70 years ago Black delegation went to Ottawa to urge government to end race-based immigration

By Neil Armstrong

April 27 marks the 70th anniversary of the 35-member delegation led by community icon, Barbados-born Donald Willard Moore which travelled to Ottawa to meet with the federal government about Canada’s restrictive immigration policy pertaining to “black British subjects.”

Donald Willard Moore

Among the delegates were community stalwarts, Bromley Armstrong, Harry Gairey Sr., and Stanley Grizzle. They are all now deceased, but community historian Kathy Grant and community advocate Dewitt Lee are remembering the significance of the April 27, 1954, occasion with different events.

Lee is behind an initiative, The Legacy of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, an international organization that commemorates the history of the union in the USA and Canada and continues the advocacy of equity and inclusion for people of color in unions.

“We are beginning our awareness campaign with a special trip on the Via Rail to Ottawa to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the 1954 Anniversary of the Ottawa delegation,” he said, noting that they intend to have a discussion with members of the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association around issues concerning Canadians and the conditions of Africans on the continent.

Covers of Bromley Armstrong, Stanley Grizzle &Harry Gairey books

They will arrive in Ottawa on April 26 at 12:00pm and will participate in a tour of Parliament Hill and hold a virtual meet and greet live from Parliament at 3:30 p.m.

The zoom link to participate can be found on www.sleepingcarporters.org.

Grant has requested on Facebook that 35 individuals share “a story and connected image” regarding the 1954 delegation. She has been posting on her Facebook page archival information about Moore and his pioneering work.

A plaque installed by the City of Toronto outside a building at 20 Cecil Street in Toronto — once a community centre, Donavalon Centre, owned by the Negro Citizenship Association founded by Moore in 1951 to “end the systematic denial of Black West Indians seeking to enter Canada” — notes that in April 1954, Moore led a delegation to Ottawa that included members of the NCA, as well as unions, labour councils, and community groups.

“The delegation highlighted Canada’s discriminatory immigration laws, which strongly favoured white migrants, and proposed change. Moore’s work with the government of Jamaica, Barbados, and Canada let West Indian nurses and domestic workers enter Canada and become permanent residents. In 1962, Canada stopped selecting immigrants based on race, switching in 1967 to a system that assessed newcomers on their skills,” notes the plaque.

In Bromley L. Armstrong’s memoir of titled “Bromley: Tireless Champion for Just Causes,” written with historian Sheldon Taylor, both noted that in early 1954, the NCA requested a meeting with Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent but instead they would meet Walter Harris, the minister responsible for the immigration portfolio who represented the prime minister.

“Reading from the final draft of the NCA’s brief, Moore requested that the St. Laurent government amend its understanding of “British subject” to include all British subjects and citizens of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth,” wrote Armstrong.

Harry Gairey Sr., who was the treasurer of the NCA and a porter instructor for the Canadian Pacific Railway, managed to secure free sleeping car accommodation for the delegation.

In his book, “A Black Man’s Toronto, 1914-1980: The Reminiscences of Harry Gairey,” Gairey also noted that they met Norman Manley, then Premier of Jamaica, in Toronto and told him about the discrimination.

In his book, “My Name’s Not George: The Story of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in Canada,” Stanley G. Grizzle, with John Cooper as co-author, writes that, “since 1923, Canada’s Immigration Act had denied equal immigration status to areas of the British Commonwealth with large non-white populations.”

Sixty-five years after the NCA bought and created Donavalon Centre in 1956, Black Lives Matter Canada purchased a building at 24 Cecil Street — almost next door to where the Donavalon Centre stood — to make it the home of the Wildseed Centre for Art & Activism, a “multipurpose community space that serves to nurture Black radical experimentation and creation.”

On April 27, it will launch its Liberation Library featuring two black authors, educator Matthew R. Morris and writer and poet Téa Mutonji under the theme “Writing New Worlds.”

Visit Blackhurst Cultural Centre, 777 Bathurst Street, April 25th – May 10th and celebrate the spirit of Donald Moore, curated by Kathy Grant.