An Autobiography.

In Thanksgiving for God's guidance and all that He has done for me, in my life I share this hymn which I think depicts my life's journey:

PREFACE

Historical Background

The journey begins in Balahou Town, Dominica.  Where is Dominica?

 

Dominica is the largest and most mountainous of the Windward Islands, with volcanic peaks, mountains, a multiplicity of rivers and streams, dense forests and quiet lakes, waterfalls, geysers and boiling lake pools.  The island was discovered by Columbus in 1493, in the name of the Queen of Spain.  The island was later colonized by the French in the 1600's, before becoming a British possession in 1805.  In 1967, the island attained internal self-government followed by full independence from Britain in 1978.

Original Inhabitants and Their Contribution to the
Island's Development

 

The island was originally occupied by Carib Indians, who were later joined by a small number of Europeans, who brought Africans to the island as a source of cheap labour for the development of an agricultural industry.  Because of the topography of the island, mechanization of the agricultural industry was impossible.  The road system was also limited, but it has since been developed.  Despite these challenges, much of the land is currently under cultivation.  Initially, cultivating the land included citrus groves along with their by-products; sugar cane, and its by-products; cocoa, coffee, vanilla beans, coconuts, followed more recently by the cultivation of bananas for export, replacing citrus exports.

 

The banana industry became the islands main export earner, but has experienced serious pressure following a World Trade Organization ruling which outlawed the preferential access to European markets, as well as severe hurricane damage, particularly from Hurricane Maria. There is currently limited light industry which produces vegetable oil, canned juices, cigarettes, soap and other consumer goods mainly for local consumption.

 
 

 When I am down and, oh my soul so weary

When troubles come and my heart burdened be

Then I am still and wait here in the silence

Until you come and sit a while with me.

 

You raise me up, so I can stand on Mountains

You raise me up to walk on stormy seas

I am strong when I am on your shoulder

You raise me up to be more than I can be

 

Please join me in my life's journey.

You  Raise Me Up

 
 

Cultural and Linguistic Heritage

Although Dominica claims a rich cultural heritage, based on the legacy of the integration of the Carib, African and European (Spanish French & British) cultures, only the English language survived as the official language with "Patois" or Creole ( a combination of African and French dialects) spoken by the majority of the 70,000 plus population. The Patois or Creole spoken in Dominica, is unique to Dominica, but contains threads of similarity to that which is spoken in St. Lucia and Haiti.  The remnants of the various cultures are apparent in the cuisine national dress, music and dance form.

 

Dominica cannot be described as a preferred tourist destination because of the unpredictability of atmospheric conditions.  Dominica is for those who admire nature at its best – undiluted and unpolluted.  While some might argue that there are beaches of black and golden sands in Dominica, there remains the very high rainfall which is not the preferred climate most tourists seek as a winter retreat.

 

The Realities of Dominica

Despite the richness of the soil, and the willingness of her people to cultivate the soil, given their propensity for hard work and discipline, Dominica has not been blessed with a viable economy, and produces little that can be exported to sustain her population.

 

With the decline of the citrus, sugar cane and more recently the banana industry, there is little to export.  Despite a proliferation of schools throughout the island, and the availability of high school and college level educational opportunities, not many students have been blessed with the ability to pursue higher level educational opportunities outside of Dominica.

 

As one of those blessed to attend institutions of higher learning abroad, I was able to take with me, from my island home, an abiding faith in God, based on years of indoctrination in the Roman Catholic faith, a highly developed moral-ethical frame of reference, based on my mother's very strict upbringing which taught me to be grateful for whatever came my way, and to consider being of service to others, and sharing with others, a privilege. Her favourite expression was, "hard work never killed anyone."

 

I left the island, armed with numerous stories from my mother, each one illustrating some moral value, all of which served as guiding principles throughout my life.

 

Happy Moments, Praise God

Difficult Moments, Seek God

Quiet Moments, Worship God

Painful moments, Trust God

Every Moment, Thank God

 

 

On March 16, 1933, a baby girl was born to Andrew Hugh Green of Canefield Estate, formerly of Chicago, Illinois; and Edith Eugenia Lucas of Balahou Town, formerly of Trinidad and Tobago.  They were elated, especially my mother, who felt she had lost her son, who was ten years older than her new daughter.  Her son was seven years old, when his father took him to boarding school in Switzerland, (Institut Selig) and our mother had not seen him since.  She now had a new baby to cuddle.  Her new daughter meant the world to her.

 

Balahou Town was a poor suburb of Roseau, located on the South Western side of the Capital City, Roseau and the Roseau River.  As the poor cousin to Roseau, Balahou Town did not have paved roads, nor did many of the houses have electricity or running water.  Nevertheless, the small town consisted of citizens who took pride in their surroundings.  The small wooden houses were clean, their yards were decorated with various stone displays, brought from either the seaside or the river bank, intertwined with flowers and trees. At Christmas, most of the people made themselves new drapes for their windows and doors, and some even hung coloured lights. 

 

Many fishermen lived in Balahou Town, and when they were finished fishing, they shared some of their catch with those who assisted them in pulling up their boats on shore.  This was an early introduction to sharing and communal living. The fishermen then took the rest of their catch to the fish market where they sold their fish and obtained money to shop for groceries and pay their rent.  Life seemed simple and uncomplicated, except for the war.

CHAPTER 2 

Return to Canada

 

World War II: Its Effects on Dominica

 

World War II, (1939 -1945), to my childish mind, seemed so very far away, taking place in unknown lands.   Nevertheless, its effects were felt in Dominica in several ways.  I recall seeing lots of white men, marching in unison, under the Canefield Cliffs.  I had no idea where they were going to or coming from, but my mother told me they visited Canefield Estate and were given coconut water, mangoes, lots of limes, oranges and grapefruit to take away with them.  They came to Dominica from one of the neighbouring French Islands, either Martinique or Guadeloupe.

 

Several big ships from Canada visited Dominica regularly – Lady Drake, Lady Hawkins, and Lady Nelson to name those that I remember.  It was during that time that we learned, in Dominica, that a ship had been blown up in the harbour in St. Lucia. 

 

Most Dominicans experienced a shortage of imported food products such as flour, cooking oil, canned meats, codfish (which came to us from Newfoundland, Canada), and a host of other items including building materials.  Undeterred by the shortages, Dominicans learned to produce and supplement imported products with their own version of things.  For example, a vegetable locally called "breadfruit" grew in abundance all over the island. Dominicans learned to make "breadfruit flour" to overcome the lack of shipments of flour from Canada.  We learned to smoke pork, to replace the smoked Maple Leaf hams from Canada.  

 

Our powers of substitution knew no bounds.  We put new soles on old shoes, shoemakers made sandals from old tires, we cleaned silver with lime and ashes, we learned to make coconut oil and soap from coconuts, we learned to skim the cream from boiled milk, and made butter.  In place of imported drinks, we made drinks from ginger which we called "ginger beer" and picked flowers from a tree and prepared a red drink called “sorrel”.  There seemed to be no end to the creativity of our people, as we survived the war.

 

When the stores had a shortage of cloth for making clothes, we took the empty flour bags, washed them in the Roseau River, bleached them using "blue soap" and spread them out on the rocks in the river, so that the sun could bleach them, and made kitchen towels, and yes, even blouses, shirts and dresses.

 

When a shipment of goods would arrive, our mother would buy in bulk and keep them in the store room of our home. She would then "pinch them" meaning she would use the goods in moderation, and share with her close friends.  She had special little baskets in which to pack what she shared, and would say to me: "Go put on your clean clothes and clean shoes, and take this to auntie so and so."

 

The experience of growing up during the war in Dominica left important and indelible messages: learning to appreciate substitutes, learning to diversify and make use of what you do have, saving for days when there is not much around, sharing the little that you have with others who have nothing, being resourceful and not too proud to cultivate your own kitchen garden, and being grateful for all that God has given you including life.

 

It was during those war years that a local tinsmith, named Mr. Alphanso Kellshall, would make the most of any kind of tin.  So, folks would take their empty tins to him, and he would make it into a cup or bowl. 

 

Many years later, I encountered something that recalled the memory of the local tinsmith known as "Mr. Phanso".

 

One day, after my retirement from "outside work", because I always had "inside work" in the home from which I never retired, I found myself with some idle time. Idle time being unknown to me over my life, I did not know what to do with it.  Finally, I decided to browse in Home Depot.

 

As I walked down one aisle, I came upon an object which reminded me of the Dominica of my youth.  I stopped, picked it up, examined it for several minutes before replacing it where I found it.  But although I walked through several other aisles, this object kept returning to my conscious thought.  Why?

 

When you are born and bred in Dominica, Dominica has a way of creeping up on you and letting you know that your roots are important.  I then realized the object reminded me of "Mr. Phanso" who used to tie his tinsmith creations together on a string and walk the streets peddling his goods for sale.  He was a genius at transforming tin into useful household gadgets.  One day, he came to our door, and sold my mother a shower head with a huge circumference that provided a powerful shower analogous to a real Dominica heavy rain shower.  We loved those showers.

 

Now I was sold. I could not leave that object in the store.  I returned to where I located it in the first instance, took it to the cash and made the purchase.  Because it was packaged for the North American market, it was not hanging at the end of a string.  But it did look like the one produced by "Mr Phanso".  When I finally got home and excitedly opened the box, the object actually had a name.  No one could possibly have guessed that that shower head would be called: "Rainshower", to my absolute delight.  It was then, that I knew I made the right decision to purchase that item.

 

The neighbourhood handyman from Barbados dismantled the telescopic shower head and installed my "Rainshower" which would continue to remind me of Dominica and a past pleasure we enjoyed as children – bathing under a heavy shower of rain.  All of this happened before my husband returned from his men's group meeting.   Now, every time I take a shower, and feel the water beating over my short-cropped Afro Haircut, I remember one of the joys of Dominica – bathing in the heavy rain while the hot sun was shining.

 

 

Early Childhood Education

 

 

Early childhood education, for those who could afford it, was the Montessori classes at the Convent High school.  At age five, I attended the Montessori classes, and later became a boarder at the Convent, along with an older girl named Ruth Nicholas.  Ruth was like the big sister I never had, and was nice enough to braid my hair for me every morning.  We both went to our respective homes for weekends.  She lived in Roseau and I lived at Balahou Town.

 

The nuns were very strict, and insisted on such routines as specific wake-up times, personal hygiene, compulsory attendance at Mass each morning, breakfast (including good table manners), attendance at classes followed by recreation time for sports activities.  Meal times were strictly supervised to ensure we ate everything on our plate and did not talk during meals. Sports activities were also supervised to ensure good sportsmanship, sharing of equipment and playing fairly, which included shaking hands with the opposing team if we lost at volleyball or tennis. 

 

Part of our education, was compulsory catechism classes, so that we could be properly prepared to make our First Holy Communion at the Roseau Cathedral, and be confirmed as members of the Catholic Faith.  We learned to pray, and to take our troubles to God, the giver of all good things.  To have confidence in His ability to help us throughout life.  A feature that would stand us in good stead as we got older.

 

It was during my stay at the Convent High School that disaster struck our family.  My father died of a heart attack at age 72.  The sisters told me that God knew best and God had his reasons for taking my father.  They said when one door closes, another opens.  They were right, because my brother returned from Switzerland – you will never understand the disappointment when meeting with him I discovered that we could not speak to each other, because he could only speak German and French.  Not a word of English or Creole.  Our mother quickly arranged for English lessons, and enrolled him at The Dominica Grammar School so he could learn English more quickly.

 

Shortly after our father's death, our mother decided on a family trip to Montreal, Canada, for a change of scenery to overcome the grief and loss.  In Montreal, Quebec, we lived with friends from Dominica who had relocated to Canada. That was a wonderful three-month vacation.  The family with whom we lived were very special people, who welcomed us into their home and treated us as family members.  This was the same family with whom I would later spend my Christmas and Summer vacations, while I was a college student in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

 

Education at the Convent High school, continued for me until Form 3, after which I was sent to Boarding School at St. Joseph's Convent in Grenada where I encountered Irish nuns.  The convent in Dominica was staffed by Belgian nuns.  The Irish nuns were much nicer, although the rules were pretty much the same – it was the manner in which they enforced the rules that was different.  The Irish nuns made much of what we had to do seem like a game and they actually spoke with us during recreation, instead of acting like police officers.

 

It was while I was at St. Joseph's Convent that my mother took ill with cancer and I had to leave school, return to Dominica, to take care of her.  We journeyed to Canada seeking medical attention for Mother, but it was too late.  Her breast cancer had spread to her bones, so after approximately six months, we returned to Dominica. While my mother was hospitalized, I lived with the same family from Dominica who we lived with when we visited Canada when I was six years old.  During my mother's hospitalization, Father Watson, as I called the head of the family, decided that it was not good for a young girl to be out of school, so he enrolled me at Montreal High School for girls, where I managed to complete the Canadian Grade Eleven examinations.  We then returned to Dominica.  My mother was a very proud and independent woman, so as her health declined, she decided she wanted to go to Barbados, so she could be under the care of Dr. William Kerr, and Dominicans would not see her sick.  In Barbados, we lived in a rented cottage on the beach, owned by Sandy Beach Hotel.  There, at the cottage, three shifts of nurses took care of her while I supervised the operation, paid the bills and did her banking.  One day my mother informed me I was to write to Mr. J. R. Ralph Casimir, a paralegal in Dominica, asking him to come to Barbados at her expense, to prepare her Last Will and Testament.  Mr. Casimir agreed to come, and he lived at Sandy Beach Hotel.  He prepared her will and returned to Dominica with the document for certification and registration.

