PO Box 523, Station B,
Ottawa, ON, K1P 5P6

PO Box 523, Station B, Ottawa, ON, K1P 5P6
Wednesday, 01 May 2024 05:59

Who Lived Here?

Richard Collins takes us on a virtual tour of some of Ottawa's most notable homes.

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Wednesday, 01 May 2024 05:53

The First Golden Age of Jewish Life in Ottawa

David C. Martin explores the early history of the Jewish community in Ottawa with a presentation entitled Paupers, Peddlers, Purveyors & Parishioners.

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Another good crowd gathered at the Sunnyside Branch of the Ottawa Public Library on Saturday, April 20, 2024 to listen to the third and regrettably final installment of Phil Jenkins’ lecture series on four immigrant groups in Ottawa. In this session, Phil completed his discussion of the Chinese community and went on to talk about the role of the Italian community in Ottawa.

Phil highlighted two of the most famous members of Ottawa’s Chinese community before concluding this part with a brief discussion of the community as it exists today.

Adrienne Clarkson was born in Hong Kong in 1939 and moved to Ottawa in 1941 after the Japanese occupation of that territory. She attended public school and Lisgar Collegiate before going on to a very successful University education. Adrienne worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for some 30 years but achieved her greatest fame when, in 1999, she was appointed as Governor-General, a post she held until 2005. During this time, she led a “Team Canada” of artists and musicians to China to broaden cultural ties and understanding between the two nations. Recently, two members of the Historical Society of Ottawa met with Adrienne Clarkson and presented her with some old newspaper clippings that had come into their possession. This story can be read online: Tea with Adrienne Clarkson.

Denise Chong, a 3 rd generation Chinese-Canadian was born in Vancouver in 1953. After studying economics in Vancouver and Toronto she moved to Ottawa to work in the Department of Finance, eventually becoming a special advisor to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. This was remarkable for the time as the world of finance was dominated by white men. She left government work in the mid-1980s to pursue a career in writing and has since published four non-fiction books and edited one collection. Her books include: The Concubine’s Children (1994), The Girl in the Picture: The Kim Phuc Story (1999), Egg on Mao: The Story of an Ordinary Man Who Defaced an Icon and Unmasked a Dictatorship (2009) and Lives of the Family: Stories of Fate and Circumstance (2013). The collection she edited is entitled The Penguin Anthology of Stories by Canadian Women (1997). She still lives in Ottawa with her husband and two children.

The Chinese community in Ottawa remains very active and vibrant with 5 newspapers and many specialized support services. Focussed on Somerset Street West, its most recognizable symbols are the Royal Arch – Ottawa Chinatown that was constructed in 2010 and the annual Dragon Boat Festival.

History suggests that the first Italian to visit what would become Canada was John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto in Italian, Zuan Caboto in Venetian, Jean Cabot in French). Cabot was likely born in Genoa sometime about 1450 later moving to and becoming a citizen of Venice. By the mid-1490s he was in England and with financial support from Italian bankers in London and merchants in Bristol, he received letters patent from Henry VII to undertake expeditions of exploration. Phil read part of this, as follows: “…to find, discover and investigate whatsoever islands, countries, regions or provinces of heathens and infidels, in whatsoever part of the world placed, which before this time were unknown to all Christians.” Phil noted that this can be seen as the start of colonialism in Canada. On June 24, 1497, Cabot landed on the east coast of North America.

Phil explained that Italian craftsmen worked throughout Europe, but as passage across the Atlantic became cheaper than train travel around Europe, they began to come across in the spring, returning home in the fall, thus avoiding the harsh winters, though some stayed and settled. Phil identified two major waves of Italian immigration, the first falling roughly between 1900 and 1914, with the other following the Second World War. The 1911 census recognized around 700 families of Italian origin in Ottawa, clustered mainly in Lowertown, and employed primarily as painters, plasterers, stone masons, bakers, and barbers.

