Caribbean Heritage Month Flag-Raising Ceremony

Mel Lastman Square (5110 Yonge Street, North York ON)

October 1, 2018

Speech and Declaration by Camille Kerr, Founder & President of Caribbean Women’s Society:

“Good morning Directors and all of you here with us today in-person and live-streaming for this momentous occasion; and thank you Mr. Oliver Levy for your beautiful Caribbean Heritage creation that inspired our flag, and represents how undisputedly diverse Caribbean people are and yet beautifully inter-connected by their common rich culture.

Caribbean Women’s Society has declared October as Caribbean Heritage Month to recognize, educate and celebrate the Caribbean contributions to Canada; including customs, practices, places, objects, artistic expressions and values.  This is first time in Ontario history that diverse Caribbeans will be recognized and acknowledged by way of their own heritage month.

October is a significant month for the Caribbean-Canadian community. With the points system incorporated into the Immigration Regulations in October 1967, it meant that visitors, including Caribbeans, and their families were given the right to apply for immigrant status while in Canada.  By 1970, immigration from, in part, the Caribbean represented over 23% of the total; compared to 10% four years prior.

Four years after the changes to the Immigration Regulations, in a statement to the House of Commons on October 8, 1971, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau announced multiculturalism as an official government policy. Multiculturalism was intended to preserve the cultural freedom of all individuals and provide recognition of the cultural contributions of diverse ethnic groups to Canadian society.

It was the beginning of a new era; as Caribbeans were starting to see Canada as a place they could call home.  A place to establish roots, raise their children and become a part of Canada’s cultural mosaic.

This month is meant to bring diverse Caribbean-Canadians and Canadians, in general, together to celebrate our multiculturalism, and to recognize what makes our country and our province, one of the most desirable places to live.

We pay homage and take great pride in those Caribbean-Canadians who came before us, as early as the 1700’s and as recent as our parents and grandparents – many present and many perished; and all of whom carried the heavy burden of the times and paid a hefty cost inconceivable to most of us; and all so that we and future generations could experience a kind of life better than their own.  To those Caribbean-Canadians who came before us, this month we remember and remain forever grateful for your courage, resilience, determination and love.

To our Caribbean-Canadian elders who we are blessed to still have here with us in the present, including my own mom and dad who are here making history with me today: please share your stories and life-experience with the younger generations.  Your knowledge and wisdom voids our longing for grounding and identity; and helps to strengthen our cultural connection in a way that we cannot acquire by any other means.

To our Caribbean-Canadian children and youth, including my own five children who are here making history with me today: be proud of your heritage and identity; be guided by the knowledge and wisdom of our elders; be confident that you are valuable beyond measure; be ignited by what is sparking up here today and be accountable and ready when we pass the torch on to you.

And to those Caribbean-Canadians in-between: Continue to stand together and put in the tireless work necessary to honour, represent, and preserve our heritage so that we may inspire the next generation to do the same.

And now, I would like to ask you all to be silent, put your phones on low; and for those who are able, please stand for the Canada Anthem.

Please remain silent and standing while I remind those who have forgotten, enlighten those who are unaware, assert to the deniers, reassure the wavering and reaffirm to the conscious; with the Official Caribbean Heritage Month Declaration:”

“Ontario is home to a large and vibrant Caribbean-Canadian community, a diverse group of nations, regions and territories; all 42 of them represented in the Caribbean Heritage flag.”

(First hoist)

“Since the first Caribbean immigrants arrived in Canada in the late 1700’s, Caribbean-Canadians from across Ontario have made significant contributions across all fields and industries; including, science, education, medicine, agriculture, hospitality, domestic work, academia, broadcasting, law, politics, business, sports, art and culture, philanthropy, just to name a few.” 

(Second hoist)

“Caribbean-Canadians have helped build Ontario into the multicultural success story that it is and have helped to build this province into the best place to live, work and raise families. They continue to help foster growth, prosperity and innovation throughout Ontario.”

(Third hoist)

“By declaring the month of October as Caribbean Heritage Month, Caribbean Women’s Society recognizes the important contributions that Caribbean-Canadians have made to Ontario’s social, economic, political and cultural fabric. Caribbean Heritage Month is an opportunity to remember, celebrate and educate future generations about Caribbean-Canadians and the important role that they have played and continue to play in communities across Ontario.”

(Fourth hoist)

“To all the Caribbean-Canadians who are here with us today, graciously representing hundreds of thousands of Caribbean-Canadians across Ontario, please repeat these six words after me and avow: We are here, accomplished and united.” 

(Final hoist)

“And so, it is with great honour and privilege that I, Camille Kerr, Founder and President of Caribbean Women’s Society, do hereby declare that the month of October is observed and celebrated as Caribbean Heritage Month in Ontario, Canada.  Happy Caribbean Heritage Month!”