This Friday, July 1, is Canada Day, the Canadian equivalent of July 4th. For the occasion, we tapped Ian “Pho” Swain and Alanna Stuart of Toronto-based post-dancehall outfit Bonjay (whose electric, Natalie Storm-featuring “Stumble [Passa Passa Remix]“ just premiered here last week) to run down a list of the 10 most interesting and significant Canadians of Caribbean descent. There’s a lot more than you think…
Since we started venturing far afield from our Toronto home to perform, we’ve been taken aback by how many people are surprised there are West Indians in Canada. From random Texans to the New York Times (“Canadian dancehall? Why not?”), we spend a lot of time explaining that, yes, there are a lot of Caribbean people in Toronto and Montréal, so no, it’s not weird that we grew up on dancehall sonics, and they’re a big influence on our own music. So in an effort to promote international understanding, we present to you: our take on the Top 10 Caribbean-Canadians.
This half-Jamaican journalist is a gifted storyteller, famous for writing long-form New Yorker articles that make you feel smarter afterwards and for turning the best ones into best-sellers like Blink, Outliers andThe Tipping Point. Gladwell’s West Indian heritage doesn’t often feature in his work, but he touches on it in this piece on the relationship between sporting excellence and race, and in this radio interview on the same topic.
2. The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean
In 2005, Jean was appointed Governor-General–the Queen’s representative in Canada and our country’s ceremonial head of state. Jean was born in Haiti and moved to Montréal as a teenager, where her academic career focused on comparative literature and languages (she speaks five). After working her way up to national prominence as a journalist, she accepted the five-year term and focused her efforts on youth issues and support for the armed forces. Perhaps her best-known act as “G-G” was responding to Europe’s ban on seal meat by jetting up north to eat raw seal heart in solidarity with the Inuit hunters. Since leaving office in 2010, Jean has become special envoy to Haiti for the UN.
The black Warren Buffett is a Chinese Jamaican from Port Antonio who moved to Canada to attendMcMaster University. After school, he took advantage of the late-80s mutual funds explosion to cultivate a financial services empire with fingers in investment planning, securities and insurance. After working his way onto the Forbes Billionaires list, Lee-Chin cashed out in 2009 and shifted his wealth to extensive holdings across the Caribbean in sectors like banking,
telecommunications and Reggae Beach. Lee-Chin is well-known in Canada for his numerous philanthropic efforts, including his questionable taste in architecture.
Kardi started his rap career as ”Kool Aid” but switched his name up as a teen, inspired by iron-fisted 17th-century French politician Cardinal Richelieu. Since the son of Jamaican immigrants first burst out of T-O in the late 90s, he’s appeared on everything from the “selector remix” of Clipse’s “Grindin’” to aParagons/Blondie cover. But he earned his place in history with the phenomenal “Ol’ Time Killin’,” which fuses bare chat about sound bwoy murder with Little X visuals featuring some of the most vibrant Caribbean coloration ever to grace the small screen.
5. Little X (AKA “Director X”)
This half-Trini hails from Brampton–sort of a suburban Crown Heights, just outside of Toronto–and started his career as a teenage intern at MuchMusic, our version of MTV. He soon moved on to work for Hype Williams, learning enough to earn his own gigs and going on to direct classics like Sean Paul’s crossover trinity of “Gimme the Light,” “Get Busy” and “Temperature,” as well as big American hits like Usher’s “Yeah” and Kanye’s “The New Workout Plan.” We’ll always remember him for his role as visual consultant on the stylistically stunning Belly. Did he put those rooster feathers on Sosa’s head?
6. Georges Laraque
There are black people in the NHL! And not all of them play for Atlanta (well, Winnipeg). Born in Montréal to Haitian parents, 6’4”-, 250-pound Georges Laraque was a notorious enforcer during his years in the league. But he earned the respect of his peers as a clean fighter on the ice and a gentle giant off of it. Since retiring in 2010, he’s entered politics and business, becoming deputy leader of the Green Party and investing in a chain of vegan restaurants. His short-lived mixed martial arts career was less successful.
7. Master T
A generation of Canadian ’80s babies grew up watching Xtendamix on MuchMusic every Saturday afternoon. Tony “Master T” Young came from Jamaica to Toronto via Leeds, and he showcased low-budget dancehall videos alongside the finest in hip hop and R&B. But what really set him apart was his friendly demeanor, synthesizer co-host Roxy, and penchant for sporadically hosting the show in character as his Scottish cousin McT or Santa T. A true original, T introduced the fresh, forward-thinking side of West Indian culture to young Canadians.
8. Régine Chassagne
The sprightly side of indie rock royalty Arcade Fire was born in Montréal to Haitian parents. A jazz singer and serious multi-instrumentalist who plays the accordion, keys, xylophone, hurdy-gurdy and much more, she met Arcade Fire frontman (and her husband) Win Butler after singing at an art opening, and their personal and professional partnership thrived from the start. Her roots inspired the emotional “Haiti” from the band’s seminal first album, Funeral. And unlike most celebrities, Arcade Fire have done good for Haiti in a non-tokenistic way, including an upcoming live DVD shot in Port-au-Prince. Régine is also the only person on this list who used to play in a medieval music ensemble.
9. Cindy Breakspeare
Cindy was part of the complicated web of family and lovers around Bob Marley, and is the mother of Damian, AKA “Jr. Gong.” Born in Toronto but raised in Jamaica, she won the Miss World title in 1976 and Bob famously wrote “Turn Your Lights Down Low” about her. In the years since crossing the tracks from uptown to link with a rasta musician, her reputation has grown alongside that of reggae music and she’s become a well-respected Kingston socialite.
10. Melyssa Ford
Pho’s pick! The princess of Toronto’s cavalcade of mixed-race video girls is half Bajan. Sometimes known as “Jessica Rabbit,” Ford was discovered by Little X while studying to become a forensic psychologist and, after all-star turns in “Big Pimpin’,” Mystikal’s “Shake Ya Ass” and Usher’s “Yeah,”she’s left the video world for appearances on Entourage, in Chris Rock’s Good Hair and the cover of every black men’s magazine.
Honorable Mention: Ska legend Jackie Mittoo; former Lieutenant-Governor Lincoln Alexander; jazz pianist Oscar Peterson; Hitachi Canada CEO Howard Shearer; Spanish Town-born Agnes Macdonald (wife of Canada’s first prime minister); former Ottawa Rough Rider Rohan Marley (aka Mr. Lauryn Hill), NBA champion and C-list actor Rick Fox; Snow.
Source: Large Up