Among the bakers were Frank and Maria Galla who arrived in Ottawa in 1908 and opened their bakery at 597 Somerset Street West in 1920, later moving it to Rochester Street. They had 6 children, 5 sons and a daughter, the boys all working in the bakery with their father and remaining bachelors until the business closed in the late 1960s. As seen with other immigrant community leaders, Frank and Maria were instrumental in welcoming newcomers, the bakery often becoming their first place of employment. The couple was also key to the evolution of recreation and cultural growth, especially with the heart of their community, their church, St. Anthony of Padua on Booth Street.

On June 10, 1940, Italy entered the Second World War on the side of Germany and Prime Minister Mackenzie King responded by authorizing the RCMP to apprehend Italians living in Canada who they perceived as a threat. Phil explained that there were about 150,000 Italians in Canada at that time, about half of which had been born in Canada. This distinction did not matter. Approximately 31,000 Italians were identified as “Enemy Aliens”. They were photographed, finger-printed and required to report to the authorities on a monthly basis. Between 600 – 700 men were placed into internment camps, the largest being Camp 33 in Petawawa, two other camps existing, one in New Brunswick and the other in Alberta. Some of these men were held for as long as 3 years. None were ever charged with any offence. As a community, Italians were shunned by other Canadians and demonized by the press, many losing their jobs. In 1990, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney offered an apology to Italian-Canadians for the internment but it was not until May 27, 2021 that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formally apologized on behalf of the Canadian Government.

Phil read us an account by Giacomo Moscatelli, a second generation Italian-Canadian that reflects on his own childhood and the transition through the generations from Italian, to Italian-Canadian, to Canadian-Italian, and finally simply to Canadian. It’s a great read: Growing up Italian.

In the late 1950s and 1960s the City of Ottawa undertook several “Urban Renewal” projects. These identified communities where it was felt that houses and other buildings were in poor condition. The area around Rochester and Booth Streets was one of the targets of this policy; large numbers of houses, mostly Italian-owned, were expropriated and demolished. The community was dispersed.

Phil went on to profile two of the best known members of the Italian community in Ottawa. Robert “Bob” Chiarelli, who was born near Preston Street (aka Corso Italia) has served as the Regional Chair, the Mayor of Ottawa, and as a Member of the Provincial Parliament, in which he was a Cabinet Minister. Mario Bernardi became the founding conductor of the National Arts Centre Orchestra in 1969, becoming its Music Director in1971. He is credited with turning his hand-picked orchestra into one of the finest in the world.

One of the many pamphlets produced by the Historical Society of Ottawa is entitled “Growing Up in “La Colonia” and was written by Salvatore Pantalone. It provides more background on early Italian settlement in Ottawa and a collection of family anecdotes that colourfully describe life in “The Village” through the depression and the Second World War, with a special reference to the internment. Like many of the HSO pamphlets, it can be read online: Bytown Pamphlet #89.

Phil ended this session, and the series with his guitar. He performed Michael Bublé’s song "Home" , which was enthusiastically received, as were all aspects of this fantastic lecture series by one of our area’s leading public historians.

The Historical Society of Ottawa would like to thank Phil Jenkins once again for his time, his support, and especially for his passion.

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We were excited to gather again at the Sunnyside Branch of the Ottawa Public Library on Saturday, April 13, 2024, to hear the second installment of Phil Jenkins’ lecture series dealing with the contributions of four immigrant communities to Ottawa. In this section, Phil would complete his discussions on the Jewish community and introduce us to the history of the Chinese community in Ottawa.

The audience was delighted when Phil chose to continue his history of the Jewish community in Ottawa with his guitar and a rendition of the Leonard Cohen song Tower Of Song which was greatly appreciated and an excellent reintroduction to the topic of Jewish history in Ottawa.

