When the weather outside is frightful, Canadians look wistfully south and plan vacations in countries free of snow, ice and cold and blessed with bountiful heat. This winter has been particularly bad weather-wise in Manitoba and Winnipeg with heavy snowfall clogging roads and Arctic fronts perched over the province refusing to give up their icy grips.
When Manitobans take a holiday in the Caribbean, they spend their dollars to the benefit of economies in such nations as Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, the U.S. Virgin Islands, etc. But what if Canadians spent dollars in support of their own country when travelling to the Caribbean. It’s an idea that has been kicking around for over a century; that is, Canada having its own foothold in the Caribbean similar to the Americans, British, French and Dutch.
Most recently, Edmonton MP Peter Goldring has been pushing for the Turks and Caicos Islands forming a political union with Canada. It’s far from a new idea, as it was first suggested by Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden, who proposed the annexation of the islands to Canada. Of course, we know that didn’t happen. In 1974, NDP MP Max Saltsman proposed the inclusion of the islands as Canada’s 11th province, which never got off the ground. The concept was again brought up in 1986 by Conservative MP Dan McKenzie, but was rejected by his party’s caucus on external affairs in 1987.
In yet another failed bid, Goldring in 2004 visited the Turks and Caicos to commence a lobbying effort, but the Canadian government declined to look into his proposal, citing immigration, tourism and economic issues. Still, Goldring hasn’t given up, despite widespread opposition that includes Turks and Caicos Premier Rufus Ewing. Last July, Ewing told the Turks and Caicos Sun that pursuing provincial status with Canada would simply amount to shifting one “political master” for another — Britain for Canada.
Although he discounted the idea, Ewing still said he wants to keep the concept alive since it gives publicity to the island chain and encourages tourism from Canada. “Come down,” he told the Sun, “take a holiday and do some investments; invest in some projects and spend some dollars. I would love it.”
While Ewing has been talking about annexation, Goldring insists that’s not the case. Conferring provincial status brings full partnership in the Canadian Confederation, instead of colonial status, he said. For that matter, Canada does not and never has had colonies. It was a possibility in the past, but not today.
There was once a proposal to incorporate the British West Indies colonies into Canada. In September 1884, the British commissioner for the West Indies, Michael Soloman, met in Ottawa with Prime Minister John A. Macdonald to convey the message that if Canada was not prepared to annex Jamaica, the Americans would be glad to oblige. Soloman told Macdonald that Jamaicans were willing to organize a provincial government once admitted into Canada. Jamaica was then a British colony with a nine-member Legislative Council possessing nominal authority to govern — its independence didn’t occur until August 6, 1962.
Macdonald liked the idea and travelled to London, England, on October 13, 1884, to discuss annexation with Colonial Secretary Edward Stanley, the Earl of Derby. According to reports of the meeting, “England has no objection to the union ... Derby, in an interview with the commissioner from the West Indies, said the home government would acquiesce in the proposal to connect the West Indies with Canada.”
On November 11, by an 8-1 vote, the Legislative Council of Jamaica rejected the motion to join Canada. But as the years progressed, Canadians heavily invested in Jamaica, which reinvigorated the annexation movement. Furthermore, the Canadian Pacific Railway linked Halifax to Jamaica by telegraph line. In 1903, Canada was paying $15,000 annually to subsidize steamship service to the island nation.
“Now that the prospects of reciprocity (free trade) with the United States are fading,” reported the February 20, 1903, Winnipeg Morning Telegram, “the government of Jamaica sees an advantage in promoting trade with Canada which is a large consumer of tropical fruit,” as well as the British handing over to Canada its West Indies colonies.
In Jamaica, the Kingston-based Gleaner ran an editorial on July 24, 1907, which claimed the 20th century belonged to Canada (a phrase attributed to Canadian Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier), “... but it remains to be seen whether she will make sufficient progress in the first quarter of it to enable her to make that bid for colonies which is now her ambition.”
According to the same editorial, if the West Indies had to be ceded, Canada was preferred to the U.S. The newspaper claimed that when Canada’s population reached 15 or 20 million, it could annex the West Indies (Canada’s population was then 6.5 million). Once Canada achieved the desired population, it could offer commercial advantages “nearly equal” to the U.S. The Gleaner forecast that Canada’s population would soon reach the desired figure, since British and West Indian immigrants preferred Canada over the U.S., and Americans were leaving their own country to settle prairie land in Western Canada. But the reality was that Canada’s population only surpassed 15 million in 1954, and the 20th century economically belonged to the U.S., not Canada.
Another British colony seeking annexation to Canada was the Bahamas. Newspapers said Sir William Grey Wilson, the governor of the Bahamas, was a believer in the annexation of the islands to Canada. On March 13, 1911, its legislature voted 23-6 in favour of opening negotiations with Canada. Two months later, Laurier announced his intention to discuss annexation of the Bahamas as well as the entire West Indies with the British during a London visit. Newspapers said the Bahamas was not as far as Ottawa was from Regina “and the greatest distance of any remainder of the West Indies islands is not much more from the same city than that to Victoria, B.C., therefore distance should be no deterrent in union.”
“I know that it is something in the nature of a much cherished ambition on the part of those who have a desire for a still larger confederation that Jamaica should be annexed to Canada’” said Jamaican businessman James H. McDowell during a 1906 visit to Winnipeg, “but I think the possibility is very remote ...”
McDowell was correct. Subsequently, Canadian annexation of the British West Indies lapsed into historical obscurity. Yet, the dream of a political association with the Turks and Caicos as a Canadian province has not died, although it remains highly unlikely. Still, it would be nice for Canadians to have their own holiday destination in the Caribbean whenever cold weather strikes with a vengeance. On the other hand, maybe residents of the Turks and Caicos would love to experience the novelty of a “Winter Wonderland” far to the north by joining Canada?