who have brought their expertise to help build not only our association, but also our community at large,” says Austin.
Austin identified Roberts, an acclaimed intellect and critical thinker, as one who lifted the political profile of the association in Montreal and in the Caribbean.
It was Alfie who orchestrated and led our initiative to get the government at home to modify the name of the country to include “And The Grenadines,” he said.
He also talked about the contributions of Glasgow, a chemist and founding member of the association, who opened his doors to new arrivals from SVG who had no where to go.
Allen, who today runs the Cote des Neiges Child Care Centre, guiding it to 42 years of spectacular service to our community was president of the SVGAM between 1995 and 1997. He too, speaks of a dedicated core of leadership and membership that kept the association a vital part of our community for so many years.
“We all benefited from having people like Alfie, George Richardson, Laurette, Theo and others like them around. I personally learnt a lot when it comes to management and organizational skills.”
Under Allen’s stewardship, the association brought then Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, James Mitchell, to Montreal for their 1995 Independence celebration.
While here, Mitchell participated in a church service, a banquet and other activities.
Allen, who moved to Canada in 1971 and joined the association the next year, says the PM’s visit did a lot to reinvigorate the SVGAM and further strengthened its ties with the home country.
Even though the association boasts of a boisterous history throughout its five decades in Montreal, there have been times of sagging interest among members that threatened to render it stagnant.
Maurice Conliffe headed the association for two terms between 1988 and 1990, and 1998 to 2000. At the time, he was a well-respected computer systems specialist and used his capacity in the field to computerize his membership list as a way of keeping in touch with members and getting them out to the monthly meetings that have been part of the association practices from day one.
Conliffe says the association remained relevant to it members and others in the community by organizing a number of highly popular youth-oriented events, including its annual pageant that attracted throngs of Montrealers. But he added the biggest accomplishment of the SVGAM under his tenure were the bonds it formed with other island-associations throughout the mid 1980s and 1990s that led to the formation of the Montreal Council of Caribbean Association, then purported to be an umbrella body of similarly focused organizations.
“It was an exciting time for the organization and the community,” says Conliffe.
Austin, who was at the helm of the association during the early days of the Vincy Picnic, says their events were always meant to bring not only Vincentians but also all of our community together.
“That has been part of our biggest achievement.”
Jack Dear, who since 2011 has had the responsibility to guide the association forward, is excited about the future, but he says they all draw inspiration from the ideals that led to the formation of the SVGAM in 1965.
“It came from an initiative by Kerwyn Morris, a student at the time, to access some medical equipment to send to St. Vincent, but he found it much easier to do so as an organization,” recounts Dear. “So together with his wife, Madge, George Glasgow, George Richardson, Hermus Liverpool and Kenville Lewis, he registered the association and started the journey towards a glorious history.”
He says the SVGAM played a crucial role in supporting various sporting activities, including cricket and soccer in our community, adding that it was they who were responsible for establishing Netball as an organized sport in Quebec.
Dear is particularly excited about the future of the association because of the young people who are now finding their way on the executive.
The energy and the drive that they bring tell me that the association will be in good hands for the next 50 years.”
St. Vincent & the Grenadines Association of Montreal celebrate its 50th Anniversary on Saturday, May 30, at the Schofield Hall, 90 Roosevelt Ave, TMR. Cocktails from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. with music by New Concept Crew, entertainment by Gideon James (formerly of “Touch”) and Pete Douglas. Info (514) 364-3299, (514) 626-1355, (514) 369-8002.