The Legislative Assembly of Ontario unanimously passed a resolution brought by a Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) to recognize August 6, each year, as Jamaican Independence Day throughout the Canadian province.
MPP for the constituency of Scarborough-Rouge River, Bas Balkissoon, brought the motion to the House on Thursday, December 2, arguing that the outstanding achievements and contributions made by Ontarians of Jamaican heritage should be celebrated and recognised.
Mr. Balkissoon, originally from Trinidad and Tobago, informed the House about the history of Jamaica, detailed the migration patterns of Jamaicans to Canada, which started with a group of maroons in 1796, and highlighted several outstanding Ontarians of Jamaican heritage. These include the first black lawyer in Canada, Robert Sutherland; first black to serve in Canada as Lieutenant Governor, Hon. Lincoln Alexander; former MPPs and government ministers Hon. Alvin Curling and Dr. Mary Anne Chambers; and the current Ontario Minister of Health Promotion, Hon. Margarett Best.
Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) in the Ontario Legislature, Bas Balkissoon (left), is in conversation with the only Jamaican-born MPP and Minister of Health Promotion, Hon. Margarett Best, following the successful passage of a resolution for August 6 to be officially proclaimed Jamaican Independence Day in the province of Ontario, Canada.
Imploring his fellow members to support his motion, Mr. Balkissoon told them that they all have some close ties to the Jamaican community, noting that the majority of Jamaicans in Canada live in the province of Ontario.
“The Jamaicans have definitely made a contribution to this province. They’ve made us a better province. As we celebrate diversity as the strength of Ontario, we need to celebrate the people from Jamaica, just as we celebrate all the other ethnic communities in our province,” he said.
Several MPPs showed their support for the Motion by adding their voices to the debate.
Minster Best, in her contribution, paid tribute to the Jamaicans, who paved the way in Ontario, noting that they came from all walks of life as domestic servants, farm workers, labourers, students, nurses, teachers, artisans and trained professionals.
Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) in the Ontario Legislature, Jamaican-born Hon. Margarett Best (left), who is also Minister of Health Promotion, shares a moment with 92-year-old former Citizenship Court Judge Stanley Grizzle (right), who witnessed the passage of a resolution in the House on December 2, for August 6 of each year to be declared Jamaican Independence Day in Ontario, Canada. The former citizenship court judge was born in Toronto to Jamaican parents and is a civil rights advocate.
She also mentioned civil rights activist Bromley Armstrong; educator Dr. Avis Glaze; Olympic athletes Ben Johnson and Donovan Bailey; businesswoman Delores Lawrence; and the late cultural icon Louise Bennett-Coverley, who “entertained with both audacity and charm as she spread the rich Jamaican culture through her poetry, singing and cultural activism.”
“Many have risen to the top in their fields of endeavour, and many have made enormous sacrifices that have allowed me and others to enjoy our freedoms and opportunities. It is with great humility that I take this opportunity to thank them,” said the Minister who hails from May Pen, Clarendon.
“This is a legacy of Jamaican-born Ontarians; the legacy we want Ontarians to talk about, to write about; the legacy we want to set as an example for our children; the legacy we want our children to live and the legacy we want to continue. This is the legacy that defines us and drives us,” she added.
Adding his comments, MPP for Leeds-Grenville, Steve Clark, said generations of Jamaican immigrants have left a lasting legacy on Ontario in a variety of areas, including arts, culture, business, sports and politics, and official recognition by Ontario of Jamaican Independence Day is a way to formally celebrate and honour them.
He paid tribute to a Jamaican welder living in his constituency, Reg Francis, whom he described as an “unsung hero, who, like so many immigrants to this province, makes quiet contributions that have helped build his community.”
Other contributions to the debate were made by the MPP for Thornhill, Peter Shurman; MPP for Trinity-Spadina, Rosario Marchese; MPP for Davenport, Tony Ruprecht,; and MPP for Eglinton-Lawrence Mr. Mike Colle, who invited his colleagues to visit Harbourfront to see Miss Lou’s Room, which is an interactive room featuring the works of the cultural giant.
Among those who witnessed the debate in the House were: Jamaica’s Consul General to Toronto, Seth George Ramocan; Acting President of the Jamaican Diaspora Canada Foundation, Claudette Cameron-Stewart; Chief Executive Officer of the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA), Michael Foster; past president of the JCA, Nehemiah Bailey; co-founder of the Durham Educational Mentoring Programme. Ida Fogo; and retired citizenship court judge Stanley Grizzle.