1864: Canadian Presbyterian missionary John Morton visits Trinidad for health reasons
1868: Presbyterian Church Mission (later known as Canadian Mission) established in Trinidad, focused on Indian indentured immigrants
1884: Canadian Mission established in Grenada
1885: Canadian Mission established in St. Lucia and Guyana
1894: Canadian Mission established in Jamaica
1908: First known South Asians from the Caribbean migrate to Canada (Dr. Kenneth Mohabir and M.N. Santoo)
1940s: West Indian men who were members of the Canadian Armed Forces during World War II allowed to migrate to Canada.
1950s: Domestic workers and nurses migrate to Canada from the West Indies
1960s: Indo-Caribbeans migrate to Canada in large numbers
1978: Carindo Cultural Association formed “to more adequately cater to Nova Scotians from the West Indies who are of East Indian origin.”
1980s: Savo, a Guyanese woman of colour, is sexually harassed at her workplace. She brings her case to the Toronto & York Labour Council and files a case of non-representation to the Labour Relations Board. Eventually she settles the case out of court, and receives a letter of apology.
1984: John Persaud, an individual of Guyanese heritage, files cases against Consumers Distributing for discrimination in the workplace. The case is lost at the Ontario Human Rights Commission, but after more than a decade of fighting, Persaud wins at the Labour Board.
1986: Ontario Society for Services to Indo-Caribbean Canadians (OSSICC) is formed
1988: OSSICC celebrates the 150th anniversary of the arrival of Indians in Guyana
1997: Indian Arrival Day celebrated in the Toronto area
1999: May celebrated as Indian Arrival and Heritage Month
2001: South Asian Heritage Month introduced and passed as Bill 98 in provincial legislature by MPP Raminder Gill
2011: The Kolkata (Calcutta) Memorial inaugurated at the Kidderpore Depot along the Hugley River in Kolkata, West Bengal, India to pay tribute to the large number of Indian indentured labourers who left during 1834-1920. Those in attendance included representatives from Canada.
2011: “The Bloom of Indians in Canada Over Time,” a play that includes a section on the Komagata Maru incident, is staged at the 2011 South Asian Heritage Month programming organized by the Vedic Cultural Centre
Diversity amongst Indo-Caribbeans
While a majority of Indo-Caribbean individuals in Canada are Trinidadian or Guyanese, there is great diversity amongst Indo-Caribbeans. Participants in CASSA primary research emphasize the fact that Indo-Caribbean communities in Canada are as diverse as they are in the Caribbean – the countries that Indo-Caribbeans may be connected to include Barbados, Haiti, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Belize, French Guiana, Guyana and Suriname.
As South Asian? As Caribbean?
“Too black to be brown, too white to be black, and too brown to be white”
- community member (June 2012)
Getting a clear picture of the total number of Indo-Caribbeans in Canada is difficult given the varying ways that Indo-Caribbean individuals in Canada may identify. The Census is able to detail the number of individuals who identify as South Asian, those who identify as Caribbean (and within that, those who identify as West Indian). However, this does not seem to “add up” to the estimated numbers – somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000, though some academics estimate it much lower strictly using those who self-identify as South Asian and born in the Caribbean.
Beyond the Kala Pani
In a 2012 focus group, community members discussed the impact of the journey from India to the Caribbean, across the “kala pani” (which literally translates to dark/black water). The differences amongst the migrants (such as along religious, cultural or caste lines) “all disappeared on the boat” as one community member put it. The term kala pani has connections to Hindu beliefs about contamination, which adds complexity to the ways in which those from the subcontinent did (and perhaps still do) think about Indo-Caribbean communities. In 1991, at Desh Pardesh, a political arts festival held in Toronto, OSSICC Women’s Collective put on a play entitled “Beyond the Kala Pani,” which looked at women’s migration from India to the Caribbean to Canada.
South Asian Heritage Month
Not many people are aware of the fact that the origins of South Asian Heritage Month being commemorated in Canada are directly attributed to Indo-Caribbean communities. May 5, Indian Arrival Day (based on the first arrival of Indian indentured labourers in Guyana on May 5, 1838), began being commemorated in Toronto in 1997. After engagement with the community, MPP Raminder Gill introduced Bill 98 in the provincial legislature in 2001 – using “South Asian Heritage Month.”
Studying Indo-Caribbean Realities
Caribbean Studies at the University of Toronto has deep connections to Indo-Caribbean communities and students. In the early 1990s, the Indo-Caribbean Students Association at UofT, along with a number of other student organizations put together a forum called “Indo-Caribbean Progress and Identity.” This forum was attended by community members, students, staff and faculty – and resulted in much discussion and dialogue in community and media. Arnold Itwaru was one of the panelists, and later became the first professor hired by the Caribbean Studies Program.
There has been significant representation of Indo-Caribbean individuals in labour organizing in Canada – from Judy Vashti Persad’s contribution to writing about workers of colour, to the various Indo-Caribbean workers whose struggles are shared through forums such as the organization Justicia for Migrant Workers. Community members have shared that many Indo-Caribbean labour organizers in Canada work from broader anti-racist and migrant-justice focused spaces inside and outside of union spaces. The Asian Canadian Labour Alliance is one example.
- CASSA Focus Group, June 5, 2012.
- Editorial, Indo Caribbean World, September 8, 2008. Retrieved from www.indocaribbeanworld.com/archives/2008/september_3_2008/editorial_views.htm
- "Indo-caribbeans." Multicultural Canada. http://www.multiculturalcanada.ca/Encyclopedia/A-Z/i3
- Lukas, Salome & Judy Vashti Persad, Through the Eyes of Workers of Colour: Linking Struggles for Social Justice, 2004.
- Mehta, Brinda J. “Diasporic (dis)locations: Indo-Caribbean Women Writers Negotiate the Kala Pani, 2004.
- Plaza, Dwaine, “Disaggregating the Indo- and African-Caribbean Migration and Settlement Experience in Canada,” Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies: 2004 (29).
- Rungh: A South Asian Quarterly of Culture, Comment and CriticsmCriticism, Volume 2, Number 1 &2, 1993. Retrieved from http://www.rungh.org/issues/Rungh_v2_n1-2.pdf
- Vedic Cultural Centre, 13th Annual Program: Celebrating South Asian Heritage, 2011.
- Vedic Cultural Centre, 14th Annual Program: Celebrating South Asian Heritage, 2012