Phil told us stories of a number of individuals, the first being the remarkable story of Lillian Bilsky Freiman, who was also known as “The Poppy Lady”. At the outbreak of the First World War Lillian arranged to get 30 sewing machines put into her home and organized Red Cross sewing circles to sew blankets and other clothing for the troops overseas. In 1918 she was tasked by the Mayor of Ottawa to organize a volunteer force of some 1,500 to help combat the spread of the Spanish Flu in the city. In 1921, with growing interest in using the poppy as a symbol of remembrance, she crafted Canada’s first poppies in her living room and later became the Chair of Ottawa’s annual Poppy Campaign for much of the rest of her life. She also founded Canadian Hadassah and worked tirelessly for many other charitable organizations including the Ottawa Welfare Bureau, the Protestant Infants Home, the Red Cross Society, and the Salvation Army along with many others. In 1934 she was appointed to the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by King George V, the first Jewish Canadian to be so honoured. Upon her death in 1940, among the many who attended her funeral were Prime Minister Mackenzie King and the Mayor of Ottawa, Stanley Lewis.

As a teenager, David Mirsky, the son of Ottawa's first rabbi, collected empty bottles and returned them to Brading’s Brewery. By 1920, he was filling bottles with spring water from a spring at the base of Nanny Goat Hill and selling them; he founded The Pure Spring Company in 1925 and it would become the largest independently owned soft drink company in Canada. The company remained in the Mirsky family until the mid-1960s when it was purchased by Crush.

Louis Baker was joined by his brother Jake and opened Baker Brothers at the corner of Booth and Duke Streets. It was the largest scrap yard in the area and survived in that location until the general demolition of Lebreton Flats in the mid-1960s. The business remains in operation, now located on Sheffield Road.

Phil then reminded us of the decision of the Canadian government not to offer sanctuary to the passengers of the St. Louis.

Scribe’s Note: The MS St. Louis sailed from Hamburg on May 13, 1939 bound for Havana with 937 passengers on board, mostly German Jews fleeing Nazi persecution. When the ship docked in Havana on May 27, the Cuban authorities only allowed 28 passengers to disembark. Negotiations to allow the others to land in Cuba failed and the ship was ordered out of Cuban waters on June 2, 1939. They were unable to obtain permission to land in the United States, so on June 7 the St. Louis set sail directly back to Europe, not entering Canadian waters. The St. Louis did not contact Canadian authorities requesting permission to disembark its passengers in Canada, but Prime Minister Mackenzie King did receive a petition on the evening of June 7th from a group of prominent Canadians led by historian and professor George Wrong suggesting that sanctuary be offered. At that time, Mackenzie King was on the Royal Train in Niagara and the government was not sitting. He contacted the Undersecretary for External Affairs, Dr. Oscar D. Skelton, to consult with Minister of Justice, Ernest Lapointe, and the Director of Immigration, Frederick Blair, as he “would like to be advised immediately as to powers of government to meet suggestion which communication contains”. Blair informed Skelton that the refugees could be admitted to Canada by having their names listed on an Order-in-Council but advised against so doing. As a result on June 9 Mackenzie King was informed that only people from four specified groups (family, investors, entrepreneurs, and highly-skilled immigrants) could be admitted by Order-in-Council. Thus Mackenzie King was told that the passengers of the St. Louis were inadmissible. Mackenzie King recorded in his diary that the refugees’ plight was “much less our problem than that of the U.S. and Cuba” while Blair wrote “It is manifestly impossible for any country to open its doors wide enough to take in the hundreds of thousands of Jewish people who want to leave Europe: the line must be drawn somewhere.”

The St. Louis returned to Europe and distributed her passengers to four nations, the Netherlands (181), Belgium (214), France (224) and the United Kingdom (288). The Second World War soon erupted and 254 of the former passengers of the St. Louis would die in the Holocaust, while one would die in a German air raid on London.

