The Caribbean region is
made up of a diverse group of countries, and is divided into three
physiographic divisions: the Greater Antilles, the Lesser Antiles and
some isolated islands.
The Greater Antilles include Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican
Republic and Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, the Lesser Antilles include the
Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda,
Montserrat, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent
and the Grenadines, Barbados, and Grenada. Lastly, the isolated islands
of the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Trinidad and Tobago,
Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire are also included.
Although Bermuda and Guyana are not physiographically part of the
Caribbean, they have historical and cultural ties with the other islands
and are often included in definitions of the region.
Today, there are many different languages spoken across the various
islands, including English, Spanish and French, as well as Haitian
Creole and Jamaican Creole.
History of Caribbean Immigration to Canada
In 1796, between 550 to
600 Maroon men and women arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia after an
unsuccessful British attempt to enslave them in Jamaica. Between 1800
and 1920, a small number of Jamaicans and Barbadians immigrated as
labourers to work in the Cape Breton and Sydney mines. (See History of
Labour Migration to Canada.) Before 1960, the few immigrants who did
arrive from the Caribbean region came from the British colonies,
especially Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad, and Bermuda.
Immigration from the Caribbean really began in the 1960s and 70s. Of the
749,155 Canadians reported to have Caribbean origins in the 2016 census,
the vast majority immigrated to Canada after the multiculturalism policy
was initiated in 1971 by then prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
There have been three major immigration cohorts from the Caribbean to
The first cohort was between 1900 to 1960. During this period, Canada
accepted about 21,500 immigrants from Caribbean countries. The slight
increase in immigration from 1945 to 1960 corresponded with postwar
economic expansion and the West Indian Domestic Scheme (1955–67) which
was established, almost exclusively, for the immigration of women from
Jamaica and Barbados who immigrated as domestic workers. Women like Jean
Augustine, the first Black female MP and Cabinet minister, entered
Canada through this scheme.
The second cohort, from 1960 to 1971, coincided with the
"liberalization" of the Canadian Immigration Act. During this period
Canada accepted about 64,000 people from the Caribbean. In 1962, Canada
introduced new immigration regulations (1962 Immigration Act), which
reduced the emphasis of people migrating to Canada based on the colour
of their skin or their nationality and increased the emphasis on their
education and skills. In 1967, Canada implemented the points system.
This allowed people to immigrate to Canada from all over the world.
Since the 1970s, Canada saw increased migration as part of an
international movement to slow European emigration, and Canada began to
depend increasingly on labour from the developing nations. (See
Immigration Policy in Canada.)
The third cohort, which began in the early 1970s, coincided with an
economic recession. Except for 1973 and 1974 (unusual years because of
the Addressment of Status Program that helped many people regularize
their status), immigration from the Caribbean declined. 1973 saw the
highest number of Caribbean migrations to Canada with approximately
20,000 persons from Caribbean countries admitted into the country. In
1974, 23,885 immigrants were from Caribbean countries. However, by the
mid to late 1970s, an economic recession slowed down Caribbean migration
to Canada. Caribbean immigration fell from 10 per cent of total
immigration in 1975 to six per cent in 1979. It remained at six per cent
Between 1996 and 2001, the Canadian population grew by four per cent,
whereas the population of Caribbean Canadians grew more quickly and rose
by 11 per cent. Most Caribbean Canadians live in the more populous
provinces of Ontario and Quebec and in major urban city hubs such as
Toronto and Montreal.
