Race, Gender and Canadian Immigration Policy: Blacks from the Caribbean, 1900-1932

Article excerpt

This study examines two movements of Caribbean blacks to Canada between 1900 and 1932 from a political economy perspective. The first group of workers migrated to Nova Scotia to work in the coal mines and the coke ovens of the Sydney steel plant. Second, domestic workers were recruited from Guadeloupe and the British Caribbean to help fill the demand for cheap labour in Quebec, Ontario, and Nova Scotia. The essay demonstrates that the process of immigration control was structured by a dialectic of economic, political, and ideological relations: the demand of employers for cheap unskilled labour and the state's desire to exclude blacks as permanent settlers. Perceiving blacks as likely to create permanent economic and race-relations problems, immigration officials sought to avoid the problem by restricting the entry of black settlers to those whose services were in urgent demand.

Cet article analyse d'un point de vue politique et économique deux mouvements migratoires de la population noire des Caraïbes vers le Canada. Tout d'abord, l'immigration de cette population en Nouvelle Écosse pour travailler dans les mines de charbon et les hauts fourneaux de l'usine sidérurgique de Sydney. Le recrutement, ensuite, d'ouvriers de la Guadeloupe et des Caraïbes Britanniques pour répondre à la demande d'une main d'oeuvre à bon marché au Québec, en Ontario et en Nouvelle Écosse. La politique canadienne d'immigration en ce qui concerne la population noire des Caraïbes était organisée autour d'une dialectique de relations économique, politique et idéologique: la demande des employeurs pour une main d'oeuvre non spécialisée et à bon marché, et le désire de l'état d'exclure les noirs comme colons permanents. Ceux-ci étaient perçus par les fonctionnaires des bureaux de l'immigration comme risquant de créer de façon permanente des problèmes économiques et des relations conflictuelles entre les races.

Introduction

The history of the labour migration of Caribbean blacks to Canada in the early 1900s has been largely ignored in social science research in favour of the Oklahoma black migration to the prairies and the recent movement from the Caribbean.1 This study examines two migrations of Caribbean blacks to Canada between 1900 and 1932 from a political economy perspective. The first group of Caribbean immigrants went to Nova Scotia, especially to Sydney, to work in the steel mills and coal mines. The second group comprised female domestic workers recruited from Guadeloupe and the British Caribbean to help fill the demand for cheap domestic labour in Quebec, Ontario, and the Maritimes.2 This paper provides insight into Canadian immigration policy and official attitudes towards blacks, particularly black women, in Canada between 1900 and 1932. It also offers a background for understanding immigration policies relating to other groups of black men and women, and facilitates the general analysis of Canada's racialized and gendered immigration policies from an historical perspective.

Canada's immigration policy regarding Caribbean blacks between 1900 and 1932 was structured by a dialectic of economic, political, and ideological relations: employers' demand for cheap labour to do unskilled and domestic work was set in tension with the state's desire to exclude blacks as permanent settlers.3 Caribbean blacks provided a reserve army of labour; they were employed in a split labour market where they were paid less than white workers for doing the same work.4 For example, in 1910-11, Caribbean domestics in Quebec were paid less than half the monthly wage received by their white counterparts, though employers reported favourably on their performance. In the submerged, split labour market operating in the Sydney steel plant, blacks were restricted to working around the coke ovens or blast furnaces, relegated to the hottest, most physically demanding, and lowest paid jobs in the plant.5 This situation demarcates a colour Une beyond which only white workers are able to advance. …