 

Following Mr. Casimir's return to Dominica, my mother had me contact Hinds Funeral Home in Barbados to prepare for her funeral.  Mr. Hinds, the owner of the funeral home, was very gracious, and personally came to the Beach House to interview my mother and I.  She chose her casket and prepared her funeral arrangements with his assistance.  She wanted to be buried in Dominica, in the family cemetery on the Canefield Estate.  Because the body had to be shipped to Dominica from Barbados, it had to be placed in a leaden Coffin before being put into the wooden casket, and permission had to be obtained from the Government of Barbados before the shipping company would accept the body for shipment to Dominica.  Shortly after making all of these arrangements, our mother died.  It was then up to me to have the body returned to Dominica for burial in the family's private cemetery on the Canefield Estate. My brother Daniel made all of the funeral arrangements in Dominica. 

 

My mother was a devout Anglican, so the funeral service was conducted in the Anglican Church in Roseau, after which, the body was taken to Canefield Estate, about three miles away from Roseau, for burial in the same burial grave as our father.  My brother had to obtain the necessary permission from the authorities to open my father's grave.  This was not problematic since our father died in 1939 and our mother died in 1952.  Nevertheless, remnants of our father were found by the grave diggers – his gold teeth, his wrist watch, and the gold studs from his shirt.  My brother kept those as treasures all his life.

 

About two months after the funeral, my Godmother at confirmation, Miss May Butler, arranged for me to work at Dupigny's store, since she thought it was not good for a young girl to be idle.  After six months, however, the nuns in Grenada intervened.  Mother Sean said to me: "With your brains you need to take yourself to a university."  When I told her I never thought about that, she looked at me with utter disgust and said: "I will take care of that."  The next thing I knew, I received a telegram indicating “Second Semester Begins next week" signed: "Sister Francis d'Assisi, President, Mount Saint Vincent College".

 

Fortunately for me, I started making preparations in the event I was accepted.  So, when I received the telegram, I hurriedly packed my bags and left Dominica for Nova Scotia, not before I approached the Manager of Barclays Bank to request the money for travel, tuition fees etc. Our mother named Barclays Bank as the executor of her will, since I was still a teenager at the time of her death.  Mr. Cadman-Smith, the British Bank Manager denied my request, so I went to see the family lawyer Mr. Clifton A. H. Dupigny.  Mr. Dupigny, after listening to my story, put on his jacket and told me to come with him. We went to the bank, and he signaled me to wait in the open area, as he entered the bank manager's office. Later the two of them came out smiling, with the bank manager telling me: "Why did you not tell me you needed the money for University?"  I just bent my head down and looked at my shoes, because I had shown him the telegram I received.  He then gave me a bank draft for $15,000.00 Canadian dollars and a letter of introduction to Barclays Bank International in Nova Scotia.

  

I then flew from Dominica to Barbados on the Grumman Goose, a seaplane that landed on the sea, off the coast of Dominica.  From Barbados, I boarded Trans Canada Airlines (TCA) as it was called then, to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where I encountered Canada Immigration upon arrival.  After a multiplicity of questions regarding who was responsible for me and who would be paying my tuition fees, they eventually gave me a three-month visa that would be changed by Immigration Canada, in Halifax, after I made arrangements at the Mount, and could prove that I was a student there. By the time of my appointment, I had finished my first semester, had a transcript of my grades, a letter from the registrar that I was a student who had paid my tuition, and room and board, for the year.  From then on, I had an annual student visa.

 

Canada: Post-Secondary Education and New Cultural Experiences

 

 

Living in residence was not a new experience, living with 80 girls was. Finding myself one of five Black Students in the entire student Body was also a novel experience. Many times, finding myself the only Black student in the classroom was also a new experience.  Fortunately, The Sisters of Charity were very special people, dedicated to teaching, creating in students a thirst for knowledge, and planting the seed of self-actualization.   I can distinctly recall Sister Frances Carmel telling us in Philosophy class that "God did not create any one of us to be mediocre" and that we have a moral obligation to actualize our potential.  With that she would follow up with the admonition: "To him that hath been given much, much is expected in return".  She indicated she had expectations of us and expected we would all strive to actualize our potential.  The atmosphere created forced students to be the best that they could be.

 

In this atmosphere of love, support, expectations and decency the students thrived.  Suddenly we wanted to do well, actually, we wanted to excel although we were always encouraged not to be vain or ostentatious.  I completed my four-year program in 3 1⁄2 years, by attending summer school, because I started in the second semester.  In May, 1956, I became Dorothy Green, B. Sc. With-Honours in Sociology.  I felt like I had conquered the Rock of Gibraltar. This Black girl from Balahou Town had achieved a university degree.

 

During those four years, The Sisters took care of the whole person.  We played sports: mainly basketball, against other sister colleges in the Maritimes.  We played volleyball.  We played badminton and tennis amongst ourselves.  We participated in the work of the missionaries through our mission boxes in which we placed our pennies, we prayed for their success. We put on plays like: The Pirates of Penzance and Christmas pageants.   And, we took turns hosting Teas in the formal dining room, as well as dressing for Sunday dinners in the formal dining room.  We were trained to debate with respect and to speak in tones that anyone could understand.  Yes, the sisters took care of the whole person – with room inspections to ensure that you made your bed every day, changed your sheets once a week, and kept your room neat and tidy.  You had special time for laundry and through it all, you treated each other with respect at all times.  To this day, I follow most of those routines.

 

There were five Black students in residence, on campus, three from Dominica and two from Grenada, but we were never disrespected. We knew very well that there were some students who were not keen on having us around, but they did not dare do anything to make us uncomfortable, because of the teaching of the sisters, and the atmosphere created by the Sisters.  As a matter of fact, when Sister Francis d'Assisi found out that I had no parents, she became the mother I lost, and when my children attended Mount Saint Vincent University (the college attained university status in the interim), she became the grandmother they never had.  Our son, in particular, took such a liking to her that he would pick her up in her wheel chair from the sisters' retirement facility, and wheel her around campus to show her the new buildings, and introduce her to his friends. It is said, "God never forsakes His own", you can believe that saying to be true.  I am living proof.  The class of 56 has diminished in size– there are only 15 of us left, and the same ones who were not fussy about me in the fifties still are not fussy about me now.  I can tell their unease at class reunions, but I do not seek their approval for my existence, and I make no apologies for the circumstances of my birth.

 

In the event you are curious about the other four Black students at the Mount, the Noel sisters (Pat and Marlene), from Grenada, both graduated.  Pat met and married a recent graduate from dental school and moved with her husband to Bermuda.  Marlene married a Trinidadian grad and moved to Trinidad.  The two sisters from Dominica also graduated.  The eldest, Noreen, graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Home Economics. She married a young doctor from Dominica, who trained in England, and became a housewife.  Her sister, Athene, became a member of the first class of Bachelor of Science in Nursing graduates in Canada.  She worked as a nurse for a very short period of time, before becoming the Night Nurse/Supervisor at St. Mary's Hospital in Montreal.  She maintained her employment with St. Mary's until her mother became ill.  She then returned to Dominica to take care of her mother.  After her mother's demise, she remained in Dominica to take care of their younger sister, Davina.  Davina passed away in 2019, followed by Noreen's demise in 2020.  Athene and I remain in touch with each other, a practice that we continue, approximately once a month to this day.

 

Following graduation from Mount Saint Vincent College, I returned to Dominica where I remained for three years.

 

Living in Dominica after Four Years in Canada

 

 

Surprisingly, returning to Dominica after life in Canada required several adjustments.  I had grown used to living with dozens of people and all of a sudden, I was alone in a big house.  I was used to fending for myself and all of a sudden there were helpers, who perceived me to be in charge and I perceived them as friends/colleagues.  Then there was the question of work.  I applied to the Government of Dominica for employment and heard nothing.  I had not intended to work on the Canefield Estate, although I had been familiar with that work.  My mother, in her wisdom sent me to work at the Estate Office during school breaks – that was in the late forties and early fifties.  My job was to take care of the books, look after the payroll, take care of any minor cuts or abrasions sustained by the laborers while at work, if the injury was serious, drive them to the hospital, and on Friday afternoons, after having gone to the bank on Friday morning to collect the necessary cash to pay the almost three hundred laborers who lined up for their pay, I handed them their money.   Having had lived that experience, I knew I did not want to do that again. 

 

What I found untenable about working on the Estate, was having to deduct money from the workers' pay for rent of the house in which they lived on the Estate, and for money owed to the shop on the Estate owned by my mother, for their purchases that week.  I was saddened that some of the laborers were left with very little take home pay.  Both my mother and my brother thought I was a "softie" and not designed to work on the Estate.  They did not have to worry about me going back to work there, because I was having none of it. Although I have to admit learning, quite a bit, about budgets, expectations of employees, how not to spend money before it was actually earned, punctuality, and the value of positive human communications and interactions. I also learned why money needs to be put aside for a "rainy day" instead of living from pay to pay, as I watched some of the laborers go home with very little pay in hand.  I also formed some precious bonds with many of the workers, because of my attitude and the manner in which I interacted with them. 

 

The older women were addressed as "Ma", an endearing term used locally, as a mark of respect for our elders: specifically, I referred often to "Ma Wensley" and "Ma Maiece," two of my old favourite people.  Another favourite was the cook whom I always addressed as "Cookie".  Whenever I would say "Cookie please" – she would respond: "What do you want now."  The older men were Mister so and so.  The younger ones were on a first name basis with me – after all, many were my age.  In any event, I was happy to have them around because I was almost an only child.  Having a brother ten years older was not much fun for either of us.

 

My best friends were two girls (Rita and Mavis Romain), who lived next door to us at Balahou Town.  They were the sisters I never had; they were very bright students who would help me with my homework when my mother was not looking.  And their mother would beg for mercy on my behalf when my mother would give me a "strapping" for contravening one of her numerous house rules. When my mother would lock me up in my bedroom for behaviour unbecoming of a young lady, like talking or singing too loudly, like skipping rope on the dirt road, or pitching marbles with one of the local children on the side of the road, or dirtying my Sunday dress, Mavis would bring me bits of cloth, cuttings from the seamstress three doors down, "Ma Virgin".  Mavis would pass the cloth through the window of my bedroom that opened on the side of their home.  Then I would make clothes for my dolls and not feel so bad about being locked in my room.

 

Mavis and Rita have since immigrated to Canada, and our friendship has remained as solid as if we never parted.  Once when I was very tired from working at two jobs, Mavis invited me to join her at her Florida home for a rest.  I flew down and she met me at the airport.  We had a wonderful week together.  Although we do not live next door to each other anymore, our relationship is still as warm, caring, sincere and honest as it was 85 years ago.  When Mavis and Rita's Mom died in Toronto, I flew to Toronto from Montreal after teaching my morning class to attend the funeral.   Then after the funeral, got right back on another aircraft, to Montreal, to teach my evening class.  Mavis and Rita are an integral part of my extended family. Thank God for them.

 

A few yards away from where we lived, was the Carrington Family.  Doris Carrington, the younger of the two girls, was older than me – but she was my dear friend and confidante. When we both found ourselves in Canada, she in Toronto and I in Montreal, she would come to my home to spend her two-week vacation with us each year.  She loved my children who adored their Auntie Doris.  We planted a vegetable garden, we went fishing, and driving all over Up-State New York State to places like Fort Covington, Massena, and Malone to the drive-in Movie. Doris was a joy to have around – always smiling, always cheerful. Yes, Dominicans seemed to maintain relationships, regardless of how many miles of stormy sea separate us.

 

The Dominica of my youth was a wonderful place.  We never had a key to our front door.  It was never necessary to lock the door or hide our belongings.  The poorest people would offer to lend a hand if you needed one and they were eager to share whatever they had.  People may have been poor in terms of material possessions, but they were rich in everything that mattered: honesty, sincerity, hard work, discipline, and an abiding faith in God.

 

Eventually, I was hired by the Government of Dominica as Assistant Deputy Registrar of the Colony of Dominica and Hansard Reporter, after the intervention of a Member of Parliament and Entrepreneur, Franklyn A. Baron. The prevailing sentiment had been that I could live on Canfield Estate and therefore did not need to take a job away from a Dominican who needed work.  Mr. Baron's question was: "Is she not a Dominican?"  He then compounded his question with the statement that she went abroad to study at her own expense, she returns to the Motherland, and now you want to deny her employment because her family has an estate?   The result of his intervention was a job interview followed by a job offer.  I remained in that position for three years before deciding to return to Canada for post graduate studies.  "Assistant Deputy Registrar" meant that I recorded births and deaths.  "Hansard Reporter" meant I reported every word spoken at the legislative Council meetings. 

 

During those three years, I joined the Union Club where I played tennis.  I joined the netball club where not only we played netball against each other, but were sufficiently vain and self-assured to tour other islands. When we toured Trinidad, the team stayed at Stolmyer's Guest House near the Savannah, where the games were held.  We were all tall, muscular, and athletic looking, but the Trinidadians beat us so badly that we were almost laughed out of town. Nevertheless, we had a wonderful time.  Our Dominican sense of humour and pride made us good losers, as we shook hands with our opponents and wished them continued success

 

Carnival in Dominica

 

 

One of the celebrations that Dominicans look forward to, each year, besides participation in the feast of La Sallette, near Soufrier; and, the Novena to St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, at the Pottersville Church, is Carnival.  Carnival heralds the beginning of the Season of Lent. The other two are annual Catholic pilgrimages. Carnival, is often described as, and considered to be a pagan festival, because of all the boisterous dancing and loud singing in the streets; yet there is a distinct connection to the season of Lent and Catholicism. 

