Celebration held to mark 50th anniversary of Club Carib
It’s amazing what small talk between friends over a few alcoholic beverages can sometimes lead to.
Imagine being among a tiny group of West Indian immigrants residing in Oshawa in the 1960s and not having many opportunities to socialize among your own community.
A few months after arriving from Barbados in 1965, Ken Holford and some friends were having a beer at the former Genosha Hotel when someone broached the idea of forming a social club.
“Back then, there were not many of us, life was boring and there weren’t any nightclubs for us to go out to and have a good time,” recalled Holford, the older brother of former Barbados and West Indies cricketer, David Holford and cousin of Sir Garfield Sobers, the game’s greatest all-rounder.
The group got lucky when Basil Campbell, a Jamaican immigrant and bartender at the hotel, suggested they could hold their meetings at a room there to further explore the idea.
In 1966, Holford, Don Pringle, Fred Upshaw who was the first Black to lead a major trade union when he assumed the presidency of the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union (OPSEU) in 1990, Campbell, who is now in a nursing home and Harold Norville and David Atkinson who are deceased, established Club Carib that’s celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
“When we made the decision to start the club, the biggest problem we had at the outset was coming up with a name,” said Holford, age 80. “The Oshawa Coloured Men’s Association was put on the table, but that was almost immediately struck down because there were very few of us here and we had to be inclusive. Club Caribbean seemed a suitable name, but someone suggested the name was too long and we shortened it.”
In February 1966, members agreed on the name “Club Carib” and Upshaw was elected the first president.
There is much to celebrate as the organization marks its golden anniversary.
With the support of members who used their homes as collateral, the club bought a building at 500 Wentworth St. E. and named it the Caribbean Cultural Centre (CCC). A total of $40,000 is owed on the $540,000 mortgage.
In the presence of Norville, a three-time president who re-emigrated to Barbados in 1987, the centre opened in June, 1993. Moving to Oshawa in 1964 from England, Norville was a two-time Canadian weightlifting champion in the 132-lb. category and a three-time national and Ontario powerlifting champion. He also coached Canada at the World Women’s Powerlifting championship in 1980 and competed in the 1985 World Masters Games, where he set four North American records in the Over-40 bantamweight division.
Inducted into the Oshawa Sports Hall of Fame in 1986, Norville died in Barbados 13 years later.
Richard Davidson, who served as president for two years in the early 1990s, lived in the same apartment building with Norville.
“He and a few others introduced me to the club which I joined in 1978 after arriving from Guyana three years earlier,” he said. “The club has served as a catalyst in my career in that it has helped me broaden my networks and become more community-oriented. It is also because of Club Carib that most Durham schools have race relations programs and libraries carry books on Black history.”
Twenty-seven years ago, Club Carib joined the Canadian Club of Oshawa, the Congress of Black Women (Durham chapter), the Pickering Carib-Canadian Cultural Association and the West Indian Christian Fellowship at a Sunday afternoon meeting in educator Sarah McDonald’s living room.
Out of that meeting emerged The Inter-Organization Network Non-Profit Homes (TIRND) that lobbied for affordable housing. After several revisions to their application, the TIRND received approval in 1992 for a 63-unit building to be located at 1467 Whites Rd.
Over the years, the club has made donations to myriad organizations including the Alzheimer’s Society of Durham, the Canadian Red Cross, the Oshawa General Hospital and the Canadian Cancer Society.
The CCC is home to the Club Carib of Oshawa Steelband that was started by Carlyle Julal in 1971 and the Hummingbird Dancers of Oshawa launched in 1981 by Ron Mathlin.
Since 1966, the club – which also fielded a cricket team that played in the Toronto & District Cricket Association competition – has staged a Miss Club Carib Queen pageant.
Award-winning actress, Tonya Lee Williams who was an Oshawa resident for seven years up until age 18, won the pageant and the Miss Fiesta crown in 1977.
“My mother had me involved in a lot of extracurricular activities, so it was no surprise that I was part of the Miss Club Carib Queen event,” said the Eastdale Collegiate & Vocational Institute graduate who attended last Saturday night’s anniversary gala. “I took piano and violin lesson, I did ballet and I played tenor sax in the school band.”
Williams, who also won the Miss Black Ontario title in 1977, thanked her Jamaican-born mother – Korah Williams Harrison – for the exposure to her Caribbean roots.
“She was constantly talking about what life was like back home and many of her stories stuck in my head,” said Williams who was born in England where her mother pursued her passion for nursing. “When I turned 12, I went to Jamaica every summer for four weeks until I was 18.”
The ReelWorld Film Festival founder said parents must shoulder some blame for not exposing their children to their cultural roots at an early age.
“You often hear now that children of immigrants are not interested in joining Caribbean organizations that their parents are part of,” she said. “You can’t wait until they turn 20 and then try to force that on them. You have to build that into a child.”
Barbados’ consul general in Toronto, Haynesley Benn, was the guest speaker at last Saturday night’s celebration.
“It is very significant that your organization started in the same year Barbados achieved its independence,” he said. “It is commendable that your main purpose from the beginning has been to provide a social medium through which Oshawa’s Caribbean population could meet and share common interests and develop a harmonious relationship. This is a clear indication that the founding members focused on regional integration and relationship building among people. I believe that the leaders of the countries of the Caribbean which make up CARICOM could learn something from this organization.”
Bursaries were presented to Jasmine Atkinson, the granddaughter of founding member, David Atkinson who died last October at age 73; Sarika Navanathan and Garielle Chen who graduated from Maxwell Heights Secondary School and is pursuing business studies at the Ontario Institute of Technology.