The majority of Caribbean immigrants to Canada speak at least one of
Canada's official languages. People from Antigua, Grenada, Bahamas,
Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Montserrat, St Lucia, Virgin
Islands, St Kitts-Nevis, Dominica, and St Vincent generally speak
English. Meanwhile, the majority of French-speaking people from the
Caribbean are from Haiti, Martinique and Guadeloupe. Spanish speakers
are typically from Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. In many
cases, language plays a role in settlement decisions for immigrants from
this region. For example, French-speaking Haitians have traditionally
settled in Quebec (Montreal), whereas English-speaking West Indians have
chosen Ontario (Toronto). (See French Language in Canada; Canadian
Social and Cultural Life
introduced Rastafarianism to Canada. Jamaicans also introduced reggae
music, which originated in the ghettos of Kingston, Jamaica. A blend of
African musical traditions and rhythm and blues, reggae was born during
the 1960s and spread to England and America. People from Trinidad and
Tobago introduced carnival, calypso music, and soca music, which is a
genre of music that grew out of a marginalized subculture in Trinidad
and Tobago in the early 1970s. Soca blends calypso with chutney,
cadence, funk and soul (see also Caribbean Music in Canada).
There are several annual festivals held throughout Canada that celebrate
Caribbean culture. These include the Toronto Caribbean Carnival,
Cariwest in Edmonton, Caribbean Days in North Vancouver, Carifest in
Calgary, Carifiesta in Montreal, Durham Caribbean Festival, Jerkfest in
Toronto, Scarborough AfroCarib Fest, Irie Music Festival in Mississauga
and the Caribbean Tales International Film Festival in Toronto. These
festivals are generally held in the spring or summer, but various
organizations and events also highlight all Canadian Black History
(including Caribbean history) during the winter months (see Celebrating
Black History Month in Canada).
Caribbean Canadians also have a presence in media. Some examples of
radio stations that highlight the culture of Caribbean Canadians
include: G 98.7, Carib101 Radio, CJTR Regina, CIUT Radio, Radio Haiti on
News, and Voix Tropicale FM. Some television stations that celebrate
Caribbean culture in Canada are: Afroglobal Television, Caribbean
Vibrations, and WIN Caribbean. Some newspapers that bring recognition to
Caribbean culture in Canada include: Toronto, Caribbean Newspaper, Pride
News, Montreal Community Contact and Our Legacy News.
Religion is an
important part of many Caribbean islands and has always played a major
role in the settling of Caribbean Canadians. Religion is maintained
mostly by those who migrated from the Caribbean directly in comparison
to those of Caribbean heritage who were born in Canada. Generation and
age play a significant role in the continuation and maintenance of
religious patterns amongst Caribbean Canadians.
A large portion of Caribbean Canadians come from a Christian background
(Roman Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, Pentecostal, Seventh Day
Adventist), with some also following the religions of Rastafari and
Based on the 2011 Statistics Canada household survey, 265,035 out of a
total 3,669,430 immigrants in Canada identify as Christian and are from
the Caribbean islands of Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti.
A small number of Caribbean Canadians, 36,120, from the islands of
Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Haiti said they had no
religious affiliation. Another 15,645 Caribbean Canadians from the
islands of Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Haiti stated that
they are Muslim and practice Islam.
The political battles of Caribbean people in Canada have been waged
over-improving working conditions, pervasive racism in employment,
education and accommodation, the right to immigrate and the right to
participate in the political life of their mother country and of Canada.
English-speaking Caribbean Canadians have fought through racial
discrimination that barred Black workers from obtaining jobs on the
railway. One of their first successes was establishing the Order of
Sleeping Car Porters. Today, this labour organization is affiliated with
the International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (see Sleeping Car
Porters in Canada).
Since the early 20th century, Caribbean-Canadians have fought on behalf
of women's issues through the Coloured Women's Club (founded in 1902).
The Congress of Black Women of Canada, a more recent organization,
includes English and French-speaking women from Canada, Caribbean
nations and other countries.
To defend the interests of Black people and to fight racism at various
levels, a number of organizations were established, uniting Blacks of
Canadian Caribbean origin. One of the original organizations to protect
the rights of Black Canadians was the Canadian League for the
Advancement of Colored People, inspired by the large American
organization (NAACP). Between the two world wars, the Universal Negro
Improvement Association was founded by Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican and one
of the great Black American leaders. Garvey led a different Black
movement advocating a return to Africa and non-integration. This
association gave rise to a string of satellite organizations in Canada.
