Starting over is hard to do

By the summer of 1972 my life in Toronto was settling in quite nicely, I was meeting lots of folks from St Kitts. I had my own apartment, well almost; I actually had a roommate, a high school teacher from Trinidad. He was quite interesting, he played steel pan and know all the inside people in the music scene in Trinidad. He was probably twice my age.  I could not buy groceries because he just ate everything and never contributed.  We only lasted a short while.

In the summer time I was invited to play soccer with a team that included mostly Kittitians in a local league. It was an interesting team comprising of players I competed against in St Kitts. I met the guys one day before a big game and I did not have time to register. The team was so anxious to get me playing that they took a chance and played me. I honestly don’t remember the game other than there was a big fight, I learned later that this was common. You know me right, I run from trouble. Anyway the team got suspended, although I was not as I had not registered. I had some other ‘offers’ but decided to retire from soccer; my ankles just could not take the stress.

Just one thing to take off my ‘to do’ list.

Whenever I wrote home I would write about my continuing search for a ‘good’ school. I had investigated some computer training school and attended one for a short time, just did not have the interest.

My job was going ok. To keep myself from going nuts, I had developed mental games to keep me focused. You may recall that my job was boxing books, say that fast. To stay awake, I would race against time to complete a shipment. I was shipping 3 times as many as the next guy. I was asked to go get my own books from the shelves as the pullers could not keep up with me; even then I was outperforming everyone else.

The supervisor would sit at the ‘head of the dumb class’ reading the newspapers and smoking. Back then you could smoke in the workplace. Sometimes he would assist the other guys when they were falling behind. I figured that if he got promoted I could get his job. As faith would have it, he quit. I applied for the job, after all I could sit and read the paper and smoke just as well, probably better, I was cool, I was from St Kitts.

I did not get the job; they gave the job to this high school dropout with a brain of a pea. I did not have enough Canadian experience.

Working for this guy was more than I could handle, I am Tony from Trafalgar and so I protested.

 I found out you don’t do that and I got fired for insubordination, refusing to apologise, maybe I went too far.  One of the first things that crossed my mind was that I had ruined the St Kitts worker legacy.  Remember how I got the job? There was another Kittitian working there. I imagined that all the people who worked there would go home and have a conversation like this:

Ex Co-Worker:  ‘this guy got fired today’

Family Member:  ‘where is he from?’ Everyone always ask that.

Ex Co-Worker:  ‘St Kitts’

Family Member:  ‘St Kittians are not good workers’.

Ex Co-Worker:   ‘Where is St Kitts anyway?’

That was very painful, I actually cried, real manly eh.

So I was back looking for a job with no Canadian experience since I could not reference that job. Probably was a very important life lesson to learn although I had this experience many time.

I drifted around, I needed money as I had credit now, that damn TV rental which I hardly had time to look at. Where was my dad when I needed him? I did some ’legal’ stuff for money, but I won’t mention them here, too embarrassing.

That winter I met a woman, GB, who was involved in the theatre community. She was the first black person I had met who did not have West Indian roots. She was Canadian from northern Ontario. Her ancestors had entered Canada via the Underground Railroad. I found her fascinating. She was able to convince me to volunteer my time at a Theatre on Bathurst Street just south of Bloor. The building housed a church at one time. My first night I met one of the actors, the second black Canadians with no Caribbean roots. Carl was from Nova Scotia.

It’s interesting how I can tell who the West Indians are, we instinctively greet each other when we cross paths.

My job at the theatre was to seat people and help with other tasks as needed. Salome Bay was a featured artist in the production. It turned out that there was another Kittitian volunteering there also. She was the cousin of Salome’s husband, who owned the Underground Railroad restaurant in downtown Toronto.

Volunteering kept me busy a few nights a week. It was around the same time that the Federal Government announced that they will match arts grants obtained from the City. GB asked if I would be interested in applying for a grant. Her plans included hiring students and run dance and percussion summer programs for underprivileged kids at the Palmerston Library and the Harriet Tubman center in Toronto. I had nothing better to do so why not.