 

Yes, Carnival in Dominica was always celebrated on the Monday and Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.  All celebrations ended on Tuesday night, as we went to church on Ash Wednesday to receive ashes on our forehead during mass.  Then we proudly wore our ashes all day Wednesday. The ashes on our forehead signified: "Dust thou art, to dust thou shall return", hence the reasons for doing penance during the forty days of Lent in reparation for our sins.  So, to some of us, Carnival was the season of rejoicing before Lent.  And, rejoice we did. 

 

Costume preparation for Carnival began months in advance, and so did the preparation of songs by the musicians. Some of the songs were about local people composed all in jest. The stores stocked brightly coloured cloth for costumes, as well as masks for the masquerade party on Monday and Tuesday.  Most people wore some form of costume and many wore masks until tragedy struck one year.  Some young men in a band were set on fire in their Sensai (Rope) Costume and three were burned to death.  What a sad day for all of Dominica, and the young bride, Annette Hill, who lost her husband.  After that incident, masks were no longer sold in the stores and the government banned the use of masks on the island.

 

Now that you have an insight into our island home let us explore why anyone would leave for Canada where it is cold for so many months of the year.

 

CHAPTER 2 

Return to Canada

 

 

Feeling the need to grow and develop my potential, I applied to McGill University to do a Master’s of Social Work.  When I received a letter of acceptance, I was elated.  I promptly wrote to Immigration Canada seeking Landed Immigrant status – when I was advised that I could travel to Canada as a Landed Immigrant, I wrote to the Watson family to find out if I could return to their home. By then Father & Mother Watson were of a certain age, so I lived with their son and his wife, Art and Barbara Watson, who lived not far from their parents.  I left Dominica for Canada, knowing that if I wished to remain in Canada, I could.

 

Arriving in Canada in February is not for the faint of heart.  It is cold.  Undaunted, I shopped for winter clothes & boots, and then found myself a job at Pfizer Pharmaceuticals.  As secretary to the sales manager, I learned the names of the Pharmaceutical products and wrote all of his letters to the various salesmen.  After six weeks, I was promoted as Secretary to the Vice President, a position I enjoyed until I resigned to attend McGill University in September 1959.

 

McGill was a very different experience to that which I lived at Mount Saint Vincent.  The mere physical layout of the place was daunting. With huge buildings everywhere and thousands of students all over the campus, even then McGill was an internationally-known institution, catering to students from all over the world, while Mount Saint Vincent was the only independent women's college, at the time, in all of Canada.  Although there were several hundred students at the college, and another several hundred at Mount Saint Vincent Academy, those numbers paled in significance to McGill.  Those numbers would be found in one of their schools within the university, like the School of Social Work.  Fortunately for me, the School of Social Work had its own building, on University Street, opposite three fraternity houses, up the street from the high school for girls which I attended during my mother's hospitalization in Ville St. Laurent at Hôpital Notre Dame de L'espérance, staffed by nuns.

 

To my relief, the classes were relatively small with 25 to 30 students per class, although some classes catered to 10-15 students, depending on the subject.  To my consternation, I was scheduled to attend a psychology class with close to a hundred students – in that class, we were identified by our student number. To my relief, I passed the class and did not have any more classes of that size.  As a Community Organization major, I had to learn some counseling techniques – so I received a field placement at the Department of Veterans Affairs.  That placement enabled me to learn not only counseling, but also the various geographic regions that comprised the City of Montreal, because I had to make home visits to veterans where ever they lived, and trust me, they lived all over the Island of Montreal.

 

My second field work placement was at the Occupational Therapy and Rehabilitation Center, where the physiotherapists and staff looked after the needs of the physically disabled.  This institution was founded by Constance Lethbridge, a lady from western Canada.  She was cheerful and empathetic, but ran a tight ship.  I was deeply honoured, when at the end of my field placement, she offered me a summer job, which I quickly accepted.

 

Earlier that year, Roland and I decided to get married, and a summer job was like the best wedding present ever.

 

The Student Gets Married

One of the favourite pastimes of foreign students, in those days, was to window shop on St. Catherine's Street.  Students did not have much money to spend, so window shopping was a great pastime. I later found out members of the Black community also enjoyed window shopping, because it was a way to avoid discrimination, and an enjoyable pastime. It was a way of looking at the merchandise without someone ignoring you, or making you feel that you are not wanted. In those days, there were no Black salespersons in any of the stores on so-called "main street".  The first Black salesman appeared in the sixties in the Men's Department of Eaton’s Department Store.  His name was Aubrey Taylor.  Later there would be another Black salesperson, named Hammie Tappin from Barbados, in the Major Appliance Department.

 

Window shopping started at Phillips Square, west of St. Laurent Boulevard, which divided the city between east and west. Starting with Morgan's (now called "The Bay") we would proceed west until we got to Oglivy's.  That meant you walked by the Cathedral, and some major store windows like Eaton's & Simpsons.

One day when I had completed the trek from Morgans to Ogilvy's, at the corner of Bishop and St. Catherine Street, I ran into someone I knew from Halfiax and the West Indian Student Society socials, which took place in the Common Room at Dalhousie University. It was Roland Wills.  We were both delighted to see each other again, and after a catch-up chat about what we were doing in Montreal, we exchanged telephone numbers.  He was working at Frank W. Horner, as a control chemist, and taking courses in Civil Engineering at Sir George Williams University, and living with the Massiah Family in Côte des Neiges.  I told him that I studying Social Work at McGill, and living in a one room apartment in what was known as "The McGill Student Ghetto".

 

The McGill Student Ghetto occupied the geographic area between Park Avenue and University Street (East to West) and Pine Avenue and Sherbrooke Street (North to South).  The area consisted of some new apartment buildings, and many huge homes of the rich and famous, that were converted to rooming houses rented mostly to McGill students.  There were a few small shops and one big grocery store on Park Avenue.

 

After our chance-meeting we both went on our merry way.  Not long after, I received a telephone call, we talked about the old days in Halifax and thought we should meet for coffee to continue the conversation when we were both free from school assignments.  We did have that coffee at Ben's Delicatessen, walking distance from my apartment.  We dated for about six months before deciding we should get married. 

 

As a devout Catholic, I attended Mass every Sunday at Newman Chapel on Peel Street.  The mass was celebrated by Father Breen. So, when we decided to get married, I went to see Father Breen to establish a date for the wedding.  When I told him that I came to find out if he would officiate at a wedding for Roland and me, he said to me: "I was wondering when that lovely Catholic young man with whom I see you at church and at communion every Sunday would ask you to marry him."

 

To his surprise, I replied, “You are thinking of my friend Barry Myers, who was a student at Sir George Williams University.  No, Barry and I are friends, we are not getting married, I am marrying Roland Wills.”

 

Father Breen asked if Roland was Catholic. When I said no, he said he would not officiate at such a wedding. I thanked him and left.

 

Barry and I were good friends.  I was introduced to his brother Ivan by a former room-mate, Hyacinth Whittaker. They were all Jamaicans and we were establishing our own little network of friends, since we had been introduced to racism and discrimination at the big university, and in the surrounding society.  So, when I walked from Durocher and Prince Arthur to Peel Street, I had to pass Metcalf, where Barry and his brother Ivan lived.  I rang their door bell, and Barry and I would walk over to Peel Street to Newman Chapel.

 

Without giving Father Breen a second thought, I made an appointment with Rev. Norman Rawson of St. James United Church, not far from the McGill Campus, on Ste. Catherine street, East of Morgan's Department store.  Rev. Rawson was very gracious and invited me to pick a date.  I told him it would be a very small wedding with which he had no problem.  Having picked a date for the wedding, Roland and I went to see the notary. 

 

In those days in Quebec, when a woman married, her husband automatically became the manager of what was called the "communal property".  Meaning that whatever the woman brought to the marriage became part of the communal property and would be administered and controlled by the husband.  Having had to deal with Barclays Bank International as the administrator of my mother's estate, and having had to go to the bank manager for every penny I needed, until I was 27 years old, as stipulated in my mother's will, I knew that no one would ever control my funds in this life again.  The only way to deal with this issue was to have a notary prepare a marriage contract stating that we would be separate as to property.  We appeared before Haltrech & Haltrech, Notary Public, at their offices in Cote des Neiges, to have a marriage contract prepared, after which we were married by Rev. Norman Rawson.

 

Given the fact that we were both students at the time, our wedding was a very small, intimate affair.  Roland invited Dr. Thomas Massiah and his wife Clementine, Michael Massiah and his girlfriend, Alfred Braithwaite and his wife Ethel.  I invited my Dominican friends Mabel Williams, Evadney Richards, Hermia Jolly, and David Ralph and his wife Peggy.  We celebrated the function at the Indian Room, on St. Catherine Street.

 

We continued our studies, but found the one room apartment too small, and so we started apartment hunting.  David Ralph had a car, and took us apartment hunting after his work, which was convenient because it was after our classes.  We went to NDG, Montreal West, and Ville St. Laurent, looking for an apartment to rent, and came face to face with racial discrimination.  Some would smile sweetly and tell us that the apartment had been rented.  Others would tell us: "We do not rent to Negroes".  Finally, we found an apartment in a new housing development for middle-income Canadians called "St George Gardens".  It was funded by the federal government, so they were not able to discriminate.  The buildings were nice and new, and located way out East in the City of Pointe Aux Trembles. By then we had a car, which Roland drove, so we rented a 5 1⁄2 room apartment at a cost to us of $86.50 per month, not much more than I had been paying for my one room apartment in the student ghetto.

 

Roland drove to work from Point-aux-Trembles in the east to Frank Horner's in the southwest.  And I took four buses to get me from Point-aux-Trembles to the Occupational Therapy and Rehabilitation Center on Ottawa Street, near Peel, where Miss Lethbridge had given me a summer job.  The summer job got extended to full time employment when I discovered that I was pregnant.  I worked at the Occupational Therapy and Rehabilitation Center until Wednesday, December 7th, at 5.00p.m. then left work and got home.  Our daughter, Sandra was born that very night at 11.30 p.m. at "L'hôpital de L'est". No one at work believed I had a daughter that same day because some did not even realize I was pregnant.  The medical staff, physiotherapist, occupational therapist and social workers all wore loose fitting, white lab coats, so my situation remained concealed. Miss Lethbridge would say to me: you are carrying beautifully.  I guess it helps if you are five foot eleven inches tall.

 

We named the baby Sandra Judith Wills. Her father named her Sandra, and I named her Judith (a combination of St. Jude, the Saint to whom I always prayed to intercede on my behalf, and my mother, Edith).  She was the image of her father, with straight black hair.  We put her in her bunting bag and put the bag under the Christmas tree, and took pictures.  Her bunting bag was given to her by her aunt Olive, who lived with me at Canefield Estate.  She was a very lucky baby. 

 

When Roland told his colleague at work, William Kovalchuk, whom everyone called Bill, that I was pregnant, his wife Stephanie, whom everyone called Pinky, got all of their Ukrainian friends to contribute to a shower for the baby.  I knew nothing about the shower.  Roland simply said to me we were going to Rosemount to visit Bill & Pinky, and off we went.  When we got to their apartment, I found it strange that Roland and Bill disappeared, and there were so many people there that I had never seen before.  Turns out they were all Ukrainian friends of Pinky; many were teachers at her school and others were her relatives.  They had all been invited to a shower for me, and they brought gifts of everything the baby would need for the first year of her life. I was blown away by their kindness and generosity.  After many trips to the car later, laden with all the gifts, we returned to Point-aux-Trembles.

 

The next big event was the christening at Église Enfant Jésu, the French Roman Catholic Church nearby.  Father Payette performed the ceremony.  Her godparents were Dr. Michael Garraway from Dominica, and Jocelyn Hezekiah, an RN from Trinidad who trained in England, and who traveled with me on Trans Canada Airlines from Barbados to Montréal.  We were seat mates on that aircraft, introduced ourselves to each other, formed a warm friendship, and remain friends to this day. Michael, the baby's godfather, was raised by my godparents at baptism in Dominica, because his mother died shortly after childbirth.  My own godparents were Phillip & Norma Rolle of Charlotte Valley.  They were a special couple who raised nine children of their own. One of their children, Joan, was exactly my age, we were born a few days apart.  Joan Rolle and I were very close friends in Canada after she immigrated to Canada from Paris, where she studied Art.  Joan and I spoke over the phone every day; even though I moved from Prince Arthur and Durocher, to Pointe aux Trembles,  and we were no longer neighbours.  Joan lived in an apartment building on Prince Arthur and Durocher, across the street from where I lived. Our children loved their Aunt Joan, they especially loved being with her when she came to Lac St. François on vacation with us.  She would set up her easel and paint while they watched.

 

When Sandra was six months old, Miss Lethbridge, who unknown to me had preserved my job, called to say it was time to return to work. Roland and I asked Mrs. Atwell, who lived on the first floor of the same building as we did, if she would take care of the baby. When she said yes, we brought Sandra down to Mrs. Atwell's apartment every morning, on the way to work, and picked her up every night after work.  This arrangement worked well for both of us – I was able to return to work and Mrs. Atwell became an income earner.  She was pleased to have something to do with her time, since her own children were grown and her husband was frequently away from home, because he was in the Army Reserve.

 

Work at The Occupational Therapy and Rehabilitation center was both interesting and rewarding.  The government agencies and philanthropic organizations were generous with their donations and the recipients of their generosity were adapting to their prosthetic appliances and prospering.