At the end of the 1960s, student and youth organizations mobilized
against the existing school system. This movement was influenced by the
Black Panther movement in the United States and national liberation
struggles throughout the world. The incident at Montreal’s Sir George
Williams University (now Concordia University) in 1968–69 also had a
significant influence. During the incident, several Black students and
other student supporters protested against the racist grading system of
a professor. They occupied and damaged the school's computer lab (see
The Sir George Williams Affair). It’s also in this broader context that
the Black United Front was founded in Nova Scotia.
Haitian organizations in Quebec were active in the fight against the
Duvalier regime in Haiti and the deportation of Haitians in 1974 and
1979. They established information, emergency, literacy and other
services. Haitians also exerted pressure on the government to ensure
political refugee status was given more freely to Haitian and Latin
American immigrants. (See Canadian Refugee Policy.)
Other organizations dedicated to the interests and needs of Caribbean
Canadians have been created over the years. They include the Ontario
Black History Society (OBHS), Thornhill African Caribbean Canadian
Association (TACCA), Council of Caribbean Associations Canada, Jamaican
Canadian Association, Trinidad and Tobago Association of Ontario, and
the Caribbean Community Council of Calgary. Black Lives Matter Canada is
an organization in Canada that represents Black Canadians in the fight
against inequality, police brutality, discrimination and systemic
International Relations between Canada and the Caribbean Region
Canada has a positive relationship with the countries of the Caribbean
Community (CARICOM). Canada and the Caribbean work in partnership around
areas such as investment and tourism, as well as social, economic and
Notable Canadians of Caribbean Origin
Notable Canadians of
Caribbean origin include Member of Parliament Celina Caesar-Chavannes;
retired sprinter and Olympic gold medalist Donovan Bailey; retired track
and field athlete and Olympic gold medalist Bruny Surin; former
lieutenant-governor of Ontario Lincoln Alexander; first Black and
longest-serving senator Anne Cools; former Governor General Michäelle
Jean, and; author, historian and poet Afua Cooper.
Clement Courtenay Ligoure, physician (born 13 October 1887 in Trinidad;
died 23 May 1922 Port of Spain, Trinidad). Dr. Ligoure was Halifax’s
first Black doctor and an unsung hero of the Halifax Explosion, as he
treated hundreds of patients free of charge in his home medical office.
Dr. Ligoure was also instrumental in the formation of the No. 2
Construction Battalion, Canada’s first and only all-Black battalion (see
Black Canadians; Caribbean Canadians).
Not much is known about Clement Ligoure’s early life. What is known is
Dr. Ligoure was born in Trinidad and emigrated first to New York City
and then to Canada to attend medical school at Queen’s University in
Kingston, Ontario. (See also Black Canadians; Caribbean Canadians.) Dr.
Ligoure graduated in 1916. Two years later, in 1918, the university
banned Black students from attending its School of Medicine. Black
students would not be welcome back into the school again until 1965.
(See also Racial Segregation of Black Students in Canadian Schools;
Racial Segregation of Black People in Canada.)
Following graduation, Clement Ligoure moved to Halifax with the hopes of
joining the war efforts (see First World War). At the time, Black men
were being turned away at recruiting stations based on the colour of
their skin (see Anti-Black Racism in Canada). Ligoure banded with
Reverend William Andrew White and others to push for the Canadian Forces
to allow Black men to enlist. In 1916, a segregated all-Black unit was
proposed. Ligoure, White and others recruited Black soldiers across the
country to join what would become the No. 2 Construction Battalion.
Ligoure was eager to become the Battalion’s chief medical officer but
was told by the department of defence that he had failed the medical
exam by one point. While this was the explanation given, there was
speculation that the real reason Ligoure was denied the role was that a
Black man, at that time, could never be given the rank of a captain. The
job instead went to Captain Dan Murray, grandfather of Nova Scotia
singing great Anne Murray.
