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A tea party held at the Don Avalon Centre celebrating one year in Canada for a group of recent immigrants, 1959.

The Marlington Apartment Building on Eglinton West, 1550 Eglinton Avenue West, 2022

The Honourable Jean Augustine. September 2005. Image by Althea Thauberger. Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada.

Elaine Lloyd-Robinson, 2019. Courtesy of Elaine Lloyd-Robinson.

  • Caribbean Immigration to Toronto 

    West Indian Domestic Scheme

    The West Indian Domestic Scheme was an immigration policy developed in response to the demands for Caribbean immigrants to be admitted into Canada as workers in exchange for landed immigrant status. A domestic worker was a household worker who had responsibilities as a nanny, cook, cleaner or a general home servant.

    The first country to have citizens admitted to Canada under the scheme was Jamaica in 1955. That year, 75 women emigrated from Jamaica to Canada as domestic workers after meeting the criteria of being unmarried, between the ages of 18 and 35, attained at least an 8th grade education, have passed a medical examination, and been interviewed by Canada immigration. Barbados was also allowed to send 25 women.

    After one year in Canada, the women could find other jobs, attend education courses, and sponsor their family to settle in Canada. Many of them settled around the areas west of Yonge street and near Bathurst, including notably in Little Jamaica. The area was conveniently in the middle of the city giving them ease of access and movement to jobs or school. 

    Listen to Jay Douglas talk about his mother Naureen, who came as a domestic worker to Toronto in 1955. 

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  • Caribbean Immigration to Toronto 

    More options for entry

    Between 1956 and 1967, the policy admitted women from Grenada, British Guiana, Trinidad, Tobago, and St. Vincent. Every year about 200 more women were added to the total allowed number under the scheme who were eligible to move to Canada. By the end, more than 3,000 women had been employed as domestic workers from the Caribbean and many of them had settled in Toronto.

    The scheme ended but paved the way for broader immigration policies that did not factor in race as a criteria but rather things like education and work skills. This allowed a wider group of people from the Caribbean to move, along with their families, to Canada. By the end of 1970, many men and women who were doctors, nurses, lawyers, farmers and students moved to Toronto. Eventually, Caribbean immigrants became a major demographic group in the city. 

    In the 1990 book Toronto’s Many Faces, Tony Ruprecht, who was appointed Ontario’s Minister with Special Responsibilities for Multiculturalism in 1985, noted that West Indians made up half of the Black population of Toronto in the 1990s.

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  • Caribbean Immigration to Toronto 

    Settling in and making their mark

    Some women who moved to Toronto under the Domestic Workers Scheme lived in apartments like the Marlington Apartments on Eglinton West. After their first year of work, they often sponsored their families to join them in Toronto. Together, the family would move to single-family homes. Life in Toronto was often cold and new but as the Caribbean population grew steadily into the 60s and 70s, many recognized that Eglinton Ave. West and the surrounding neighbourhoods were a safe and vibrant place for Black immigrants in Toronto.

    The Honourable Jean Augustine is one notable woman who emigrated to Canada from Happy Hill, Grenada. She worked as a nanny in the Forest Hill neighbourhood in 1960. She later attended teachers college and rose in the ranks of public service in Canada to become the first Black/Caribbean Canadian woman to be elected to the House of Commons in Canada.

    Elaine Lloyd-Robinson is a community worker and entrepreneur who benefitted from Augustine’s time at the Toronto Housing Authority as well as the Domestic Workers Scheme. Lloyd-Robinson was born in 1966 and lived in Jamaica until 1975 when she moved to Toronto to join her mother and other family members. Her family lived on Marlee Street and then on Oakwood Street for several years in both apartments and townhouses.

    Listen to Elaine Lloyd-Robinson’s first memories of the Little Jamaica neighbourhood when she move to Toronto as a young girl.


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