We went to the city hall to pick up the application forms. The requirement included registering a non profit organization, which I reluctant did with a total stranger. Then we had to prepare a budget and a business case to justify the funds. Ok, that’s her job right, she is the experienced Canadian, wrong, earlier I had mentioned to her that I worked at the Treasury in St Kitts. I was bragging, another Trafalgar trait, didn’t think it would come back to haunt me. So now I had two additional jobs, prepare a budget and a write up a justification document.  Yea little ole me from Trafalgar in the big leagues.  It’s amazing the things that excite a simple human.

I could have folded or do what turned out to be one of those things that shape your life. I went to the library. I researched both documents and prepared them. There was a Jamaican librarian who pointed me in the right direction. I was quite proud of myself.

We submitted the application and were invited to do a presentation in the Chambers at City Hall.  GB was a good speaker and we had worked on the presentation together.

When it was our turn to do our presentation we both went to the podium, I went for support.  GB spoke, “I am GB, the technical director and this is Tony Carter my assistant and he will be making the presentation’.

I thought I was the Manager.

Let me recap, I am from Trafalgar in St Kitts, new arrival to Canada, very shy with a very heavy accent, always prepared my first 20 seconds of meeting important people else I stutter.  The people before me were white, all staring at me at the same time.

What’s wrong with this picture?  Someone once told me that if you dug a deep enough hole in the earth, you would end up in China. That’s what came to mind, China would be a great place. She had done it to me again.

I was facing a do or die situation. I took a deep breath and started to speak. I cannot tell you what I said, I did not read the prepared script, I got some laughs but mostly silence and $17,000 grant (that was in 1972/73). I suspected the alderman which included the mayor and 2 future city mayors, felt sorry for me.

That was easy. I should have made a career doing that.

To promote our new ’business’ we handed out some flyers at the library and the centre. We also decided to go on a local TV show called ‘Free for All’ on CITYTV in Toronto, ( I may be wrong with the name) but this was a show broadcasted on Sunday evening where anyone can go to the studio, register and make a fool of themselves.  The plan was to go there with some drums, we had some volunteer dancers, play some music and the kids would dance.

I must tell you, I can’t dance except by holding on close to my partner and grinding, and I have a deaf tone when it comes to playing music. I had learnt my lesson from my previous experiences with GB. I waited outside until they called our name then entered the room. Too late for her to play games with me right, no she had a drum waiting for me, I had to sit and pretend to play it and my family and friends saw me. I think she enjoyed making fun of me, she probably knew my dad.

The 1973 summer went well, we projected we would have some money left and decided to find a permanent location to continue the program in the winter 1973. After a long search as real estate was expensive in Toronto even back then, we lucked out and stumbled on this place, 111 Pears Ave, downtown Toronto. This was/is an apartment hotel building that was under constructions. We were able to rent the mezzanine really cheaply.

We started our new program with a great plan, on the weekend we would run a ‘night club’ to raise funds to continue the program. We used our non profit license to purchase alcohol, rented chairs and tables, invited all the people we knew, by then it had around 50 ‘friends’ and GB had even more. Carl was the DJ. The first couple of weekends went really well. Then the people stopped coming, not sure why. Suffice to say we ran out of money and had to sublet the space. Torontonians may recall that the location housed one of the best night clubs in Toronto during the 70’s. No, it was not mine.

Now I had some Canadian experience, not what I wanted but….I was able to get a door job at ‘We Place’, a nightclub owned by the Tradewinds musical group, you can find them on YouTube. I forgot to mentioned, I started going to school, computer programming at CDC.

I also had another job for about a month. When the dance company closed, GB went to work for this guy who started a new company Bridlewood Heating and Air Conditioning in his basement in Scarborough.  My job was to assist her to set up the ‘books’, something I had learned while running the dance company and researching budgets plus my stint at the Treasury in St Kitts.  That was the last of saw of GB.

You noticed I was becoming a bookkeeper while going to computer school, Skills.

Later that year I was introduced to an American who had a great job at York University in Toronto. He was quite active in the ‘anti war’ (Vietnam) and ‘black power’ efforts. Anyway he got me a job at York University and although the job had nothing to do with bookkeeping or programming, I now had access to subsidized education.

Guess who introduced me to him?  John Allen, a Kittitian from Trafalgar. I didn’t even have to have an interview.  Kittitians rule.

 I was on a roll.

The only Kittitian Couch Potato from St Kitts.

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