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Forward: Passport to the Heart

By Hon. David Kilgour, Secretary of State (Latin America and Africa)

15 September 2000

The Caribbean has been a magical place for me since my late grandmother, Nan Russell, first wintered there from Prairie Canada when I was a small boy in the 1950s. Her stories of the people she met began a life long fascination. In recent years, I have been exposed to a whole other side of this vibrant region that goes well beyond beaches and sunshine. This book reflects that reality; readers gain a deeper sense of the political tradition, stability and longstanding friendship between the people of the Caribbean and Canadians.

Author Trevor Carmichael is one of the most respected residents of the central Caribbean region. His reputation for honesty, competence, objectivity, independence and friendly cooperation appears to go well beyond his native Barbados. It is a great honour to be asked to write a forward to Passport to the Heart.

The first subject examined in the book is Caribbean-Canada political union, which has not succeeded to date but could still be a concept whose time is coming. As Carmichael points out in fascinating detail, the first movement towards political and economic union between Canada and its Caribbean neighbours began shortly after Confederation in 1867. It went up and down through the decades culminating in the mid-1970s, when a group of Canadian MPs visited the Turks and Caicos islands with a view to inviting them to become a province or territory. Unfortunately, in the view of many Caribbean-loving Canadians today, the proposal was ultimately rejected. This and a host of other initiatives have, however, deepened the economic and human bonds that flourish between the Caribbean and Canada today.

Carmichael sketches the growth of air and sea links between the two regions, beginning in the mid-1800s with the colourful ‘blue nose’ vessels carrying fish, potatoes and lumber south and rum, molasses and sugar northward. The gradual merging of trade, aid and commerce between two former colonial entities is an enticing subject. As a Canadian, I find it reassuring to note that successive Canadian governments sought actively to maintain a special relationship with the Caribbean peoples. The development of the banana industry is a case in point. In view of the Caribbean’s current enormous banana problem with the World Trade Organization, it’s interesting to note that the Canada/West Indies Trade Agreement of 1925 allowed bananas from Jamaica to enter Canada duty free. By 1941, for various reasons Canada became the largest exporter to the West Indies; by 1958 Ottawa was even looking at a free trade relationship. Today the 1986 CARIBCAN protocol allows duty-free access for almost all imports from the Commonwealth Caribbean.

The impact of Canadian aid is discussed quite candidly, beginning with the landing of Canadian troops in St. Lucia in 1916 to defend against a possible attack by the German navy. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) after 1970 focussed on the Leeward and Windward islands to support infrastructure services, economic and environmental management, human and natural resource development and the role of women in economic advancement. Carmichael stresses the role of Non-government organizations like the Canadian Executive Services Organization (CESO), particularly in Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Dominica as well as the significant inputs by a number of Canadian companies and business leaders.

I found the highlight of the book to be the emigration/immigration of people between the two regions. For example, the Maroons of Jamaica, after revolting against British Rule, were resettled near Halifax, but 500 of them later relocated to what is now Sierra Leone. Joe Fortis moved from the Caribbean to Vancouver in 1885 and became such a community hero in protecting people of all ages on the beach at English Bay that when he died his funeral cortege was two miles long. Guyana-born Sir James Douglas was the first Governor of the new colony of British Colombia in 1858. Canadians moving to the Caribbean, particularly in the last century, were also interesting, and productive people, including many missionaries.

Carmichael’s enlightening analysis of the cultural interchanges between the two countries includes much more than the contribution of the almost immortal Bob Marley. Writers like Austin Clarke, Dionne Brand, Neil Bisoondath get a fair share of attention, as does the burgeoning annual Caribana Festival in Toronto. The author concludes here on an interesting note of culture and cuisine fusion in an era of economic globalization.

In the new century, it will be incumbent on all democracies to find ways of sustaining one another, sharing wealth and respecting the uniqueness each brings to the challenges ahead. This book illustrates over and over again how leaders in both regions have risen to meet the circumstances of the day. From my experiences travelling throughout the region, I’m convinced that good governance is alive and well; the next generation will only improve on the record of achievement to date. The special Canada/Caribbean relationship has ripened into an object of real beauty, which must continue to bloom and prosper. Passport to the Heart is a labour of love and a practical analysis that serves our noblest ambitions, be they Canadian or Caribbean.

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