TORONTO — Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte, took time out during an official visit to Canada, recently, to pay tribute to Jamaica’s cultural icon, the late Hon Louise Bennett-Coverley (Miss Lou).
The Minister, accompanied by Jamaica’s High Commissioner to Canada, Her Excellency Sheila Sealy Monteith, and Consul General Seth George Ramocan, on Tuesday March 29, visited Miss Lou’s Room – a 3,000 square foot space established as a lasting legacy to her at Harbourfront Center, one of Toronto’s largest cultural centres. Approximately 30,000 school children visit the centre each year.
Miss Lou, who died in July 2006, spent the last 20 years of her life in Toronto, and is as loved and revered in the city, as much as in her native Jamaica.
Senator Malahoo Forte was able to sing along with Miss Lou in the interactive room, which features her voice singing her songs and telling her stories.
Visitors can listen to Miss Lou singing “Hosannah”, “Linstead Market”, “Day-Oh” and “Towns of Jamaica”, a funny song featuring unusual Jamaican place names, such as “Tek-Time”, “Makka-Piece”, “Granny-ridge”, “Time and Patience” and “Put-together”.
The walls of the Miss Lou’s Room are adorned with information on Jamaica, the words of her stories and songs, and photographs of her in performance and relaxing with family and friends.
Co-executor of Miss Lou’s estate, Judge Pamela Appelt, who now serves as the co-chair of the Jamaica50 Toronto Committee, was instrumental in having the Government of Ontario establish Miss Lou’s Room.
Chief Executive Officer of Harbourfront Centre, William Boyle, said Miss Lou’s Room was conceived to take her traditional words beyond the Jamaican community to the rest of Canada.
“Miss Lou was such an icon in the Jamaican Canadian community, but we wanted to make people of all different backgrounds aware of what she stood for. What’s great for us is to see all the young people, and people of all different backgrounds, who come in here and learn about Miss Lou and what the real message is, and what she achieved about keeping her own language and pride,” he said.
Director of Community and Educational Programmes at Harbourfront Centre, Melanie Fernandez, said the intention is to show her universal message and appeal.
Registrar Natalie Gyles, who usually conducts tours of the Room with students, said she usually starts her presentation by singing, “Day-Oh”, followed by an Anansi story and discussions about her life and contribution to culture.
“I agree with Miss Lou that Patois is a language. It is the language of the people; it made us who we are. It separates us from everybody else, and it is something that we can call our own,” she said.
Also on the tour were Dr. Lola Ramocan, entertainer Letna Allen-Rowe and several Jamaican Honorary Consuls.
By CAROLYN GOULBOURNE-WARREN