 

Not very long into this period of stability and growth, came three important developments: Roland decided Engineering was not for him;  the landlord raised our rent; and I discovered I was having another child. We started to look into the purchase of a house. We were fortunate.  We found a house in Ville d'Anjou, located West of Pointe aux Trembles, where Alfred Miller was building three different models of houses.  All of the houses were still under construction when we made our selection and purchase.  The builders were very kind and completed the house we selected so that we could take possession at the end of our apartment lease.  We moved into our new home at the end of August, 1962.

 

The house met all of our family needs.  There were four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room, a family room, a laundry room and an dining area off the kitchen.  Additionally, we had a very large back and front yard and a garage.  The house was well located: at the north end of our street was a large, well-appointed park, with swings and slides for children. The Place Vaujour (our street),  started at Chateauneuf, and curved as it ended on De La Lorie.  In the middle of the curve was another small park, at the end of which was the Wilfrid Pelletier primary school. Two busses ran on Chateauneuf, so there was no shortage of transport – and both busses took you to the metro station which was built many years after we moved to Anjou. 

 

An added blessing to our location was a family (The Benoits), across the street with three daughters.  One (Joanne) was a bit older than Sandra, but the two of them played together for years.  As a matter of fact, Joanne was a bridesmaid at Sandra's wedding.  The other two daughters were of baby-sitting age, so a simple telephone call would result in a baby sitter for the evening.  Then there was a Black family with three daughters (Corine Nurse and her three daughters: Monica, Natalie and Stephanie), living about a ten minute walk away.  The children were ecstatic when anyone of the “Nurse” kids came to babysit, and we felt very comfortable leaving our children with them.

 

We settled into our new comfortable home and lived there until we sold it 58 years later.  Our large back yard appeared even larger because it was a huge open space since the other houses had not yet been built. Roland worried about the children wandering off in the open space, so when he was offered a teaching position at Survey Summer School in Rawdon, Quebec, he seized the opportunity to earn extra money which he used to have a frost fence installed around our backyard where the children could play safely.

 

An Addition to Our Family

On November 15th, 1962, our son Leighton Roland Oliver Wills was born at L'hôpital Le Gardeur, in Repentigny.  He was a big baby who looked like my mother.  As was customary in those days, I remained in the hospital for three days before returning to Anjou.  Each child had their own room, so one would not disturb the other.  With two young children at home, there was no question of me going to work or going back to school.  So, for a brief period, I was actually a housewife.

 

While I was a housewife, Roland became disenchanted with McGill and Engineering.  He decided to change his career path and assumed studies in Business Administration.  He applied to the University of Windsor where he was accepted into the Master's in Business Administration Program.  Windsor is in Ontario, about an eight-to-ten hour drive from Quebec, so he lived in residence.  I remained in Anjou with the two children.  Roland came home for long weekends and any chance he got – then there were Christmas and summer breaks from the university.  The children would be excited beyond belief when they heard Daddy was coming home.

 

When Leighton was two and Sandra was four, I heard of a German kindergarten in Rosemount, a city not far from Anjou, where they accepted children as young as one year.  I went to visit this place which was called "Auntie Betty's Kindergarten" and met with Auntie Betty, a middle aged German lady who showed me around with great pride, and told me that "Uncle Hans" would pick up the children in the morning, around 7.00 a.m. and deliver them after school closed at 5.00 p.m.  It all sounded too good to be true – almost like the answer to a prayer.  We made an appointment for Auntie Betty to meet the children, and they were accepted at her school.  The children started at Auntie Betty's Kindergarten in the spring of 1965 which gave me permission to resume my master's studies at McGill in the fall of 1965.

 

During second year studies at McGill School of Social Work, I completed the requirements for the Master's Degree in Social Work, with a major in Community Organization.  My master's thesis was a study of "The Occupational and Recreational Needs of the Physically Disabled in Notre Dame de Grace".  This meant that I had to collect raw data and have a study sample of not less than 100 persons, analyze the data, and do a literature survey.  I received my MSW Degree at the Sir Arthur Currie Gymnasium in May 1966.

 

At about the same time, as my graduation, Roland received his Masters' degree in Business Administration from the University of Windsor, in Ontario.  And, he was offered a position to teach at Sir George Williams University commencing in the fall of 1966.  He again taught Summer Survey School at Rawdon, before joining the faculty of the Business School, as a lecturer, in the fall.  Roland moved from strength to strength, before retiring as professor emeritus, and Dean of Students, at the John Molson School of Business, of Concordia University.  (Sir George Williams University merged with Loyola college to become Concordia University.)

 

Meanwhile, after receiving my MSW, I also received an appointment as a Social Worker at "Girls Cottage School" in St Bruno, Quebec.  This was a school for delinquent adolescent Protestant girls placed there by the Social Welfare Court. I began work at the beginning of summer 1966.   It was very interesting and very different work from the Occupational Therapy and Rehabilitation Center.  There was much more one to one counselling sessions, home visits to work with parents, and supervised home visits.  The girls lived in cottages, on campus, each with a housemother and father, whom they called Ma and Pa.  There were ten girls to each cottage, and there were five cottages. The girls attended school on campus with very small classes, so they received a great deal of attention.

 

Everything went well, I liked the girls and they could tell, because they liked me in return.  But there were two things wrong with that job for me.  The first was the trek from Anjou to St. Bruno – before the construction of the Hippolyte Lafontaine Tunnel,  I had to wend my way through enormous traffic to the Jacques Cartier Bridge, inch my way on the bridge to the south shore, inch my way along Taschereau Boulevard, before taking the highway to St Bruno South.  The "voyage" was almost one and a half hours each way.  Then the counselling sessions were very intense.  By the time I arrived at home I was drained, and knew that this could not continue.  Because I loved the children with whom I was working, I kept postponing making a decision – but the decision was made for me, when it came time for my children to start Public School, and summer vacation.  I reluctantly resigned and wondered what next.

 

It was then that I applied to the Montreal Catholic School Commission for work as a teacher, in their school system, because I would have the same vacation time as my own children.  I was hired, and assigned to John F. Kennedy High School located in St. Leonard – one city west of Anjou where I lived.  What a joy.  This was a dream job.  I taught Shorthand, Typing, Economic Geography and Accounting.  While working at Kennedy, I attended St. Joseph's teachers College on Saturdays, and received my Class A Teaching diploma with High Honours.  I thought I had it made.  Work was great and the camaraderie in the teachers' room was fabulous.

 

While at my desk one day, three years later, someone called to tell me that I had been recommended for part-time employment at Vanier College, and I was to come for an interview.  I went and was interviewed by three people because the college was stating a new program titled: "Special Care Counselling."  I was hired.  I created and taught courses in the evening division, three nights per week, in addition to my full-time schedule at John F. Kennedy High School.  After two years, many students applied for training in the program, and I was offered full time employment.  I discussed the possibilities with Roland, and the fact that I would now be driving to Ville St. Laurent, much further away from home than St. Leonard.  In the final analysis, I took a leave of absence from the Catholic School Commission and joined the faculty in the Special Care Counselling Department at Vanier College.

 

There was a big difference in the two positions.  At Vanier, it seemed that I was in charge of myself.  I developed the courses I taught from scratch, I was able to ask for the kind of teaching schedule that did not have me in the middle of traffic on the east to west Metropolitan Boulevard, and emoluments were significantly higher and the school year shorter.  I remained at Vanier College for 38 years, holding various positions within the department, being released on secondment for federal government duties, enjoying a sabbatical leave during which I became the Executive Director of the Quebec Board of Black Educators, initiating a program for Native Persons on the Kahnawake Reserve,   the ability to participate in the Howard University Educators to Africa Summer Program on two occasions as well as the time to complete both a Master's and a PhD of Education.  Please stay with me on this arduous journey, so that I can explain the mouthful in the preceding paragraph.

 
 

CHAPTER 3 

The Children Attend a New Elementary School

 

Never doubt when someone tells you "The Lord looks after His own".  When our children, who had been attending St. Brendan's Elementary School, several doors down from Auntie Betty's Kindergarten, could not return to Aunty Betty's for their lunch, because they were transferred to Dalkeith Elementary School, a few blocks from home, the Lord sent me the nicest lady to look after the children.  Eunole Edwards had just arrived from St. Vincent, and was living in the east end, not very far from our home. She was a soft spoken, kind and pleasant lady who was hired immediately to look after the children.  She prepared their lunch, gave them their snack after school and even prepared dinner for herself and the rest of us, before going home.  I encouraged her to learn to type and study book keeping so she would acquire some marketable skills with which to apply for future employment when the children grew up.  To enable the achievement of this goal, I bought her a typewriter for her birthday, and paid for her courses.  She was delighted and I felt like the beneficiary.  Indeed, it was not long before Sandra and Leighton went off to Mount Saint University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Miss Edwards, whom we all called her, found a job in the office of a factory in Montreal. To God be the Glory.  She has since retired, built herself a home in St. Vincent, where she spends her winters.  We have remained in touch with each other.

 

Now that there was help at home, I was able to engage in volunteer activities.  I joined The Negro Citizenship Association, (NCA) and attended monthly meetings in the basement of Union United Church.  Union United Church was then and now part of the United Church of Canada, an amalgamation of a number of protestant denominations.  Most of the members of the NCA also belonged to "Union" which was known as The Black Church.  The Minister of "Union" who served that congregation for several decades, was also an activist who joined the Rotary Club where he agitated for Social Justice.

 

Shortly after I joined the NCA, I became the Executive Secretary, writing letters to all levels of government on behalf of the organization seeking redress for injustices encountered by Black people in Montreal. Finally, the Provincial Government of Quebec enacted legislation prohibiting discrimination in hotels, motels and camping grounds.  It was not what we had been seeking. We had been asking for anti-discrimination in housing. If you live in the province, you need to rent an apartment or buy a house, anti-discrimination directed at hotels, motels and camping grounds was not the answer.  Nevertheless we thanked them for the start.  At about the time of the passage of this legislation, the Gloria Bayliss case came to our attention.

The Prosecution of the Queen Elizabeth Hotel for Discrimination in Its Employment Practices

 

 

Never doubt when someone tells you "The Lord looks after His own".  When our children, who had been attending St. Brendan's Elementary School, several doors down from Auntie Betty's Kindergarten, could not return to Aunty Betty's for their lunch, because they were transferred to Dalkeith Elementary School, a few blocks from home, the Lord sent me the nicest lady to look after the children.  Eunole Edwards had just arrived from St. Vincent, and was living in the east end, not very far from our home. She was a soft spoken, kind and pleasant lady who was hired immediately to look after the children.  She prepared their lunch, gave them their snack after school and even prepared dinner for herself and the rest of us, before going home.  I encouraged her to learn to type and study book keeping so she would acquire some marketable skills with which to apply for future employment when the children grew up.  To enable the achievement of this goal, I bought her a typewriter for her birthday, and paid for her courses.  She was delighted and I felt like the beneficiary.  Indeed, it was not long before Sandra and Leighton went off to Mount Saint University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Miss Edwards, whom we all called her, found a job in the office of a factory in Montreal. To God be the Glory.  She has since retired, built herself a home in St. Vincent, where she spends her winters.  We have remained in touch with each other.

 

Now that there was help at home, I was able to engage in volunteer activities.  I joined The Negro Citizenship Association, (NCA) and attended monthly meetings in the basement of Union United Church.  Union United Church was then and now part of the United Church of Canada, an amalgamation of a number of protestant denominations.  Most of the members of the NCA also belonged to "Union" which was known as The Black Church.  The Minister of "Union" who served that congregation for several decades, was also an activist who joined the Rotary Club where he agitated for Social Justice.

 

Shortly after I joined the NCA, I became the Executive Secretary, writing letters to all levels of government on behalf of the organization seeking redress for injustices encountered by Black people in Montreal. Finally, the Provincial Government of Quebec enacted legislation prohibiting discrimination in hotels, motels and camping grounds.  It was not what we had been seeking. We had been asking for anti-discrimination in housing. If you live in the province, you need to rent an apartment or buy a house, anti-discrimination directed at hotels, motels and camping grounds was not the answer.  Nevertheless we thanked them for the start.  At about the time of the passage of this legislation, the Gloria Bayliss case came to our attention.

 
 

The Birth of the National Black Coalition of Canada (NBCC)

 

 

By reproducing the eulogy which I wrote for the Memorial Service for the first President of The National Black Coalition of Canada (NBCC) it will become obvious how and why the NBCC came into existence.

 

Memories of Dr. Howard McCurdy

 

 

It was in the late sixties, that I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Dr. Howard McCurdy for the first time and, shortly thereafter, becoming his "Executive Secretary."

 

Historically, the Caribbean Students and Black Professors at Sir George Williams University held an annual conference during which they discussed various problems in existence in the Caribbean Islands.  But, in the late sixties, the deliberations took a different direction, as absentee Caribbean nationals sought to address their perception of possible solutions for problems arising in the islands; when in truth and in fact, they had not been to the Caribbean for several years, and there were a multiplicity of problems facing all of us as Black people right here in Canada.  As an outgrowth of the discussions, precipitated by the impossibility of problem solving by remote control, an organization came into being known as "The Canadian Conference Committee of Black Organizations" (The Triple C) with the mandate of addressing problems facing Black People in Canada particularly in the areas of housing and employment.

 

In setting up this new organization, we endeavored to reach out to all existing Black Organizations across Canada.  While searching out Black Organizations, my husband, who had been a post-graduate student at the University of Windsor, told me about this outstanding Black professor in the Department of Biology. We invited him to be the keynote speaker at our conference, and within minutes of the delivery of his speech, he became The National Chairperson of 46 Black Organizations across Canada.  The Canadian Conference Committee of Black Organizations, popularly referred to as the Triple C was born.

