Ewart Walters was the editor and publisher of the Spectrum newspaper for 29 years until 2013.
Could you tell me about your childhood? Where were you born? Is there anything about your childhood that stands out for you?
I was born in Kingston the capital of Jamaica. My childhood was in rural Jamaica and I was allowed to attend school before the usual age of 7.
Was there any one person that influenced your childhood the most?
My mother. She always told stories and always listened to me. My father. He saw to my education. Both were teachers.
You are well known in Ottawa’s black community and beyond for your community engagement and philanthropy. Is there any one initiative or project that you are most proud of?
There are three. In 1964 I arranged with the CBC for foreign students in Ottawa to send Christmas greetings back home. In 1965 I wrote and broadcast a programme of Jamaican music on station CKOY for Jamaica’s Independence celebrations. And in 2012, as Chairman of the Jamaica50 Ottawa celebrations I was able to have a long held dream come true: the arrival in Ottawa of the world-famous Jamaica Military Band.
You founded the Spectrum newspaper some 30 years ago. What challenges did you face in starting and sustaining Ottawa’s only black newspaper?
Why did you decide to close shop in 2013?
One, declining financial support and two, I needed the time to focus on my other writing.
You have been honoured by various organizations for your community engagement and volunteerism. Could you list the awards you have received to date?
Oh dear… Canada 125 medal; City of Nepean medal; Ottawa Police Service medal; Ottawa Cable 22 medal; Three Seprod Gold medals for excellence in journalism; Ontario Award for volunteerism; Global Community Alliance Award for having the courage to make a difference; Canadian Ethnic Media Award for Print Journalism; United Way Community Builders’ Award; Dreamkeepers Martin Luther King Award for outstanding leadership and vocal advocacy for social justice; and the Order of Distinction, Commander Class (CD) from the Government of Jamaica for promoting and defending Visible Minorities in Canada.
Looking at Ottawa’s black community, there seems to be a divide between African and Caribbean communities on the one hand and Anglophone and francophone communities on the other. Do you agree with this perspective and if so what can be done to remedy this divide?
I don’t see it as an African-Caribbean divide. As you know, there are so many divisions that are endemic, even within any one country. A good example would be tribalism, the many different tribes in any one African country. But every country has its own little divisions. In the question you pose the difference among Black people in Ottawa is more related to the difference between older immigrants and more recent immigrants, the Caribbean ones having come before the Africans. But there is no real homogeneity even in this. With regard to French-English or Francophone-Anglophone, I believe the City of Ottawa is far less affected than say, Montreal or Quebec City. The language laws in Quebec create a chasm, and the fact the Quebec has never accepted official bilingualism or multiculturalism is another problem. But
Ottawa suffers least from these problems and in in any event, the passing years will eventually all but delete the problem. Time is a great healer.
You have lived in Canada for over 40 years. In this time, have you seen any change in the status of the Black population? