A long history of not feeling WELCOME IN CANADA
A recent visit to the Immigration Museum in Halifax, Nova Scotia, both shocked and validated what I already felt about our status in Canada.
What was shocking was the information which was presented at the museum, in bold print, about the Canadian government’s active discouragement of Black immigration at a time when the country was seeking to encourage white immigrants from America and Europe.
Black immigration during the 1800s was theoretically discouraged on the grounds that we were unsuitable for the Canadian climate. Others, however, feared the influx of Black settlers because they were perceived as being “backward, ignorant, immoral and criminal.”
In 1911 an Order of Council was drafted to prohibit “any immigrant belonging to the Negro race …”
Of the more than one million Americans who immigrated to Canada between 1896 and 1911, fewer than 1,000 were Black. In the meanwhile, the assumption about Canada was that it was a place of freedom at the end of the Underground Railroad.
And despite being glossed over by historians, slavery was actively practiced in New France (though not to the extent as south of the border) with the first slave arriving from Madagascar or Guinea around 1629. Others were brought back by businessmen from trips to the Southern U.S. and the French Caribbean.
Eventually, Black folks faced fewer legal barriers to immigrate when they came to be seen as a source of cheap labour. The Caribbean Domestic Scheme began around 1910-1911 when 100 Guadeloupian women came to Quebec, a program which was later enlarged to include women from the other islands.
Nevertheless, as early as the 1920’s the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) began organizing in Montreal, British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario with membership in Saskatchewan reaching around 20,000.
Fast forward to 2015 and in spite of the fact that we are an educated community with homes and front lawns in the suburbs, it would seem that the more things have changed is the more that they have remained the same.
John Porter’s concept of Canada’s vertical mosaic (in terms of power and social class) places the ‘founding’ groups, the British and French, at the top of the mosaic and leaving Blacks and Native people fighting for position at the bottom.
In 2015 racism and discrimination are alive and well, and we still do not have much more than scant acknowledgement from the powers-that-be, except as badly-needed taxpayers and continuing cheap labour. I am not sure that Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Premier Philippe Couillard, or Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre are fully aware that the population of Canada comprises Black folks.
Maybe I am wrong, and perhaps with the exception of Sheila Finestone and Pierre Bourque, I am not aware of any politician actively campaigning in our community to understand our needs and to advance our cause. Montreal’s past mayor Gerald Tremblay never came close to us and the current Mayor, Denis Coderre, has shown no signs of acknowledging us – while having been seen recently singing and having a good time in Chinatown.
I was not present at the reopening of the Union United Church, but I would venture to guess that the Mayor was not there either.
And as for our so-called Carifiesta parade, Jamaica or Trini day, I am sure that the city administration could just as well do without any of it. Not to mention the measly subsidy (if any) that the organizers receive. Long gone are the days when the Carifiesta parade took almost all day and snaked from Atwater to Lafontaine Park. It now seems to be getting shorter and shorter.
In the forty years or so that I have lived in Montreal, I am yet to see a major sponsor for any of our events. No Lotto Quebec, no bank, no beer company, nor any other major corporation.
And, for sure, we have not been entirely innocent. My guess is that a bunch of Jab Jabs leaving a trail of oil on St. Catherine is not seen as enhancing our profile or adding cultural value to the city, i.e. in spite of it being part our culture. Neither are any of our festivals seen as adding to the economy of the city. Unlike the Jazz Festival or Grand Prix I am sure that we do not rent 100 hotel rooms or patronize the city’s restaurants.
The Negro Community Center was allowed to fall apart because, as usual, we could not raise any money to match those promised by municipal and provincial governments. Our modus operandi is often to go begging with not even $2 each from 50,000 community members. I am certain that white folks are not impressed with us because of that.
Even when we were given $1 million as start-up money for community businesses, we made it disappear with little or nothing to show for it. As Bob White often says we have magicians in our community.
I do not know what the future is likely to be, but if history is any indicator then it is quite likely to be more of the same.