Black History Month is a time when most North Americans reflect on the contributions that Blacks have made to the development of civilisation. Many among us who immigrated to Canada have long wondered about the relevance, the importance, or meaning of such an event. It is not an occurrence in Africa, in South America, in particular Brazil, with a Black population of over 40 million, or in the West Indies.
Why then do Caribbean Blacks entertain the notion of this month in continental North America, and what does it have to do with them? I pose this question in light of our forgotten heroes who paved the way for many of us to come to Canada. These unsung heroes are our women folk.
The first wave of Caribbean women came to Canada around 1910 - 1911 (First Caribbean Domestic Scheme) to work as nannies and maids. Some of our brightest left on that scheme in search of a what Cecil Foster refers to as A Place Called Heaven, the title of one of his books. The West Indies in the early part of the twentieth century had an estimated population of less than three millions, and the employment opportunities for Blacks in government or private industry in positions higher than labourers was almost non-existent This situation is well documented in George Lamming's In the Castle of my Skin.
There was an influx of West Indian immigrants to Canada in the nineteen sixties and nineteen seventies. Many of the women faced great hardships at the hands of their employers who exploited them through their labour, low wages, harsh living conditions, blackmail and sexual harassment. Austin Clarke chronicles the plight of these domestics as they lived out their lives in homes of the rich in Forest Hills, Toronto. A Meeting Point, Storm of Fortune, and The Bigger Light contribute to our understanding of the deracination, loneliness, the sense of alienation and economic hardships faced by these pioneering women. Cecil Foster's No Man in the House and Among the Beloved underpin the devastating effects of family separation because of immigration and the resultant effects on the children and parents, especially mothers. …