Source: MS St. Louis in Canadian Context | Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21

Phil then began his history of the Chinese community in Ottawa, with its very early beginnings a half of a continent away. The first 60 Chinese immigrants were brought to Nootka Sound , Vancouver Island in 1788 by British merchants. They built a schooner and what was intended to be a permanent fur trading post. An additional 80 Chinese workers were brought over the following year, but soon after, the post was taken by the Spanish and the fate of the Chinese workers remains unknown. There were two major events which spurred Chinese immigration to British Columbia. The first was the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush of 1858, which initially drew immigrants from California, but then directly from China. The second was the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway between 1880 and 1885. Approximately 17,000 Chinese labourers were employed on the construction of the section through British Columbia. The work was dangerous and conditions hard, resulting in the deaths of between 600 – 700 Chinese workers. The Chinese labourers were cheap and it is likely that the railway would not have been affordable had they not been employed. Although the bulk of the Chinese who remained in Canada stayed in British Columbia, the now completed trans-continental railway served as a means for the eastward migration of the Chinese.

With work on the railway completed, the Chinese workers needed to find another way to make a living. Hand laundry service proved a popular choice as investment was low and the hard work and long hours made it unpopular among white men, though there was some push-back from washer women. The first Chinese Hand Laundry in Toronto seems to have been opened about 1877 with the first in Ottawa being opened on Sparks Street by Wing On in October 1887. The Chinese laundries flourished, 2 more opening in 1889, offering good service at low cost due to the high level of competition. Phil told us that, by 1901, 56 of the 68 laundries in Ottawa were Chinese owned, increasing to 68 of 72 by 1914. They reached their peak at 83 in 1916. Phil explained that those who became successful would often move on to open cafes, which were seen as a higher class of business.

As the number of Chinese immigrants increased, so did the public backlash and the community was subjected to extreme racism and discrimination from the general public and through the press.

The Chinese also fell victim to official racism from the Canadian government with the passing of the Chinese Immigration Act in 1885, which imposed a $50 Head Tax on Chinese immigrants. This was raised to $100 in 1900 and raised again in 1903 to a staggering $500. Those who paid the tax and so gained entry were issued a Certificate which carried their photo and personal information. This applied to children as well as adults. On July 1, 1923, the Canadian government replaced the Chinese Immigration Act with another piece of legislation with the same name, but more commonly known as the Chinese Exclusion Act that denied entry to Canada for all Chinese with the exception of diplomats, merchants, students and special cases. This made it impossible for Chinese men, who usually came to Canada on their own, to bring their wives, children or other family members to join them in Canada. It was not until 1947 that the Act was repealed and in 2006 Prime Minister Stephen Harper officially apologized for the discriminatory legislation and authorized token compensation payments to those who had paid the Head Tax, though not to their children.

Phil related the personal stories of a number of the Chinese immigrants to Ottawa, including that of Shung Joe, who came to Ottawa as a teenager in 1913 to work in the laundry owned by his half-brother. He worked diligently and saved enough to return to China in 1919 to marry and later in 1923, to send for his wife Kai Voon. This was a common practice among those who were successful enough to afford it. Kai Voon arrived just as the Exclusion Act was coming into force and it took the intervention of a church official in Victoria to permit her entry. Shung Joe’s own first laundry was in their home on O’Connor Street, follow by a second location on Slater Street before introducing the new service of Dry Cleaning. The couple had 7 children, one son tragically drowning near the Chateau Laurier. The family home was a welcoming place for new immigrants from China and the family would make weekly drives throughout eastern Ontario, visiting with other Chinese families to spread the news of what was happening in Ottawa and what they had heard from cChina. As a teenager in the 1940s, one of the sons, Bill, began working at two restaurants, the Canton Inn and the Cathay Chop Suey Palace, both on Albert Street. In 1950, Bill took over ownership of the Cathay and in 1958, over the objections of then Mayor Charlotte Whitton, it was granted the first liquor licence to a Chinese restaurant in the city. Bill went on to become one of the most important and influential members of the Chinese community in Ottawa, well respected for his leadership, he was responsible for the formation of the Ottawa Chinese Community Service Centre, and for his philanthropy.