 

Under Dr. McCurdy’s leadership, the organization thrived.  Our first big gain came when a graveyard in Nova Scotia refused to bury a Black baby there.  The event was on the national news and came to Howard’s attention.  He called me and said: “We have to do something about this immediately.  Send a telegram to all the Black organizations asking them to write to the Premier of Nova Scotia about the situation.”  He continued: “tell them to send telegrams, writing will take too long, and tell them what to say in their telegram to the Premier.  Tell them this is an urgent matter.”  Within one week of this campaign, I received a telegram from the Premier of Nova Scotia which was read to me by CN/CPP telecommunications as follows:

 

                    I have given myself sufficient Provincial authority to repeal this

                    and any such existing legislation from the Statute Books of Nova Scotia.
 

                    Signed: G. I Smith, Premier.

  

Buoyed with the enthusiasm of our first victory, Howard learned that the Canadian Council of Churches was meeting in Toronto.  Howard invited New Brunswick vice-president, Joe Drummond, to accompany him to the meeting.  Their presentation to the Canadian Council of Churches resulted in a three-thousand dollar grant to the organization to fight racism in housing and employment in Canada.  Howard was dedicated to the improvement of the condition of Black people in Canada.

 

The grant to the organization was a windfall, because we had been operating out of our very own pockets.  We even elected a treasurer!

 

At our first annual meeting of the “Triple C” a number of individuals arrived and sought to split the organization.  Without missing a beat, Howard declared the Canadian Conference Committee of Black Organizations adjourned, sine die, and introduced a new organization: “The National Black Coalition of Canada”.  The vast majority of Black organizations continued with the NBCC, and the newly formed organization established roots with Vice Presidents in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, and British Columbia.  The new national body was incorporated, with the aims and objectives clarified in the constitution.

 

Shortly after the incorporation of the new national organization, I received a call from Howard at 1.00 a.m.  “I want you to go to British Columbia – they seem to be having some problems between the native-born Blacks and the West-Indian born Blacks, within the BC/NAACP organization.  Go there and tell them to get serious – all Black people face the same problems regardless of where they were born.”  I left Montreal for  British Columbia and did as I was told.  We resolved the issues.

 

Shortly, thereafter, two Black civil servants in Ottawa reported some discriminatory practices in their employment situation - Howard and his uncle George McCurdy, on behalf of the NBCC represented the two civil servants, and the matter was resolved to the satisfaction of everyone concerned.  Howard was that kind of hands-on Mr. Fix-It type.

 

He served more than one term as the President of the National Black Coalition of Canada.  He was well-respected by everyone within the                        organization, and as well as by the larger Canadian Community.

 

Under his leadership, the organization thrived: receiving government grants for the work performed by the organization, which included a                          monthly newsletter, written by the Executive Secretary.

 

The organization was entrusted by the Federal Government to prepare a Canadian delegation to represent Black Canada in Lagos, Nigeria, at the            Second World Black & African Festival of Arts and Culture, known as (FESTAC).

 

His passing left a void on the Canadian landscape.  His academic brilliance, his vivacious personality, his commitment to excellence in all that he did, his demands of excellence from those whom he thought capable, and his quest for equality of opportunity for his people, will never be forgotten. 

 

Well done, thou good and faithful servant.  May well deserved eternal rest be granted unto you.

 

From the eulogy you must have deduced the evolvement in the Black experience, and the efforts to seek amelioration of those anomalies in our chosen country of citizenship. 

 

Other Co-curricular Activities

 

 

Other co-curricular activities included teaching Black high school students, for the Quebec Board of Black Educators, during the summer months, in the Da Costa-Hall program, designed to encourage Black students to complete high school and continue their education at the college and university levels. 

 

Here is a letter I received from a student who was in my Black History and Sociology class in the summer of 1972.  The letter is dated January 2006.

 

         Dear Dorothy,

         I was telling my son Kendall about DaCosta-Hall.  What an experience!  The Memories eh! Well, they last a lifetime.  You know I had only arrived in Canada in       March of 1972.  By the time I got to DaCosta-Hall, everything was still new to me.  Don’t know if Vanier would have accepted me with my GCE’s but the   DaCosta-Hall experience made it possible.

 

         Anyway, the thing that stands out most in my mind is the rich caring and learning environment.  The teachers looked like they tremendously enjoyed teaching       us.  The learning was challenging and delivered in earnest, no doubt since so many things needed to be accomplished, in a short period of time.  We         students felt loved and cared for and that we were special and capable of being whatever we wanted to be.  We also felt accepted and parented, in ways that so          many of us had not felt before.  (Guess you guys didn’t realize that).  We felt that we could be open in our discussion of the Black Experience and it was well       integrated in our academics.  I remember giving a presentation to the class, with my shy self-conscious self and my thick Barbadian Accent, and how you      personally were so encouraging and made me feel like I was doing such a great job, and that people wanted to hear what I had to say. 

 

                   I remember that it was also a fun-filled learning environment.  I can still see you up there teaching us, moving your hands and your body rhythmically as you     made your point.  You shared jokes about your experiences in Barbados, and everyone had a laugh and that made me feel accepted and comfortable in    my new        environment.  It was the first formal learning experience in respect to Black issues, Black awareness, racial pride and determination to succeed. 

 

         Being at DaCosta-Hall also gave me the opportunity to be around other Black youths from different countries.  We all got along great, learned and helped each     other with a sense that we could all achieve together.  When I started at Vanier, I had a peer group that I had already connected with at DaCosta-Hall, and our     sense of “sisterhood” and “brotherhood” prevailed and became even more necessary.  When I meet up with past students from my summer at DaCosta-        Hall, I          feel like they are part of my extended family.

 

         I also remember being selected by my English Teacher (can’t remember her name) but she was at Leo’s sons wedding.  Any way she selected me for one of the bursaries that were given out at the end of the summer program.  I was able to purchase two pairs of Jeans to start at Vanier.  I wore those jeans with pride and          to threads.  They were big flare legged jeans, and they were very much needed.

  

         I thank you all so much for the sacrifice you made for us all.  That exemplifies the principal of using your strengths and talents to give back to your Black         community. It set a great example for me personally and makes it easy for me to give my own hand up whenever I can.  You know the encouragement,          validation, self-pride and self-esteem boost that was delivered to us is what we needed to conquer our repressive environment.  We saw what you guys had    accomplished and we believed you when you said that we could succeed, as well.  We felt that we owed it to ourselves and to you all, to succeed.  We also were    less intimidated by the white man and more capable of standing up for our rights.

 

         I must say that I was inspired and fascinated by you from the day you came into my life and I have never stopped feeling this way.  I count my summer at       DaCosta-Hall as one of the most life altering and productive summers of my life.

 

         Hope it was rewarding for the teachers too as they had taught all year, and missed out on some summers.

 

         Do take care and much love as always

         Juliet

 

This letter gives an indication of what I did with my time, when I was not parenting, housekeeping, or working at my regular occupation.  You know they say “a change is as good as a rest”.  We are still in touch with each other, and her four children call me Grandma.  More importantly, Juliet went on to complete pre-university studies at Vanier College, and was accepted at McGill University. She graduated from the School of Social Work, got married, and moved to Alberta where her husband worked as a Bank Manager, and she was employed as a Child Care Worker. When her husband was transferred by the Royal Bank of Canada to Ontario, she found employment with the Ontario Children’s Aid Society,  while raising her family of four, until her retirement. All of her children are successful. The first boy is married and has one son; the first girl graduated from university and is a French Teacher in the Ontario School System. The second boy graduated from the Military Academy in Kingston, Ontario, and is a Naval Officer stationed in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The second girl is a university student.

 

Other Co-curricular Activities

 

 

When our then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott pondered over the discussions taking place with regard to the struggle between the English and the French, he dreamed of an inclusive policy for all Canadians. Prime Minister Trudeau then constituted a Multiculturalism Committee to thresh out its ramifications. Known as the Canadian Multiculturalism Council (CMC) to which a number of people from various linguistic, cultural and ethnic bacgrounds were appointed.

To my surprise, I was invited to become a member of that council.  We met monthly, in various parts of Canada, with a mandate to look into why Canadians appeared divided along linguistic lines, and how we could become a more cohesive body. We had a chairperson for the meetings, as well as vice-chairpersons representing various parts of Canada. The discussions were very interesting, with each person appearing to advocate for his or her particular ethnic group. Eventually we seemed to understand that it was because of the dominance of the French and the English that we were given the mandate to seek alternative measures that would include a coherent way of life,  sharing equally, our beautiful county, with all the various ethnic/linguistic groups participating in the fullness of life that is Canada.

 

Emerging from years of discussion was the declaration by Mr. Trudeau that although we had two official languages (French and English) a "policy of multiculturalism would be a policy for all Canadians". The years of discussion finally bore fruit and culminated in the declaration by the Prime Minister. Having served for many years on that council, many of us retired with a sense of fulfillment.

 

Task Force to Look into the Participation of Visible Minorities in Canadian Society

 

 

It was not long after the declaration of "Multiculturalism" as a Policy for all Canadians, it was felt that not all Canadians were embraced within the framework of that policy. Those of us who had clearly defined physical characteristics which caused us to be easily identifiable so that we could become the object of discrimination and outright harassment, never really got into the multicultural pot. There was the question of the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II, when their property was confiscated and they were placed in camps, simply because they were easily identifiable. The Chinese were brought to build the railroads, and so were the Indians from India.  The Blacks who were Loyalist and who had accompanied the United Empire Loyalists to Canada were not given the land grants promised to those who supported the British and sought refuge in Canada. And those Blacks who did receive land grants were not given the documents to the land on the premise that they would be fleeced by the unscrupulous. In short, persons of colour were deprived the equality implied by the policy of multiculturalism for all Canadians.

 

In 1983, Prime Minister Trudeau appointed this task force that would look into the participation of visible minorities in Canadian society. Although located in Ottawa, on Parliament Hill, in the West Block, members of the task force traveled the country from coast to coast, accepting briefs and listening to speeches by representatives of visible minority groups, which included our Native persons. The data collected was analyzed and presented in a Report that was tabled in the House of Commons in March 1984. It was a very proud moment for those of us who worked assiduously to frame the recommendations of the task force in the areas of rampant discrimination in education, housing, and employment.

 

My joy knew no bounds when one of our recommendations to establish a Chair of Black Studies in the East and a Chair of Sikh Studies in the West was implemented. The James Robinson Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies was established at Dalhousie University. Dr. Esmeralda Thornhill was the first Chair holder, and the Chair was located in the law faculty. Because it was a rotating chair, the next Chair holder was David Devine, at the School of Social Work, followed by a split appointment in History and Sociology, held by Dr. Afua Cooper. The idea of a rotating Chair was to ensure the increase of the Black Presence on Dalhousie’s Campus by having the chair holder enter as a tenured member of the faculty, so that after their term in the Chair, they remained on staff in the particular faculty. Currently, the Chair holder is in the Medical Faculty.

 

The Chair of Sikh Studies was implemented at the University of British Columbia. I know very little about the implementation of that chair because I became part of the committee for the implementation of the chair in the East, and was part of the Hiring Committee for the Chair, until the recent selection of the current chair holder in Medicine in 2019.

 

Prior to the installation of the Chair, Dalhousie had expanded its horizons to include the implementation of a Transition Year Program for Black and Native People, as well as a Program in their Law School, also for Black and Native People. Hence it was deemed to be a suitable place to locate the first Chair in Black Canadian Studies. As a result of my work with Dalhousie, and the installation of the Chair, I was given an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree by Dalhousie University.

 

To assist the chair in its early development an advisory committee consisting of representatives from across Canada was struck. There were representatives from Prince Edward Island, Dr. Lwellyn Watson in the East to the Honourable Rosemary Brown in the West. Because of the cost involved in bringing everyone from across Canada, we met every three months. And, because it was the first and only Black Chair of Black Canadian Studies, it was designated a National Chair. We took turns raising funds for the Chair. For example, I obtained a picture of Rev. Dr. Charles Este, the Minister of Union United Church, who was well-respected for his community work in the areas of employment and immigration, and created note-paper with his image on the front, and a short biographical sketch on the back, and sold the notepaper in packages of six cards with envelops for $5.00. We raised an amazing mount of money from the sale of the cards. There were other fund-raising ventures, until finally,  Dalhousie identified the chair in one of its major fund-raising campaigns which resulted in the Chair being fully funded. What is even greater is that the chair is still in existence in 2021.

 

The lecture series emanating from the Chair has elevated the profile of Blacks in Nova Scotia – and so it should since Blacks have been in Nova Scotia since the arrival of the United Empire Loyalist. Indeed, when the Maroons of Jamaica revolted, and for some reason were sent to Nova Scotia, where they built Citadel Hill, before they were shipped to Sierra Leone. Their story is well documented in both a book and doocumentary, written by Lawrence Hill. The book was made into a documentary by The National Film Board of Canada.

 

Lawrence Hill is the son of Dr. Daniel Hill who was the first Executive Director of the Ontario Human Rights Commission; the first Human Rights Commission established in all of Canada. The other provinces followed suit, and there is now a Human Rights Commission in every province in Canada. The first executive director of the Nova Scotia Human rights Commission was George McCurdy, the uncle of Dr. Howard McCurdy, the founding chairperson of the National Black Coalition of Canada. 

 

The work of the Task Force on the Participation of Visible Minorities in Canadian Society is as relevant today as it was in 1984 when the report was first published. Many of the recommendations are still valid. Blacks in Canada in particular, and visible minorities in general, still experience discrimination in housing, employment and "mistaken identity" issues with the police. Today, as I write, (February 5, 2021) on the front page of the Montreal Gazette, a doctoral student spent 6 nights in jail because of "mistaken identity", and the Chief of Police indicated he would apologize to the student when the time is right.

