Not long after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau handed winter coats to Syrian refugees arriving in Toronto this past December, reports about the immigrants’ problems began appearing in the press. Rent gouging by dishonest landlords. Frustration at delays in receiving permanent housing and full access to medical care. And, of course, that obligatory storyline: the shocking first experiences with a winter cold enough to cause some families to consider returning to the Middle East.[i]
This incident reminded me of a much earlier episode in Canadian history when a political leader welcomed people unwanted in other countries. In that case, the severity of northern winters became the focus of transatlantic controversy over whether or not black emigrants from the Caribbean could survive in the North.
In 1796, Nova Scotia’s Lieutenant Governor John Wentworth offered permanent residence to over 550 men, women, and children expelled from Jamaica. They came to Nova Scotia from the tropical highlands of Trelawny Town, where they formed the largest of Jamaica’s five independent enclaves of escaped slaves, or maroons—privileged but vulnerable “islands of freedom in a sea of slavery” in historian Richard Sheridan’s vivid words. The previous year, Jamaica’s governor suspected the Trelawny Maroons of plotting an insurrection and decided to deport the entire community.[ii]
The problem was where to send them…
[i] <http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/windsor/first-canadian-winter-syrian-refugees-1.3402879>; <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/01/26/some-syrian-refugees-in-canada-already-want-to-return-to-the-middle-east/>.
[ii] Richard Sheridan, “The Maroons of Jamaica, 1730-1830: Livelihood, Demography, and Health,” in Gad Heuman, ed., Out of the House of Bondage: Runaways, Resistance, and Marronage in Africa and the New World (London: Frank Cass, 1986), 152-172 (quote on 154).
Latest posts by Anya Zilberstein (see all)
- We Will All Be Early Moderns - June 11, 2018
- Jamaican Maroons in Nova Scotia: The Politics of Climate and Race - May 18, 2016