Phil told us that Albert Street was Ottawa’s original Chinatown, the first Chinese restaurant in Ottawa opening at the corner of Albert Street and Metcalfe Street in 1904. By the 1920s many of the restaurants on Albert Streets were Chinese owned, but catered to a white clientele, employing white servers and had names such as Capital Lunch, Boston Café, Ontario Restaurant, and Harry’s, there being no taste yet in Ottawa for Chinese food. As this changed restaurants such as the Cathay and the Canton Inn, opened by Stanley Wong from Montreal, flourished. Often staff of these original Chinese restaurants would move on and open their own places, such as the Golden Palace on Carling Avenue. In the 1970s, higher rents on Albert Street forced most Chinese businesses to close or move. Many moved to Somerset Street West between Bay Street and Preston Street and now include Vietnamese, Korean, and other Asian owned businesses in what is Ottawa’s new Chinatown.

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On the 6 th of April, 2024, the Historical Society of Ottawa in conjunction with the Sunnyside Branch of the Ottawa Public Library was pleased to present the first of a three part lecture series by noted historian, author, columnist and musician, Phil Jenkins. This is the third such series that Phil has given and this one is focussed on four immigrant communities that settled in and helped to build Ottawa. This session covered the contributions of the Irish community along with an introduction to Jewish settlement in the area. Part two will complete the Jewish community and introduce the Chinese community, while the final session will complete the discussion of the role of the Chinese community and then focus on the Italian immigrant community.

Prior to Phil’s session, Ben Weiss of the Historical Society did a Land Acknowledgement, which he used to remind the audience of over 50 attendees that apart from our Indigenous peoples, the rest of us are immigrants or descendants of immigrants. As such, though HSO has had a Speaker Series session on Algonquin Grand Chief Pinesi and that many of our speakers have dealt with the immigrant experience. In February 2024, for example, the Caribbean community was the subject of our presentation Ottawa's Caribbean Community , while in 2021, Indochinese refugees and Project 4000 was discussed.

Phil told us that the Irish emigrated for the same reasons that all choose to leave their homeland, to escape hardship and find a better life. The spur to Irish immigration in the mid 1800 was the famine that struck the island. Canada was a favoured destination, not only because passage was cheap, but because there was a heavy demand in England for lumber, required to build ships for the Napoleonic War, thus there were many ships from Canada that had delivered lumber and were now looking for any cargo for the return trip. The Irish were an available cargo. The trip was hazardous, not only because some 20% failed to reach port, but also because many ships became infected with “Ship’s Fever”, Typhus. In Ottawa, Elisabeth Bruyère and the Grey Nuns treated the sick. HSO held a session on this in 2023 Élisabeth Bruyère in Ottawa-Bytown .

It was the young who risked the voyage and Phil related the story of how grandmothers would hold a skein of wool at the dockside in Liverpool while her grandchild boarded the ship holding onto one end. As the ship sailed away and the wool unspooled, it would be reeled in by the departing family member and eventually made into a scarf. This being the last gift they would ever receive from their family.

Phil went through some of the contributions of some of the early Irish immigrants, such as the navvies, who built the Rideau Canal under the direction of Lieutenant-Colonel John By, himself an Irishman. Perhaps as many as 1,000 workers and members of their families would die primarily due to malaria, the survivors going on to work in the logging industry. Phil highlighted many specific individuals including:

Nicholas Sparks, who became very prosperous through the purchase, sale and sometimes resale of land, as well as by providing loans and then collecting the debts.

Henry Friel, who started the Ottawa police force and was an early owner of “The Packet”, the newspaper that would become The Ottawa Citizen.

Thomas Ahearn was one of Ottawa’s earliest electrical entrepreneurs. He brought the electric streetcar and the first automobile to Ottawa. He is also credited for preparing the first meal fully cooked by electricity in his demonstration at the Windsor Hotel.

Thomas D’Arcy McGee, a noted orator and parliamentarian who was assassinated on Sparks Street. He was allegedly shot by another Irishman, Patrick Whelan, who was later executed for the crime.

Samuel Bingham, who held logging rights on the Gatineau River and drowned in it after clearing a logjam. He is also noted as opening the first city playground for boys.

Many of these individuals served on Council or as Mayor. The impact of the Irish in the late 1800s can be easily seen by the population statistics of the time: 35% Irish, 34% French, 18% English, 11% Scottish and 2% Others.