 

Other co-curricular activities included membership on the Advisory Committee to the City of Montreal with a mandate to look into the integration of the Transportation System, the Police and Fire Departments. We met for a period of over a year, asking pertinent questions of representatives of those Municipal bodies,  and making recommendations.  Eventually, the transportation system was integrated, and the police reduced their height and weight requirements to accommodate those groups that could never meet those requirements, as well as include visible minorities. The Fire Department emerged unscathed by the committee, partly because the mandate of the committee came to an end before anything was done in that area.

 

The sixties and early seventies were a time of awakening of Black awareness. We wore clothes and adopted hair styles which produced an outward and physical manifestation of our pride in race and our solidarity with each other as Black people. It was a time when we wanted to know more about our history, so that the teachings of the Right Honourable Marcus Garvey became important and his "Back to Africa Movement" gained momentum. It was a time when the

Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) which was started in the United States gained international prominence. Yes, the movement spread to Canada. It was then that I took the bold step of cutting my hair short, and submerging myself in Black History. Fortunately for me, I was married to someone who had had his share of Black awareness. His father, who studied Medicine at MeHarry Medical School, graduated as a medical doctor and because he was a follower of Marcus Garvey, returned to his native Guyana, married his childhood sweetheart and moved to Africa, where he practiced medicine in Jos, Nigeria, and where his two children were born. So he understood my awakened interest in finding my African Roots. I slowly built a library on the Black Experience, not only in Canada, but also in the United States. When books proved to be insufficient for my growing voracious appetite for information on The Black Experience, I learned of a program at Howard University entitled: "The Educators to Africa Program". It was a six-week program in both East and West Africa. Believing that the Africans who were brought to the Caribbean, more specifically, Dominica, were from the west coast of Africa, I opted to take the West African segment of the program first. I applied, was accepted and proceeded to complete all of the medical requirements needed for the trip. I recall there were 11 requirements one of which the commencement of malaria pills to ward  against acquiring malaria. We also had to have a number needles and vaccinations. Finally, the date arrived, and off I went into the great unknown with a friend from Montreal Fleurette Osborne, originally from Barbados. Fleurette and I were the only two Canadians on the trip, and we became roommates. We left from New York City and landed in West Africa.

 

We studied at various universities on the west coast. Our Studies began at Leghorn University in Ghana, where we were given the curriculum of study for the six weeks, along with the field trips that we would make. We attended lectures at the university, and boarded the bus for the field trips. For example, while in Ghana, we visited the Akosombo Dam, a creation of Nkruma, as part of his dream for a United West Africa. This dam was big enough to generate enough electricity for all of West Africa. This field trip coincided with the lecture on Nkruma’s Pan-Africanist views.

 

We then moved from Accra, to the University in Cape Coast, where we lived in the student residence. To coincide with our lecture on slavery, we visited the Slave Castle at Elmina. This was a very emotional experience for all of us, particularly when we visited the area where the female captives were kept, and saw the marks on the walls where they clawed the walls, with their bare hands, in a desperate attempt to free themselves. That was not to be. We learned of how many had perished in the hull of the ship, where they had been kept chained to each other, and we learned about how many had died in that dreadful middle passage journey, with their body simply thrown overboard in the shark infested Atlantic Ocean. Undergoing this experience brought our group closer together. And when we saw one of the great big tall Americans lose his mind over what we had all seen, and when we heard he had to be sent back to the United States, we vowed to help each other handle the trip.

 

From Ghana, we stopped briefly in Togo, and what was then called Dahomey but is now referred to as the Republic of Benin. Those were French speaking territories, where we did enough sightseeing to conclude that the French seemed more generous to their territories than the British. From there, we drove to Lagos, Nigeria. Again we were housed at the University in Lagos where we attended lectures before driving to Ibadan where we were housed in Queen Elizabeth Hall and attended lectures at the University of Ibadan.

 

The six-week tour, along with the lectures and field visits was a life altering experience. We learned an enormous amount of West African History, but because of the closeness of the group, we learned a great deal about the Black Americans and they, in turn, became aware that there were Blacks in Canada undergoing very similar experiences to their own.  The only difference between the two experiences is that their discrimination was overt, and ours in Canada was covert. We concluded that their form of racism was easier to deal with than the covert racism, behind a veil of platitudes and hypocrisy, which left us in a quandary.

 

We emerged from this experience as a close-knit group with bonds of friendship surviving the tests of time, lasting until this very day. When I taught in the DaCosta-Hall Summer program in the seventies, I was able to invite some of my friends from the Howard University Educators to Africa Program to be guest speakers at our summer school. I was also able to invite the owners of Third World Publishers, in Chicago, to bring their bookmobile to The Negro Community Center’s Day Camp Program. Because we had had the student housing experience, I was not shy to have them bunk with us at our home in Anjou. We felt like one big extended family. We knew that we had to cooperate with each other if we were to improve our situation in North America, and we also knew that we were all brothers and sisters. We planned programs to continue our Pan-African education and met such notable writers as Chancellor Williams (Historian) Josef Ben Jocannan, (Historian) John Henrik Clarke, (Historian) and Don L Lee, (Poet). We felt blessed and privileged.

 

Having been enriched culturally, socially and having increased our fund of information on the West Coast of Africa, we enrolled in the East Africa, Howard University Educators to Africa Program. East Africa is very different from West Africa, and so is the experience. In East Africa, we landed in Ethiopia where the tour began. While we attended Haile Selassie University, and indeed met the Emperor himself, we were housed at a hotel in Addis Ababa. Our vain attempt to learn even one word in Amharic did not happen, although we did learn quite a bit about their history. Because of the language barrier, we did not feel as comfortable or at home as we did in West Africa. The field trip to Harrare Province gave us an appreciation of their agricultural facilities and their army barracks, as well as the variation in climate in their vast country.

 

From Ethiopia we went to Kenya where we also lived in a hotel in Mombasa. We traveled by a chartered bus to Nairobi where the lectures revolved mainly around Kenya’s relationship with the rest of East Africa. From Kenya we went to Tanzania where we lived in a twelve story student residence with no elevator. When we left our assigned room on the 12th floor in the morning, we would plan to take everything we would need for the day so as not to have to walk up to the twelfth floor more than once. Our lectures were in other buildings. Incidentally, many of us had the Tanzanian experience more than once, because we returned as delegates to the sixth Pan-African Congress the following year.

 

From Tanzania, we went to Zambia, where we lived in a convent. The University of Zambia was a beautiful sight. The campus consisted of all new buildings. The men’s and women’s residence were on either side of the administrative buildings, with an artificial pool to decorate the campus. Their bookstore was well appointed, and so were their lecture halls. We learned that Zambia, at the time, enjoyed a balanced budget from their sale of copper.  We learned much about their "Zambianization Program" which in essence meant that when a Zambian became qualified to do the work being done by an expatriate, the expatriate was replaced by the Zambian. This was a very different policy to that which we had learned from the West Coast where they seemed eager to welcome Black expatriates to return to their Motherland. The trip East was not as emotional an experience as we had in the west. Quite possibly because we had envisaged that our ancestors came through the Slave Castles of West Africa.

 

The Summers at the Cottage at Lac St. Francois

During the summer of 1964, Betty Clementson, a Hungarian lady married to a Jamaican named Ernie Clementson, who also lived in Ville d’Anjou, and had four chidren, invited us to visit with them at a cottage which they rented at Pointe Trepanier. We went to spend the day with them, but during the day, Betty had a terrible boating accident and broke her leg. She had to be taken to the hospital where her leg was placed in a cast. Because they had already paid the rental for the cottage for the summer, they asked us to take over the balance of their lease on the cottage. We returned to Anjou, packed our bags and returned to the cottage. We had a lovely time. So lovely, that we immediately began to shop for a cottage to purchase.  During the time we spent at Betty’s rented cottage, we shopped at the local grocery store and butcher shop in Cazaville, drove to Huntingdon to buy ice cream cones as a treat for the children, and generally made ourselves comfortable in the area. We loved being in the country so much, that when on one of our after-dinner walks in the neighborhood, we saw a newly built cottage for sale, we quickly memorized the number and called the owner. Yes, the cottage was for sale so we made an offer. It turned out that a farmer built the cottage for his family to spend weekends by the lake, but he felt lonesome for his cows and so he sold the cottage to us. Although newly built, the cottage did not have running water. Neither did The Lalondes, our new next door neighbors who had a very big cottage. One day, in conversation with Mr. Lalonde, we discovered that he owned a plumbing company in Huntingdon. Roland was lamenting, to Mr Lalonde, the fact that we had to carry water from the lake for our domestic use. It was then that Mr. Lalonde proposed that we share the expenses of a well between the two properties. It was not long after he made his suggestion that we not only had running water, we also had hot and cold running water.

 

4936 Rue Charles, at Pointe Trepanier, in the municipality of St. Anicet, became our favourite place to be as soon as school closed for the summer months. Since I had the same vacation time as the children it was possible to pack our bags and head for the cottage, where we fished, gardened and drove from the cottage on day trips to Upper Canada Village, Massena, Malone and we did our laundry in Fort Covington in upstate New York, since we were only a fifteen minute drive from the border.

 

Life at the cottage was great and very different from the big city. For example, before going to the grocery store in the nearby village of Cazaville, I inquired of my neighbours if they needed anything at the grocer. The six cottages at the "Point" looked out for each other. Milk and bread was delivered at the door.

 

I attempted to teach the children to row a boat, to fish, and to cultivate a vegetable garden. Sandra would reluctantly join me in the boat, but her clear preference was to swim in the lake, off the pier, and to read. Leighton liked to fish with me, but neither of the children seemed interested in gardening. Undaunted by their lack of interest I cultivated a huge vegetable garden in which I grew tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, squash, melons, green beans, yellow beans, beets, lettuce, and onions. I actually grew enough potatoes and onions to last all winter. I pickled the beets and had enough jars of pickled beets for the winter. I froze dinner size packages of green and yellow beans, as well as carrots, which also lasted all winter. And as if that was not enough, I also caught perch from the lake which I filleted and froze in dinner size packages to prepare as appetizers during the winter months.

 

Our summers were both enjoyable and fruitful. In addition to the summers, we went to the cottage for weekends, until the first snowfall, after which the cottage was put to bed for the winter, by the local handyman, Rene Hurtault. A task that Rene enjoys till now. He closes the cottage in late fall and reopens it in the spring to accommodate our son who still loves the cottage. The cottage consists of three bedrooms, a tiny bathroom and an open space which accommodates the living room, dining room and kitchen. The property is shaped like a V with the largest part being on the water front. In reality, the property consists of 125 feet of water frontage, with 75 feet at the road side. We built a wall the entire length of the property at the lake side, with a small pier for tying up the boat and for fishing from the pier. There was only one other Black family (The Williams), at Lac St. Francois, and everyone else was French. Once when Ed Williams came to visit with us by boat, he missed his footing at the pier and fell into the water fully dressed. The real joke was not him falling into the water, but how he protected the glass of whisky he had in hand so as not to lose his drink. The first thing he did when he stood on the pier was to take a sip. Both himself and Roland never stopped talking about the incident, and how Ed protected his drink.

 

Vacations with a Purpose

 

 

My thirst for knowledge about the Motherland seemed to have been quenched around the same time that both Roland and I earned enough to consider vacations abroad with the children. Roland and I were born in countries where we were part of the majority population, and where we saw ourselves reflected across the socio-economic spectrum. We thought, therefore, it would be good to have the children witness what it was like to be part of a majority population. So, we planned Christmas vacations to gradually immerse the children into seeing other countries where "majority populations" were in charge of themselves. We started with a two-week trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. There the children saw Mexicans in charge of themselves. They enjoyed the vacation immensely and did not feel as self-conscious as they did in Anjou where there were only three black families at the time, and where they were the only Black children in their respective classes at elementary school.

 

Our next vacation was to Cuba. Cuba was a delight. You can only imagine my joy when we visited the museum in Cuba, and the guide while showing us a picture of Black people working in the fields described their presence as "Africa’s contribution to Cuba’s development". Not once was the word "slave" used. Guides were with us everywhere we went, and their explanation of their system of equality and respect resonated with the children who relaxed and enjoyed their new freedom,  feeling of warmth and acceptance that we all enjoyed. We visited everywhere, including their famous night club, where we saw Cubans of every hue fraternizing and mingling with each other. Another eye-opening lesson for the children.

 

Following our visits to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and Cuba, it was time to take them to Dominica where I was born. Now they were in a Black environment where almost everyone knew everyone else. And they could see with their own eyes the environment of self-government, with all of those in charge, and all of the professionals were Black like them.

 

The children met with members of my family, drove all over the island in my brother’s jeep, met with my friends and lived in a hotel owned and operated by my Dominican mentor Franklyn A. Baron. They met Mr. Baron who chatted with them amiably and ordered them a drink from the bar – the famous "Dominica Lime Squash", which in reality was lemonade, but made with home grown green limes, and club soda.  Nevertheless, they felt accepted and grown-up.

 

Within this comfortable environment, it was easy to explain to the children that when you are comfortable with yourself, you are not deterred by anyone’s discomfort with your presence, nor are you bothered by name-calling, because the name-calling does not reduce you to who people may think you are. You make your own place in the world and you achieve according to your level of intelligence.

