Small in size but big on achievement.
That might be the most fitting motto for the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago, which marks the 50th anniversary of its independence this Friday.
The twin island republic gained independence from Britain in 1962. That heady period saw many other Caribbean islands follow suit, riding the wave of a much larger mid-20th century phenomenon around the globe that rocked Europe’s former colonies and ushered us all into the postcolonial era.
It’s an equally fitting motto to describe the influence that the transplanted Trinidad-and-Tobagonian community, which now numbers around 1,700, has had on Hamilton over the past 50 years.
Beginning in 1965, just three years after independence, Trinidad and Tobago was the source of a great boon to Hamilton — the arrival of a group of about 35 intrepid educators whose very presence at the front of classrooms surprised white students and catapulted Hamilton into a new era of diversity that challenged racial stereotypes and fostered interracial understanding.
Those educators are now mostly in their 70s and 80s, and many Hamiltonians have had the privilege of being taught by them in the classrooms over the past five decades.
“In the early ’60s, the Hamilton separate school board had sent several recruiters to the island to actively seek out young teachers who might consider relocation to Canada,” remembers Eleanor Wiltshire Rodney, who arrived from Trinidad to teach in Hamilton in 1967.
Before that major recruitment you didn’t see too much racial diversity in Hamilton and, compared to today, blacks were a relative rarity on the streets of Hamilton — never mind as teachers at the front of classrooms.
As Trinidadian Hamiltonian Dr. Gary Warner points out, “The conventional assumption is that resource flows, in terms of development assistance, are unidirectional, from countries of the north to countries of the south.”
The Trinidad-and-Tobagonian educators arriving in Hamilton represented “a reverse flow of human resources from south to north,” Warner added.
Warner himself came to Canada in 1967 to take up a post as a lecturer at McMaster University. Since then, he has distinguished himself in a number of positions at McMaster, and been named Hamilton’s Citizen of the Year and earned the prestigious medal of the Order of Canada thanks to his community work across a broad range of organizations.
The nation of Trinidad and Tobago has provided other gifts to Hamilton. The Hamilton police services are a diverse force today thanks to the likes of Trinidadian Greg Hamilton, one of its first black policemen, and Gillian Robinson, one of the force’s first two black policewomen.
Robinson fondly remembers seeing Greg Hamilton on his beat when she was still a child on her way home from school.
“Trinidad and Tobago’s 50th anniversary of independence is a time to celebrate and be proud of our warm and vibrant people, culture, heritage and music — steel pan, soca, calypso — and the energy and splendour of our carnival,” said Robinson.
Ah yes, the music. No discussion about Trinidad and Tobago would be complete without mention of the mellifluous steel pan, ingeniously forged in the 1930s by the black working class of Trinidad and Tobago out of discarded oil drums — recycling combined with creativity way ahead of the environmental awareness movement.
Music was the common denominator for many of the men and women from Trinidad and Tobago who arrived in Hamilton in the 1960s.
They would meet in Trinidadian Horace Jeremie’s basement on Hamilton Mountain, just to play music and socialize.
“We came to Hamilton and didn’t know anyone, so we started up a band,” says Jeremie, who had lived in England, and was then recruited by Westinghouse to Canada as a machinist.
“But we were a social group, too, Jeremie added. “We helped out the newly arrived members of our little community. A lot of things began with us.”
Jeremie and his fellow musicians formed a group called the Humming Birds, and they’re still around today.
Rodney, meanwhile, is at the forefront of preparations to mark the Independence celebration in Hamilton for the island nation.
Read the rest of this story by Richard Douglass-Chin on Thespec.com
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