Phil reminded us that the contributions of the Irish continue to enrich our community, making special note of local author Brian Doyle, whose works were familiar to many in the audience.

Phil concluded his section on the Irish with his guitar and a wonderful rendition of “Cockles and Mussels” (aka “Molly Malone”).

Phil then went on to start his talk about Jewish immigration to Ottawa. Like others, they sought a better life, but in this case many were fleeing political persecution, especially in Russia and the Ukraine. Many settled and opened businesses in the Byward Market. These included small grocery stores, shoe stores, and, in the case of Max Cohen, a Kosher butchery. Four of Max’s sons continued in the meat business, but two decided to go into used furniture and demolition, Cohen & Cohen, becoming famous across the city.

Perhaps Ottawa’s most successful and best known merchant was A. J. Freiman, a Jewish immigrant from Lithuania, who owned and operated Ottawa’s premier department store on the north side of Rideau Street, which is now the site of The Bay. Caplan’s, another Jewish-owned department store, operated for many years just a bit further east on Rideau Street.

Phil commented that most of the “Rag and Bone” men in the city were Jewish immigrants. The rags they collected going into the manufacture of paper, while the bones went to produce glue.

Phil highlighted the contributions of two particular families. Moses Bilsky ran a jewelry store and pawn shop beside the old Union Station. He was a key community organizer, welcoming new Jewish immigrants, finding them lodging and employment. He even donated and personally delivered a 100-pound sack of potatoes to each new family to ensure they had something to get them started. He also brought the first Torah scroll to Ottawa.

The Greenberg family settled outside of Ottawa on the Billings estate, south of the Rideau River where they grew vegetables for the community and eventually opened a feed store. They were also key in welcoming Jewish immigrants, providing employment and supporting Jewish education. Later, one of their number, Lorry Greenberg, would become the first Jewish mayor of Ottawa serving from 1975 to 1978.

We all look forward to next Saturday, April 13, 2024, when Phil will complete his story of the Jewish immigrants and begin his tale of the origins of our Chinese community.

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Friday, 01 March 2024 21:44

Ottawa's Caribbean Community

On February 7, 2024, the Historical Society of Ottawa was pleased to feature Dave Tulloch on our Zoom Speaker series, who spoke to us about the history of Ottawa’s Caribbean Community. Dave came to Ottawa from Jamaica as a student in 1970, graduating from Algonquin College, the University of Ottawa, and finally received a Masters of Business Administration from Concordia University in Montreal. He has worked as a computer engineer, information systems consultant, and as a lecturer and tutor. He is also a columnist, author, and a volunteer musician and cameraman. Dave’s interest in the history of the Caribbean community in Ottawa was sparked by a visit, some years ago, to the Gloucester Branch of the Ottawa Public Library. He had taken his daughter to the library to help her with her school research project on black history in Canada, and discovered that the library had no resources on the subject. The situation remained at the back of his mind, and some years later, he took action.

Dave started us off with a brief background of early black settlement in the Ottawa area. Philemon Wright led five families to this area in 1800. His own, that of his brother, those of his two sisters, and a fifth headed by London Oxford, our first black settler. Relatively little is known about Oxford, he was a land owner and a raftsman, but left the region around 1809. Our next known black family, headed by Robert Richardson, arrived in Bytown about 1836, and may still have descendants in the area. A third followed in 1844 led by Perry Adams and later still, in 1885, Paul Barber arrived in Ottawa, where his family has remained. Dave pointed out that all these families came from the United States not the Caribbean.

Dave explained that Canadian government policy largely prevented black immigration until 1952, with some restrictions remaining for another decade. Thus it was not until 1952 that Herbert Brown, who was born in Jamaica but served with the Canadian Armed Forces during the Second World War, moved to Ottawa, after short stays in Montreal and Hull. He opened Browns Cleaners in 1957, growing the business, which he finally sold in 1978. At one time he maintained a book with information on black residents of Ottawa that he had met, but this has vanished.