 

Both children were doing well at school, even though they were the only Blacks in their class in elementary school. Sandra being two years older than her brother Leighton, was the first to start high school. She registered at Dunton High School, the English speaking area high school. In that respect, Sandra paved the way for her brother who joined her two years later. And she looked after her little brother like a hawk.  To this day, and to our joy, the children remain peas in a pod. The School had been integrated by the children of several Black families living in Montreal East, Tetraultville, and St. Leonard. They formed lasting friendships with the Challengers, the Burkettes, Claude Dabbass, and Romeo & Paul Rawlins. The children were able to invite their friends to join them at the cottage at Lac St. Francois for weekend sleep overs and fishing jaunts.

 

Our next vacation was to Barbados, where we stayed at Sandy Beach Hotel, and connected with a taxi driver who drove us all over the island, which is of coral formation and flat as a pancake in contrast to Dominica which is of volcanic origin. This was another island run by and for Black people, but more advanced than Dominica in building construction, road development, technology and educational opportunities. They enjoyed Barbados to the point that we visited Barbados on more than one occasion.

 

This was our effort to capitalize on vacations to introduce our children to the Black Diaspora, knowing always, that Blacks originated in Mother Africa from which we were taken to participate in the building of the New World.

 

The Summers at the Cottage at Lac St. Francois

 

During the summer of 1964, Betty Clementson, a Hungarian lady married to a Jamaican named Ernie Clementson, who also lived in Ville d’Anjou, and had four chidren, invited us to visit with them at a cottage which they rented at Pointe Trepanier. We went to spend the day with them, but during the day, Betty had a terrible boating accident and broke her leg. She had to be taken to the hospital where her leg was placed in a cast. Because they had already paid the rental for the cottage for the summer, they asked us to take over the balance of their lease on the cottage. We returned to Anjou, packed our bags and returned to the cottage. We had a lovely time. So lovely, that we immediately began to shop for a cottage to purchase.  During the time we spent at Betty’s rented cottage, we shopped at the local grocery store and butcher shop in Cazaville, drove to Huntingdon to buy ice cream cones as a treat for the children, and generally made ourselves comfortable in the area. We loved being in the country so much, that when on one of our after-dinner walks in the neighborhood, we saw a newly built cottage for sale, we quickly memorized the number and called the owner. Yes, the cottage was for sale so we made an offer. It turned out that a farmer built the cottage for his family to spend weekends by the lake, but he felt lonesome for his cows and so he sold the cottage to us. Although newly built, the cottage did not have running water. Neither did The Lalondes, our new next door neighbors who had a very big cottage. One day, in conversation with Mr. Lalonde, we discovered that he owned a plumbing company in Huntingdon. Roland was lamenting, to Mr Lalonde, the fact that we had to carry water from the lake for our domestic use. It was then that Mr. Lalonde proposed that we share the expenses of a well between the two properties. It was not long after he made his suggestion that we not only had running water, we also had hot and cold running water.

 

4936 Rue Charles, at Pointe Trepanier, in the municipality of St. Anicet, became our favourite place to be as soon as school closed for the summer months. Since I had the same vacation time as the children it was possible to pack our bags and head for the cottage, where we fished, gardened and drove from the cottage on day trips to Upper Canada Village, Massena, Malone and we did our laundry in Fort Covington in upstate New York, since we were only a fifteen minute drive from the border.

 

Life at the cottage was great and very different from the big city. For example, before going to the grocery store in the nearby village of Cazaville, I inquired of my neighbours if they needed anything at the grocer. The six cottages at the "Point" looked out for each other. Milk and bread was delivered at the door.

 

I attempted to teach the children to row a boat, to fish, and to cultivate a vegetable garden. Sandra would reluctantly join me in the boat, but her clear preference was to swim in the lake, off the pier, and to read. Leighton liked to fish with me, but neither of the children seemed interested in gardening. Undaunted by their lack of interest I cultivated a huge vegetable garden in which I grew tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, squash, melons, green beans, yellow beans, beets, lettuce, and onions. I actually grew enough potatoes and onions to last all winter. I pickled the beets and had enough jars of pickled beets for the winter. I froze dinner size packages of green and yellow beans, as well as carrots, which also lasted all winter. And as if that was not enough, I also caught perch from the lake which I filleted and froze in dinner size packages to prepare as appetizers during the winter months.

 

Our summers were both enjoyable and fruitful. In addition to the summers, we went to the cottage for weekends, until the first snowfall, after which the cottage was put to bed for the winter, by the local handyman, Rene Hurtault. A task that Rene enjoys till now. He closes the cottage in late fall and reopens it in the spring to accommodate our son who still loves the cottage. The cottage consists of three bedrooms, a tiny bathroom and an open space which accommodates the living room, dining room and kitchen. The property is shaped like a V with the largest part being on the water front. In reality, the property consists of 125 feet of water frontage, with 75 feet at the road side. We built a wall the entire length of the property at the lake side, with a small pier for tying up the boat and for fishing from the pier. There was only one other Black family (The Williams), at Lac St. Francois, and everyone else was French. Once when Ed Williams came to visit with us by boat, he missed his footing at the pier and fell into the water fully dressed. The real joke was not him falling into the water, but how he protected the glass of whisky he had in hand so as not to lose his drink. The first thing he did when he stood on the pier was to take a sip. Both himself and Roland never stopped talking about the incident, and how Ed protected his drink.

 

Racism at Sir George Williams University

 

 

In the fall of 1968, a number of Black students raised questions about their grades and the manner in which they were treated by their professor. For example, they found it strange that the professor always address the Black students as mister, but called the white students by their first name. When asked about this practice he replied that he could conceivably have a beer in the tavern with the white students, hence the reason to be on a first name basis with them. Then came the question of grades. He denied deliberately assigning lower grades to the Black students. Those accusations fermented and came to a head with the occupation of the faculty club and later the computer center.

 

The students continued their occupation and were joined by students from other universities, such as Rosie Douglas and Anne Cools from McGill University, and on occasion, by members of the Black community after work; for we knew only too well, the sting of racism as well as the marginalization and debilitating effects of discrimination. Many of the local Blacks brought the students prepared food, and non-alcoholic beverages. There was almost a party atmosphere. We would joke with each other and say that when this is over, we will need a place to meet to continue the camaraderie.

 

Eventually, the university, under Rector John O’Brien, struck a committee to look into the allegation of the students. Two of the Black professors at the university at the time, an American named Dr. Chet Davis and Dr.Clarence Bayne acted as go-between the students and the administration.

 

I never ever found out what caused this non-violent occupation to turn into the disaster that it became on February 11, 1969. All I knew was that I received a telephone call from Anne Cools at 2.00 a.m. telling me: "You better get down here because all hell is breaking loose". By the time I got the children out of bed and dressed to drive down to the university, no one was allowed to go inside. Smoke was coming from the windows on the eleventh floor and computer punch cards were raining down like confetti on to Bishop Street. The children and I stood on the south side of de Maisonneuve Boulevard. We felt helpless – I went to a pay phone and called Roland to tell him what was going on. As a professor he was allowed to enter the university.  Upon his arrival, he became the negotiator between the administration and the police.  He was able to have the students that were being arrested videotaped so that a comparison could be made between how they looked when they entered the paddy wagon and how they looked upon their release from custody.

 

When I saw the street on the north side lined with policemen, and the paddy wagon arrived, I knew it was time to do something. So, I started begging for money for bail and the cost of legal defense for the students. Folks would give me whatever they had, and I would put their donation in the pockets of my big winter coat. When we finally assembled at the Universal Negro Improvement Hall, and I told them what I had been doing, and emptied my pockets, I had collected $635.00. We used that money to secure a lawyer for the students. Later, the Island governments from where the students had come, posted bail for their nationals. That left few students without bail. Lawyer Bernard Mergler represented the students, assisted by Juanita Westmoreland Traore, a young lawyer who was born in Montreal and who interrupted her legal studies in Paris to come to Montreal to help the students. In the final analysis, two of the students that I can recall received jail terms: Rosie Douglas and Anne Cools.

 

I visited with Rosie Douglas who was from Dominica. He would write to me to tell me he needed running shoes for his fitness program while in prison, or send me a list of what he needed. I obtained permission to visit him, and on a few occasions, brought his little son Cabral to visit with him. On the pretext of bringing food for the baby, I brought Rosie Caribbean food which he devoured. The Black community was consumed with righteous indignation, feeling that justice was not served. Nevertheless, many of the students went on to complete their studies. Some students became doctors; Leroy Butcher became a lawyer; Hugo Ford, a mathematician, became a teacher in his native Trinidad; Anne Cools became the first Black Female Senator as a member of the Senate of Canada, appointed by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who gave her an official pardon for her time in jail; and Roosevelt (Rosie) Douglas became the Prime Minister of Dominica.  Many of us who lived through this disaster, are still alive and often speak of this incident when we go down memory lane.

 

Teaching at Vanier College

 

 

At the time of the incident at Sir George Williams University, I had been a tenured member of the Special Care Counseling Department in the Faculty of Applied Technologiesat Vanier College. My courses were going well, my students were giving me very positive evaluations, but I felt the need to learn more, so that I would have more to offer. I registered as a student at Concordia University’s Faculty of Education, where almost all of the courses were offered in the evening. I completed the course requirements as well as the thesis in the two year program and was awarded a Master’s Degree in Educational Problems.

 

The subject of my thesis was: "The Educational and Occupational Aspirations of English Speaking Immigrant and Non-Immigrant Black Youth in Montreal." With a sample of close to three hundred, I was able to analyze the data and prove the validity of my hypothesis which was that "Black Youth, born in an environment in which they saw themselves reflected across the socio-economic spectrum had higher educational and occupational aspirations than those born in an environment in which they were marginalized and did not see themselves reflected in the society in which they lived."

 

Aside from earning another master’s degree, the education at Concordia introduced me to professors who were not only knowledgeable in their field, but were as interested in their students as the nuns at Mount Saint Vincent College. They ensured that students learned to speak and write, and were able to defend their position on any topic with clarity and a calm demeanor after researching the facts. They were encouraging, while letting us know their expectations of us. This approach to student learning influenced my own classroom techniques at Vanier College, and was reflected in my teaching style. Although I encouraged my students to take notes, I would sometimes hand them a copy of my lecture notes, of a lecture I considered particularly important to their growth and development. Rather than give you a self-evaluation, I will present you with a letter I received from one of my colleagues of over thirty years, when I announced my resignation from the department. He did not know, at the time, that I would become the Dean of the Faculty of Applied Technologies, the umbrella over the Special Care Counseling Department as one of the 12 programs for which I would become responsible.  Here is what he wrote on April 8, 1994:

         Dear Dorothy,

         It is with great regret that we received your letter of resignation. It was a surprise for many of us, as we thought that you might come back for at least a year or   two before you even contemplated retirement. For many of the old gang, your decision to not grace us with your presence in the future really means that an        era has begun to change and also brings back a lot of fond memories. Your contribution to the department was immense as your organizational skills helped        to keep us on track. When you took over as coordinator, my memory has us as being somewhat scattered and you were able to bring our focus back and         also help us to get the structures in place that have served us very well over the years. I think you also represented us to the college in a way that convinced them    that we were always professional and to be taken seriously. Your legacy here has also served the department and the students well and made it easier for the   coordinators that followed you to maintain our reputation with the college.

         Those of us who had the opportunity to teach with you remember how supportive you were and how hard you worked to develop courses that met the student’s      needs. You were always very helpful to new teachers and gave them all the guidance and support that they could possibly need. The graduates that we   meet in        the field always ask about you and comment on how much they learned from you. Your contribution in this most critical part of our job was always    vital. You always were the complete professional in your approach to teaching and this was obvious to all.

 

         Finally, on a more personal note, I remember with fondness some of the informal activities of the department such as the numerous "colloques” and conferences   that we attended all over the province and in New England, and what good company you were on all these occasions. I will miss those trips and all the other   entertaining times that we and other members of the department shared.

 

         The department wants to wish you all the best in the future and we are sure that you will go from triumph to triumph. We hope that you will keep in touch with     us from time to time and will remember all the little people that knew when you too were a teacher at Vanier in Special Care Counselling.

 

         All our best,

         Alan MacFarlane, on behalf of the Department.

 

1994: A Year of Big Changes

 

 

1994 was a year of big changes for me. I had been on secondment from Vanier College, since 1989, to the Government of Canada, to work as a member of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Convention Refugee Determination Division.  In 1994. Not only did I resign from the Special Care Counselling Department, I also resigned from the government position, to accept the position of Dean of the Faculty of Applied Technologies at Vanier College. In doing so, I was accepting a position with a far heavier workload, at almost half of the salary that I was being paid by the federal government, but I was tired of two year extensions to my contract with the government and I felt I could make a larger contribution to humanity if I returned to Vanier where I thought I belonged.

 

Before leaving the topic of the Immigration and Refugee Board, I feel compelled to share with you an evaluation of my work written and signed by Madame Gisèle Morgan, Deputy Chairperson, Madame Colette Savard, Deputy Chairperson, and Madame Mawani, Chairperson. They wrote as follows:

  

         In General, Mrs. Wills is an exceptional Board Member. She knows Refugee Law and keeps abreast of the jurisprudence. She possesses extensive knowledge   about Nigeria, Pakistan and Bangladesh; she is also familiar with Sri Lanka, Somalia, Moldova and Estonia.

 

         Mrs. Wills has acquired exemplary hearing room skills. She has great sensitivity with respect to cultural differences and the aptitude to make a claimant feel that        he is the most important person in the hearing room. Mrs. Wills questions are precise and pertinent in the hearing room; her attitude of fairness and compassion    has earned her the praise of the claimants’ representatives. Mrs. Wills’ expertise in intercultural communication enables her to animate workshop sessions for          newly appointed Board Members and Refugee Hearing Officers. In particular: "Art of Communication" and "Cross Cultural Communication".

