The Jamaican Canadian Association and women’s involvement

By Christine Barrass

Founded 56 years ago, the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) was created by Jamaicans living in Toronto. It was 1962, and as Jamaica prepared for independence from the United Kingdom, this group decided to plan a celebratory dinner and dance. The event on August 6, Independence Day, was a roaring success. Discussions afterwards supported setting up an organization that could both help immigrants from Caribbean countries adapt to life in Toronto and advocate on behalf of Caribbean and African-Canadian citizens in the city. To this end, a Constitution Committee, made up of three men and three women, was established. On September 23, 1962, participants at a well-attended Organizational Meeting approved the JCA constitution and elected its first Executive Committee.

Dr. Vincent Conville, a long-time member of the association and its president from 1977 to 1978, wrote his PhD thesis on the JCA. In 2008, he donated the material that comprises the Jamaican Canadian Association fonds to Library and Archives Canada. This material contains transcripts of oral interviews he conducted with founding and prominent members of the group as well as copies of the JCA newsletter, In Focus. These interviews and newsletters include many frank and insightful opinions from women such as Amy Nelson, Kamala-Jean Gopie and Erma Collins.

Unusual for its time, the JCA had more female than male members. These women were a diverse group of university students, nurses and domestic workers who joined the association with a shared desire to help others in the Caribbean community in Toronto and across Canada. Women in the JCA played a varied role that changed over time. Despite their numbers, women acted largely behind the scenes rather than in leadership positions during the JCA’s first decades. They organized fundraisers, created committees and supported the association’s goal of providing much-needed social services. In an interview conducted by Dr. Conville, one of the founding members of the JCA, Amy Nelson, acknowledged the inequality in the organization, viewing it as a product of the times: men were simply found in leadership roles more often, whether in the JCA or in society at large.

The front page of a black-and-green printed newsletter. The main headline reads: “….founder, Amy Nelson looking back on 40 years…”

In Focus newsletter, dated November 2002 (e011218459)

One woman who managed to become a leader in the JCA was Kamala-Jean Gopie (formerly Jean Gammage). Joining the association in 1974, she quickly became a very active member. In 1975, she took on the role of Executive Secretary, and from 1978 to 1980 she served as the first female president of the JCA. Despite her leadership roles, however, she recalled in an In Focus interview that attending an award ceremony as a guest rather than as an organizer was a novel experience!

The front page of a printed newsletter. The headline reads: “Kamala-Jean Gopie: A woman with a mission.

In Focus newsletter, Volume 4, Number 3, dated May 1995 (e011218458)

The unique contributions by women in the JCA led to the creation of what was initially the Women’s Auxiliary, later resurrected as the Women’s Committee. Formed in the early 1970s, the Auxiliary focused on using women’s backgrounds as health care workers to support some of the JCA’s activities. In its second incarnation as the Women’s Committee, the focus changed. Erma Collins, the first female Vice-President of the association, and Pam Powell, a former Board member, recalled that this committee filled gaps in programming for the female membership. The committee addressed pressing issues such as women’s health care, including organizing a health fair in Ontario for Black women, in 1993. The committee subsequently broadened its focus to address other issues of gender equality as well.

The front page of a printed newsletter. The main headline reads: “JCA elects first female 1st Vice-President.”

In Focus newsletter, Volume 3, Number 9, dated April 1993 (e011218457)

The Women’s Committee proudly continues to this day!


Christine Barrass is a senior archivist in the Social Life and Culture Private Archives Division of the Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Who will make good? The Land Development Records of the Canadian National Railway and its corporate predecessors

Railways have long played a prominent role in the stories we tell about Canada’s development as a nation. Promising to facilitate travel and trade across the vast expanse of Canada’s geography, the construction of transcontinental railway lines was once seen as pivotal to the formation of a coherent national identity.

But railway companies also participated in the settlement of Western Canada by serving as the developers and property agents for land granted to them by the federal government. Following the transfer of Rupert’s Land to Canada in 1870, railway land grants were a key component of the government’s plan to increase the population of western regions already occupied by indigenous communities, Métis settlements, and Hudson’s Bay Company outposts. Even in the early twentieth century, land grants were used to encourage the railway companies to extend their tracks across the whole of the continent, and railway construction was partly financed through the lease and sale of this land.

The Winnipeg Regional Services office holds a rich aggregation of records documenting the sale and lease of Western Canadian farm and townsite land by the Canadian National Railway and its corporate predecessors. Originating from the various subsidiary property companies linked to the Canadian National Railway, the Canadian Northern Railway, and the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, these records sketch vivid portraits of Western Canadian settlers and some of the many challenges they faced in the early and mid-twentieth century. Continue reading

The Carignan-Salières Regiment

The colony of New France was in a precarious situation when France’s King Louis XIV acceded to the throne in 1661. The population and safety of the colony were a priority for him. In order to increase the population, the first contingent of the Filles du roi (“King’s daughters”) was sent there in 1663. Two years later, in 1665, the Carignan-Salières Regiment disembarked in New France to ensure the safety of the colony and, more specifically, to deal with the Iroquois threat.

A pen and watercolour sketch depicting an officer in the Carignan-Salières Regiment in profile. He is holding a lance in his right hand and wearing a sheathed sword on his left hip.

Officer of the Carignan-Salières Regiment, 1666 (MIKAN 2896020)

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