Making connections in the black community

Club Carib meets the BSSN.

“When I was a student, I never had a black teacher. I had to learn about your European history or writers who did not tell my story, no one understood why it was hard for me to get to class,” says Ashley Marshall, a Durham College (DC) communications professor from the Caribbean.

Ashley Marshall, head of the BSSN. Photo credit: Jackie Graves

The Caribbean is a part of the African diaspora, which means people from the Caribbean are African descendants but in Canada, they are often categorized as just Black or Caribbean. The first group of Jamaicans arrived in Canada in 1797 after a failed attempt by the British to enslave them in Jamaica.

People of Caribbean origin have made up one of the largest ethnic groups in Canada since the 1970s. The majority have migrated to Quebec and Ontario, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia. They have dispersed in the Greater Toronto area, including the Durham Region.

Marshall explains what growing up in the suburbs meant for her, “There was no network for me of ‘oh my mom works there, I’ll get a job.’ So coming out of that experience I was like what can we do to build our network up and to share those networks with each other.”

In 2016, visible minorities who responded to census data were South Asian (8.6 per cent), Blacks (8 per cent), Filipino (2.3 per cent) and Chinese (1.9 per cent). The Caribbean population made up 7.7 per cent while Asian made up 17.1 per cent, according to the Regional Municipality of Durham information Report.

There are different Caribbean groups in Durham Region, such as the Jamaican Club of Oshawa and Club Carib of Oshawa Inc.

Both of these clubs are non-profit organizations, their mission is to advocate racial diversity through sports, education and cultural activities in Durham Region and other communities.

Club Carib of Oshawa Inc. was found in 1966 but was incorporated in 1979. In the 1980s, Club Carib bought 1.25 acres to build the Caribbean Cultural Centre which was officially opened in 1993.

Lydia Francis, the president of Club Carib says she joined the club in 1969 after the family members she was staying with at the time told her about it. She came to Canada in 1968 after her studies in England. She spent some time in Canada and moved to New York where her mother was staying. Eventually, she came back to live in Canada and continued her involvement with Club Carib.

Executives members of Club Carib. Front row left Lydia Francis, president of the club. Photo credit: Courtesy of Oshawa Museum

Francis, 72, has been president for two years. She attends weekly meetings usually held on Sundays and discusses issues with members of the committee.

Although she enjoys being part of the club and feels like she has a community she belongs with, she misses Trinidad.

“It’s nothing like when you can pick a mango right off a tree,” she says.

Francis has been fortunate to be a part of the club that makes her feel like back home.

Club Carib has different fundraising events to raise funds to support the club.

Club Carib had different programs from sports, singing, to dancing. Cricket is one of the main sports in some part of the Caribbean, Club Carib created a cricket team in 1968 but operated as the Auspices of Club Carib. It was registered with the city of Oshawa and later became the Oshawa Cricket Club.

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The Oshawa Cricket Club. Photo credit: Courtesy of Oshawa Museum

The Cricket team operated for many years. In 1969, the team participated in the Toronto and District cricket association and won the fourth division trophy for the first time. The team had difficulties recruiting a full team and the team could no longer operate as a team.

The Hummingbird Singers is another group that split up in the Club Carib community but had a lot of involvement throughout Oshawa and Toronto. The group was created in 1985 and consisted of approximately 15 people. They sang Caribbean folk songs.

The Hummingbird Club. Photo credit: Courtesy of Oshawa Museum

In the 1970s, Club Carib created a steel orchestra bad which entailed of men playing different drums (tenor pans, double altos, triple cellos, and basses). The steel band performed at local school in Durham, Whitby Harbour days the 2015 Pan Am Games.

One of the founding members of Club Carib was Harold Overton Norville who was born in Barbados and moved to Canada in 1964. He was a weightlifter and was inducted in the Oshawa Sports Hall of Fame in 1986. He competed in various weightlifting championships including the World Powerlifting Championship from 1969 to 1977. Norville returned to Barbados in 1988 with his wife. They had three children together.

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Harold Overton Norville, Oshawa Hall of Fame inductee and one the founding members of Club Carib. Photo credit: Courtesy of Oshawa Museum

Club Carib celebrated their 50th birthday last year and personal letters from prime minister Justin Trudeau, former premier Kathleen Wynne and former mayor of Oshawa John Henry.

Overall, Club Carib helps visible minorities find their voices, integrate into a different country and build connections.

Marshall has created a group like that at DC.

The Black Student Success Network (BSSN) teaches black students different skills they might need in the professional world.

“I’m still a black person and I’m a black professor so whatever I can do with whatever power I have or influence I have, I’d like to help students,” says Marshall.