Ligoure was an active member of his North End Halifax community and
spearheaded and/or supported several initiatives to combat racism and
discrimination in Canada. While his hopes of joining the war efforts
were dashed, he ended up taking on the role of publisher for a
newsmagazine called the Atlantic Advocate. The opportunity arose after
the founding publisher, W.A. DeCosta, left Halifax to become a member of
the No. 2 Construction Battalion. The Atlantic Advocate was Nova
Scotia’s first Black news publication and covered a variety of topics in
the hopes of informing and uplifting African Nova Scotian issues and
interests. (See also Magazines; Newspapers in Canada)
Ligoure also came to Halifax in the hopes of putting his medical degree
to work locally. He quickly discovered that this was not an easy task
for a Black man and was faced with racism and discrimination once again
when he tried to obtain hospital privileges. Determined to practise
within the City of Halifax, he decided to set up a private clinic in his
home at 166 North Street (now 5812-14 North Street) in the North End of
Halifax. He called it the Amanda Private Hospital, which was named after
Clement Ligoure had not been in Halifax long when its residents were
faced with what would become one of the most well-known and devastating
explosions in Canadian history (see Halifax Explosion). On the morning
of 6 December 1917, a French cargo ship called the SS Mont-Blanc
collided with a Norwegian vessel, known as the SS Imo, in the Halifax
Harbour. Upon making contact, the Mont-Blanc, which was carrying high
explosives, caught fire and exploded. This blast was not only heard, it
destroyed the Richmond district of Halifax and the results were
shattering. The explosion killed approximately 2,000 people and injured
Following the explosion, the Amanda Private Hospital began filling with
injured civilians, many of whom had been turned away from the main
hospital in the city. Ligoure was the only doctor in the Cotton Factory
and Willow Park district, and he worked around the clock tending to the
wounded. He was assisted only by his housekeeper and a Pullman porter
named H.D. Nicholas, who was boarding with Ligoure at the time. On the
first night, seven people slept on blankets on the floor of Ligoure’s
office. Despite the warning of a potential second explosion that could
further devastate the area, Ligoure continued to work. And when the
injured could not travel to him, he travelled to the injured during all
hours of the night. After continuing in this manner for several days, an
exhausted Ligoure went to city hall and met with Lieutenant Ryecroft to
plead for the urgent need of a dressing station in his district.
Ligoure’s request was approved, and several nurses and military
personnel were sent to support him and the patients of Amanda Private
Hospital. The No. 4 dressing station tended to around 180 people per day
and this intensity continued throughout most of the remainder of
Ligoure continued to support relief efforts and would tend to up to 51
cases at a time due to ongoing medical conditions following the
explosion. Throughout this time, it is believed he did not charge one
Clement Ligoure eventually closed Amanda Private Hospital and bought a
home in Schmidtville. Not long after, in 1922, Ligoure passed away at 34
years of age. His death and funeral are detailed in articles from the
Port of Spain Gazette. An obituary from 30 May 1922 recounts that
Ligoure contracted malignant malaria while visiting one of his brothers
in Tobago. After being transported to the Colonial Hospital in Trinidad,
Ligoure died on 23 May 1922.
Ligoure’s life and legacy has been honoured in a number of ways and
people are still learning more about this incredible hero of the Halifax
Explosion. In 2020, playwright David Woods wrote a play called
Extraordinary Acts, which highlights the experiences of the Black
community during the explosion. (See also People on the Margins of the
In 2021, Doctors Nova Scotia announced the Dr. Clement Ligoure Award.
The award was created to recognize “exemplary service during a medical
crisis.” The inaugural award recipient was Dr. Robert Strang, Nova
Scotia’s chief medical officer of health.
Development Options Halifax, a group located in the City of Halifax, is
determined to preserve what remains of the once bustling Amanda Private
Hospital. As of 2022, the group petitioned to stop the demolition of the
building. Similarly, Friends of Halifax Common submitted an application
to the Halifax Regional Municipality for the former home and office of
Nova Scotia’s first Black physician to be designated a historic
property. As of January 2023, the Halifax regional council voted in
favour to register the building as a heritage property. (See also
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