 

         Mrs. Wills gets along well with her colleagues. In the past year, she often sat with a member who has an auditory problem and to whom she showed       forbearance. Mrs. Wills is punctual in her reason writing. Her reasons are clear and well written.  Mrs. Wills participates in professional development meetings   and other members meetings.

 

One might wonder why I walked away from the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada where, as one of four Black members, I was well respected and liked,  to move into a position about which I knew little and which had never entered my thinking  of possible occupations.  Nevertheless in the fall of 1994, there I was, Dean of the Faculty of Applied Technologies at Vanier College.

 

At Vanier College I felt at home, where I had treated all of the students as if they were my own children, but now I had to deal with teachers and coordinators as well. When I arrived, the Faculty of Applied Technologies consisted of twelve programs, twelve program coordinators, six technicians, two secretaries, and approximately 1000 students. Each program coordinator behaved as if their program was the only program in the faculty. All four deans became the buffer between the coordinators and the academic dean.  The academic dean allocated the number of full-time educators (FTE’S) that could be hired by a department each semester, as well as the amount of release time for coordination. That turned out to be the most difficult part of the job. The rest of the time, the Faculty Dean was at liberty to use their time for the benefit of the students and the college.  For example, I took it upon myself to visit area high schools, where I made presentations on “The value of career planning”, and “Learning over the life cycle”.  Those presentations resulted in increased student enrolment in my faculty.  I would also visit the industrial sector and speak with the large corporations about the qualities they would like to find in our graduates, and obtained feedback about the graduates that they had hired. Before we knew it, employers were calling to find out if we could send potential graduates for job interviews, to the utter delight of the students.  Everything went so very well, despite the very heavy workload which was compounded, from time to time, with a provincial government exercise known as program evaluation.

 

Each program in the faculty had to be evaluated at least every four or five years to ensure its efficacy.  To that end, each department had to devise a questionnaire to conduct a student’s survey collecting evidence from the students, their opinion of and involvement in the course of study in the program.  Another questionnaire had to be generated to ascertain employers’ (users of the service) evaluative judgment of the graduates that they had hired.  All course outlines had to be submitted, indicating to the provincial representatives, the extent to which the curriculum was covered.  Following the data collection, a report had to be written and submitted to the academic dean for transmission to the Ministry of Education in Quebec City.  From this description, you have undoubtedly concluded about the enormity of the additional workload involved in program evaluation.  Nevertheless, I loved my work, gave it my all,  and felt blessed to have been selected for the position.  It is true that when the Lord presents you with a challenge, He equips you to triumph over adversities, and surmount the challenge, and triumph over any and all adversities.  At the end of the academic year in 2000, I retired at age 67.

 

The Roseau Primary School Project

 

 

Long before my retirement from Vanier College, I pondered over possible ways to give back to my Motherland, Dominica, tangible evidence of my appreciation of home that would be within my means.  At about the same time, Jermaine Jean-Pierre, a young lady from Dominica, wrote to me about a project she developed to broaden the horizons of the young students at the Roseau Primary School during the summer months.  In helping her with materials for her project, it seemed natural that there should be a continued connection with the school.  I started by sending school supplies, increased supplies to books, followed by games uniforms to differentiate the various “Houses” when they played games.  It was about that time in my relationship with the school that a very dear Dominican friend died. There was no consoling me about his death until I came upon a plan for his memory to live on.  I established the Fitzroy Joseph Memorial Scholarship at the Roseau Primary School to be awarded to the student from the Roseau Primary School with the highest grade point average on the School Leaving Examination. According to my reasoning, $500.00 Canadian dollars would help a young person buy books for High School, since most of the school population came from single parent households. 

 

With the help of  Jermaine Jean-Pierre, we purchased a large shield, to be hung in a public place at the school, with lots of little shields, upon which could be inscribed the name of the winner of the Fitzroy Joseph Memorial Scholarship in a specific year.  This worked beautifully, because I am told about the scholarship winner returning to the school with his friends to show, very proudly, his name inscribed on one of the little  shields.  I am also told about the young students, working hard, wanting to win the scholarship because to them it was a lot of money. The scholarship was awarded along with a biographical sketch of the person after whom the scholarship was named.  Fitzroy Joseph was almost a household name in Dominica, as he spoke frequently over the radio about historical events and items of interest to Dominicans.  In reality, the scholarship not only honoured my deceased friend, but but became a motivator to encourage the students to study harder and take pride in their accomplishment.

 

Both the scholarship and the project continued to grow with the shipment of text books, books for their library, and computers so that the young people would be introduced to technical skills. As the scholarship grew in scope it also grew in sponsorship.  One year, The Dominica Association of Montreal contributed cash for the purchase of school supplies and cost of shipment. Edwina Deschamp, a Dominican, contributed cash each year, for 15 years, to enable the award of additional scholarships each year, to the point where one year we were able to award scholarships to other schools, which were presented by Miss Jean-Pierre, and who sent us pictures of students accepting their award at their graduation ceremony. 

 

When Roland and I celebrated out fiftieth wedding Anniversary at the Anjou Golf Club, we suggested to the invited guests that in lieu of gifts to us they make a contribution to the Roseau Primary School fund, which I described to them in a note.  We collected a little over  eleven thousand Canadian dollars ($11,000.00.)  That year,  we distributed ten scholarships and shipped 44 boxes of new books for the school library.  After approximately 20 years, the project ended.

 

It is my considered opinion that in helping students we are indirectly helping the country, because we are preparing a group of informed citizens who will contribute to the vitality of the country.

 

Life After Retirement

 

 

In preparation for our retirement, Roland and I purchased a modest condominium in Deltona, Florida where we could hide from the cruel Quebec winters.  So our new routine began in the fall of 2000.  Towards the end of October, we would begin the drive to Florida.  We would stop at our daughter and her husband’s home in Fort Washington to assist with the Halloween preparations.  Our granddaughter Madison and I would shop for several different kinds of candy, then place one of each into ziplock sandwich bags, and complete over 150 bags for the young people who came to the door on Halloween night.  These bags of candy were placed next to the door to be distributed by Kevin, Madison’s Dad.  Madison would get dressed in her Halloween costume, and Sandra, Madison and I would go door to door in the neighbourhood.  Madison would be very proud of her “loot” which she quickly displayed to her Dad and Grandfather  before running upstairs with her loot to her room.

 

But there is more – days before the preparation of the Halloween bags, there would be hay rides around the pumpkin patch, and visits to  places decorated in celebration of Halloween.  We looked forward to this quality time with our grand daughter; and, she in turn,  looked forward to the arrival of her grandparents, especially her grandfather.  Madison and her grandfather had a strong attachment to each other since her birth.

 

Shortly after Halloween, we would leave for Deltona, Florida, stopping overnight in South Carolina, where we searched for a Best Western motel and a Cracker Barrel restaurant. Once settled in the motel, we would then go hunting for a Cracker Barrel restaurant where we would have dinner, and breakfast the next morning, before continuing our trip south. Upon arrival in Florida, we unpacked the car, carried everything upstairs to our little condo, which was home for the winter.

 

Deltona was a sleepy little town midway between Daytona Beach in the east and Orlando, and Disney in the west. So conveniently located that it was a simple forty-five minute drive on either side to visit two of the most popular places in Florida.

 

Fortunately for us, also retiring in Deltona was our minister from Union United Church, Rev. Dr. L. Bigby and his wife, Hazel.  They lived in a beautiful home, situated on a lake, not far from our condo.  We visited frequently and they introduced us to a church in Deltona,  as well as the American Association of Retired Peresons (AARP), Deltona Chapter.  The two couples went on several day and even week long trips with the AARP, but more than trips, Rev. Bigby cultivated a beautiful rose garden at the right front side of his home and on the left front side, he created a Camellia garden. The fragrance of the roses greeted you as you parked your car.

 

On one side of the back yard of his home, he created a part of Jamaica, with ache trees, sweet sop, and sugar apple trees.  Once when there was a frost warning I accompanied him in his car to an army surplus outlet in search of blankets to cover the aforementioned trees that he felt would not survive the cold.  Additionally, he planted sugar cane, sorrel, yams, and okra.  On the other side of the back yard, he grew a vegetable garden with tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, carrots, beets, onions, parsley, sage, parsley and thyme.  As if all that was not enough. He erected an “arbor” over which he grew passion fruit vines.  When it became exceptionally hot,  as only Florida can,  sitting in a chair under the arbor  at the side of the lake was both enjoyable and refreshing.  One day Roland asked “Rev.,” as we called him, why did he have a fence in the lake near the shore line?  He was informed by “Rev.” that the fence was there to prevent the alligators in the lake from climbing on to the lawn.  From then on, Roland kept an eye out for  approaching alligators.

 

In addition to going on trips together, I helped with the gardening and the reaping of the produce.  Once when we reaped several buckets of sorrel, “Rev”  said he was going to purchase some extra large zip-lock bags.  When I asked what for, he said: “You will see when I come back”.  And sure enough, Mrs. Bigby and I were instructed to fill the bags with sorrel.  When that task was complete. “Rev”.,  Mrs. Bigby and I drove all over Deltona delivering bags of sorrel to all the Jamaican families that “Rev.” knew in Deltona – we made about twelve deliveries.

 

It was a very sad day for us when Rev. and Mrs. Bigby decided to sell their home in Deltona and move back to Canada to look after their two grandsons.  Understanding the altruism involved in that decision did not make it more palatable; nevertheless, we supported the decision as the right thing to do.

 

After “Rev”. & Mrs. Bigby left Deltona, I became much more involved with the church, by joining the women’s group.  As part of that group, I became an “Angel Driver” which meant that I drove people to their medical appointments and  their cancer treatments.  An extension of the “Angel Driver” program, was the “Angel Shopper” whose task it was to receive a shopping list from a “shut-in” over the phone, then obtain the items from the grocery store; and, deliver the purchase to the person who placed the order.  Those were fun things to do, and those events enabled getting to know the church members better.

 

At one of the Women’s Group meetings, someone suggested  cooking dinner for the homeless in our industrial kitchen at the church. The suggestion was immediately adopted as our Women’s Group’s newest Program.  This program became known as “Our Father’s Table.”  So, every Friday, we cooked and served approximately  75 - 100  meals to the homeless, as well as persons who elected to join them. I worked in that program, every Friday, from 2.00 p.m. to seven 7.00 p.m.,   for 8 years,  until the new minister closed it down for reasons best known to him.

 

As part of the community at “Lakeside”, because we were a condo owner, I attended all the Board meetings, and eventually started a newsletter which I called “Communique” to remind me of my affiliation with Quebec. “Communique” included a column for a verbatim report of what took place at the monthly board meetings.  The newsletter was very well received.  I wrote, printed and distributed the newsletter once a month at my own expense.  And, because I took shorthand notes of events at the board meetings, it preempted people from giving their own interpretation of what transpired at the meetings.  I published the newsletter for seventeen years.  I also took verbatim notes of the Annual General Meetings of the Condominium Association and we never had to have any amendments to those minutes. Those were very enjoyable and useful pass times.  I miss going to Florida,  but give thanks to God that I am in the kind of place that I can view winter from the fourth floor apartment without having to go out in the cold.  Indeed, I have a magnificent view of  Montreal, including the St. Lawrence Seaway, Mount Bruno and Mount St. Hilaire.  I can see the cars driving over the Champlain bridge and my favourite Hospital, The McGill University Hospital Center (MUHC).

 

Conclusion of a Life Well Lived

 

 

If you have journeyed with me this far, you have probably concluded by now that this was a full life. A life which demonstrated the joys of “Learning over the Life cycle” .  You may also have concluded that this was the journey of someone not hesitant to try new experiences which undoubtedly added to the joy of living. 

 

But how did this Black girl from the village of “Balahou Town” develop such a thirst for knowledge, and sense of fearless adventure that would enable trying new experiences?  Our Lord and Saviour did Promise: “I will be with you always”.   If you believe His word, and if you trust that when He offers you a challenge he will equip you for the challenge, there is nothing to be scared of.  You proceed undaunted knowing that when you become tired: “He will carry you.”

 

Bolstered by the comment of my mentor, Sister Francis d’Assisi, the president of Mount Saint Vincent College, “To him that hath been given much, much is expected in return,” I proceeded on my journey.  And when I once asked her how could I ever repay her for all that she had done for me, she said quite simply: “Just pass it on, Dorothy, pass it on.”  I hope that during my 38 year teaching career I was able to pass on to my students, at least some of the love and support that I received from that nun who loved unconditionally.

 

During her Philosophy class lectures, Sister Francis d’Assisi and Sister Frances Carmel,  made us feel a responsibility towards our fellow human beings, and own kindness towards others as a way of life. In short, they advocated: “I am my brother’s keeper”, and that when ever we did whatever we could for another person we should consider our action  an opportunity for which we needed to be grateful.  Moreover, we watched Sister Ellen Francis live those values in our Business Education classes.  If there is any fraction of resemblance to those values in my life story it is due to the sisters at Mount Saint Vincent University.

 

My mother, Edith Eugenia Lucas,  taught me the value of discipline, dedication to a cause,  and the value of your word.  If you give your word, you honor your word, even if it hurts.

 

Hopefully sharing my life’s story will inspire others: To always believe in God, and know that He always has your back; to learn over the life cycle, so that you continue to grow and develop as a person;  To seize new opportunities and be kind to others even if you do not think they deserve your kindness.

 

He  raised me up

so I could stand on Mountain.

He raised me up to walk on stormy seas

I am strong, when I am on His shoulder

He raised me up to more than I could ever dream to be.