Dave explained that there were three groups that came from the Caribbean to Canada starting in the 1950s. There were domestic workers, who came to Canada under the West Indies Domestic Scheme, there were students, primarily those with some economic means seeking post-graduate degrees and finally there were professionals, who from 1967 were granted entry based upon a point system. No matter the group, nor the variant processes they needed to follow to become citizens, they shared a common goal, to find a better life for themselves and their families, members of whom they could then sponsor.

Dave then gave us some examples of individuals who had come from the Caribbean, taken advantage of the educational opportunities available to them, and went on to make major contributions to their community and the country. Dr. Jean Augustine, who came to Canada under the West Indies Domestic Scheme, obtained degrees from Carleton University and undertook a career in education. She went on to be the first black woman elected to Parliament, and later served as the Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister Jean Chretien. Dr. Rudolph Gittens was born in Trinidad and came to Canada as a student in 1953. He would go on to be the team doctor for the Ottawa Rough Riders for over 20 years and then for Canada’s National Soccer teams. Gilbert Scott came to Canada in 1968 as a meteorological technician. As a community builder he was the first president of the Jamaica-Ottawa Community Association, and professionally, he joined the Federal Public Service and eventually served as the Commissioner of the Public Service between 1988 and 1994.

Although the Caribbean immigrants found success, it was rarely easy. Most relate instances of opportunities denied to them because of their race. They persevered and thrived, building their own support networks and associations.

Dave then gave us three examples of children of Caribbean immigrants that had gone on to extraordinary success. He noted that as the years pass, the new generations simply consider themselves to be Canadian, though they still value their heritage.

You can watch Dave’s full presentation on the HSO's YouTube channel .

Dave has also written a book based on personal interviews with many of the key community members, and, when necessary, on secondary sources. We highly recommend “Ottawa's Caribbean Community History and Profiles - since 1955”, which can be purchased at the following link: Dave Tulloch Ottawa's Caribbean Community since 1955 by Dave Tulloch, Hardcover | Indigo Chapters | The Pen Centre

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Friday, 23 February 2024 21:42

The History of Ottawa's Caribbean Community

Dave Tulloch looks at how people from the Caribbean have made Ottawa their home over the past seven decades.

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Thursday, 27 January 2022 12:26

Grampa Jack – British Home Child

A few months ago, I had the honour of taking part in the Historical Society of Ottawa’s Speaker Series and speaking about my Grandpa Jack. My grandpa passed away when I was about 12 or 13 but during the lockdowns in 2020, I had a chance to reconnect with him. At the urging of my mother, he spent the last few months of his life using a tape recorder to record his early memories of coming to Canada as a British Home Child. Hearing his voice again, telling his own stories, has been an amazing gift for my family.

When I first started to work with them, I tried to keep two guiding questions in mind. First, was it possible to rebuild a connection to a family member who had passed away? Second, how can I best honour the recordings and pass them along to the next generation?

Jack Edward Kent was the oldest child born to Edwin and Elsie Kent on June 1, 1911 in Surrey England. He attended the boarding school of King Edward in Witley. Jack was naturally gifted and received awards in Divinity and School Work. Unfortunately, when his father passed away, there was no provision in his will to pay for additional education for Jack or his younger brother Bruce. It was decided that given the problems in post-First World War England, the best thing to do would be to send the two boys to the emigration home, and Jack found himself a few months later at the age of 16 on the Hooker’s family farm in Ormstown, Quebec. He recounts:

“Well, possibly the first thing I should say is how I came to Canada. I was in a boarding school in the south of England. My eyes were bad and I was told to get on the land. So my mother came down to the school and she said there’s nothing in England, maybe you should go to Australia. Well, I said. Bob Christian, my best friend, he’s thinking of going to New Zealand, maybe I should go too. So it was agreed.

