JIS News

When the Jamaican/Canadian Farm Work Programme started in 1966, H.W. Smith Holdings Limited was one of the first holdings to accept Jamaican workers.
Eight of the 264 Jamaicans, who travelled to Canada that first year, worked on the farm located in St. Catharines, Ontario. So impressed were the owners by the hard work of the Jamaicans, that over the 43 years of the programme, the farm only takes Jamaican workers.
“We wouldn’t be in business if it wasn’t for the programme. It’s been a wonderful programme ever since we started and we have had no regrets,” says farm owner John Smith, whose parents played a part in getting Jamaican farm workers to Canada.
In a recent interview with JIS News, Mr. Smith, who was 23 years old at the time and attending university, says his parents used to vacation in Jamaica during the 1950s and 1960s.
“On one of the visits, a friend made an appointment with the Minister of Labour in Jamaica and when dad got back home, he had stirred the pot just enough so that the Ministry here in Canada said: ‘Leave it alone – we will take over from here’,” he relates.
Mr. Smith says that one of the problems facing farmers at the time was that they could not depend on Canadian workers.
“Sometimes, on pay day, you would have for instance 70 workers and the next day there might be only two or three, and you have a crop to pick. There weren’t a lot of people to draw on for harvesting,” he tells JIS News.
The situation changed with the launch of the Canadian Farm Work Programme, which now employs more than 6,000 Jamaican farm workers annually.
Mr. Smith notes that for many years, there were criticisms from Canadians, who did not agree with a programme that brought in seasonal workers when there were unemployed Canadians.
When the 400-acre farm, which grows cherries, peaches and pears and processes cherries and peaches, is in full production, it employs a total of 73 Jamaican workers. For now, there are about 23 of their best workers, who came in early April and will leave for Jamaica in November.
“Another group of men will come up about the time we start to pick pears and peaches and that will be around June 15 and the final group of men will come when we are starting to pick sweet cherries and process sour cherries. That would be around the end of the first week of July,” Mr. Smith informs.
He says that some of the workers will start returning to Jamaica after the peach harvest; some will go home after the peach processing about three weeks later, and the “key men” who are doing pruning, “will stay to the end and do some more pruning and fall cleanup and go home around November 15”.
“They are away from Jamaica a little over seven months. You look forward to them going home in the fall to rest and recover, but you look forward to the family coming back in the spring, because that’s what they are to us – family.”
Mr. Smith visited one of his “family members”, former worker Norman Coldspring, at his home in Islington, St. Mary several years ago.
“We rely very heavily on our Jamaican workers and the majority of them I would treat like my own family,” he adds.

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