Author: Dalma Hill - Past President
A reflection on the history of the Antigua and Barbuda Association of Toronto is a reflection on the life of the first wave of immigrants to Toronto, Canada from the Caribbean Islands and in particular Antigua and Barbuda in the early 1960's. This brief reflection is a summary of the social and economic situation that gave impetus to the formation of the Antigua and Barbuda Association and the identifiable needs fulfilled in its infancy. It should be remembered that at that time, Toronto and its urban and rural communities were dominantly Caucasian. The miniscule Caribbean representation was seasonal workers domiciled on the Canadian apple farms. The first wave of immigration in the 1960's filled the demand for domestics and other low paying jobs. A few professionals found opportunities in education and health care. With the mass of the immigration wave positioned at the lower end of the social and economic continuum, survival in many cases was dependant on the Antigua and Barbuda community for support.
Informal social gatherings were the natural bridges to mental sanity and momentary transition from the survival state. The Association was the communication medium, the advisor and consultant that represented many Nationals at Canada Immigration, in several labour disputes and other legal matters. The role of the early Association was self defined, driven by a common interest and the needs of the majority of immigrants. For several immigrants, this was their safe zone. Few first immigrants were homeowners; most depended on the Association's information network for rooms or apartment vacancies. It was in the Association's membership that transportation means to relocate could be found at an affordable cost. Organized trips to New York and other destinations, picnics and parties were part of the early attempts of cultural retention and National identification.
By 1984, the Antigua and Barbuda community had made the transition from the survival state to a state of comfort: many secured professional status, while others became gainfully and legally employed. Some had become homeowners with young families. The Association restructured and developed a new constitution and engaged in activities that catered to its community families, seniors and the middle aged family heads. These activities included annual picnics, Independence celebrations, Mother's and Father's Day functions, the Fiennes Institute Humanitarian Support Program, Dr. Wynter Pre-Schools Support, individual medical support fundraisers, hurricane relief operations, speech contests, fundraising walkathons, and several seminars, development and training programs. It was during this period that we saw the formation of CECCA and the co-operation of the Eastern Caribbean Association here in Toronto. During this interval, a number of nationals of Antigua and Barbuda original contributed their skills and time to the development of our Canadian community. It was certainly a proud period of community service by Antiguans and Barbudans.
The year 2010 marks four decades since the formal setting of the Antigua and Barbuda Association of Toronto. Our community has matured, many of the first immigrants are now seniors; others are secured busy professionals with children of this Diaspora and whose needs are different. These are a few of the challenges for ABAT to address in a new vision and revised objectives that address the current needs of the community.