The headmaster took me down to London. We filled out all the papers, the time came and I left school and I went to Hadley, the Sally Ann farm in Essex and I’ll have to talk about Hadley. It was a very pleasant place and after a while, we heard the New Zealand rep was coming. Good. I’m happy! Today I’m here; tomorrow I’m going to New Zealand. We line up and he says, I’ll have that one and that one’s o.k. Don’t want him – he wears glasses. They said to me, what do you want to do? Do you want to go home or do you want to go to Canada? I said I’ll go to Canada and that’s just how long it took.”

It is estimated around 100,000 British children were resettled in Canada between 1846 and 1948 under what was called the ‘Assisted Juvenile Emigration Program’ and became what Canadians would call “Home Children”. These children were usually between the ages of 7- 14 but could be anywhere between 6 months and 18 years old. About 70% of these children were settled in Ontario while the other 30% were spread between Quebec, Manitoba, British Columbia, and the Maritime provinces. The goal behind this program was to provide British children whose future was expected to be limited due to poverty, lack of family or other reasons a chance for a new life in Canada. Canada was also trying to increase their population so saw the value of bringing British immigrants over. The attraction to Canadian families who signed up for the program was a way to add children into their families, either as a member or source of labour.

Jack was lucky and had a lot of fond memories of the farm and of the Hooker family. Others, however, were not so fortunate. It’s now recognized that many of these Home Children experienced abuse and slave-like working conditions. Siblings were separated, as were Jack and Bruce, and all had to deal with the hardship of coming into a new life in a country far away from their families and homes.

The program was largely discontinued in the 1930s, but not entirely terminated until the 1970s. In the following decades, research was done to expose the abuse and hardships of the Home Children and their families. 1998 saw the Ontario Heritage Trust added a provincial historical plaque to the Home Children to the St George's Home in Ottawa explaining the history of home children.

I’m still working on finding answers to my guiding questions. However, through hearing Jack tell his own stories I can feel connected to him. I think he would have been excited to know his story was shared with the Historical Society of Ottawa.

You can view Emma's presentation on the HSO YouTube channel.

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Our last presentation before the summer 2021 break took us halfway around the world but the story resonated here in Ottawa in 1979. After seeing stories on the news about the plight of refugees fleeing Cambodia and Laos and Vietnam, Ottawa mayor Marion Dewar anxiously arranged a public meeting at Lansdowne Park to gauge the interest within the city for sponsoring refugees in desperate need. Dewar expected about 500 people to show up, but when she arrived to open the meeting she discovered that 3,000 had arrived to do their part to provide new homes for refugees fleeing war-torn countries.

It is at this point in our story where two of the evening’s three guest speakers enters the picture.

Michael Molloy was the director of refugee policy in Canada from 1976 to 1978 and Senior Coordinator for the Indochinese Refugee Task Force. Canada had never before experienced a refugee crisis of such magnitude, so Mike and his colleagues had no playbook to go by to process refugees and get them safely to Canada.

The second speaker for the evening was Robert Shalka. He was in Thailand and had hoped initially to settle refugees there but realized that Canada was going to have to do its part to find homes for those forced to flee Cambodia and Laos. Robert spoke about processing centres in Singapore, Bangkok and other places in Asia and of the challenges of interviewing refugees, reconnecting separated families, finding resettlement lands in Thailand, or arranging transportation to Canada for refugees, as well as the process in Canada of organizing sponsors.

In 2017, Mike and Bob and two other foreign service offers, members of the Canadian Immigration Historical Society, collected their stories into a book, Running on Empty, which you can order through the McGill-Queen’s University Press website, at

Last to speak was Rivaux Lay, who was in Thailand during the crisis, a Cambodian refugee himself, contributing as a social worker, translator and teacher’s aide at the refugee camps. You need to hear Rivaux’s story in his own words to fully appreciate what he went through in those horrific years, finally came to Canada, after helping so many others before him.

You can view the June 2021 presentation online via the HSO channel on YouTube.

Michael Molloy & Robert Shalka, co-authors of "Running on Empty", plus Rivaux Lay, a former Cambodian refugee, spoke on June 16, 2021 about the efforts to welcome Indochinese refugees to the City of Ottawa in the 1970s.

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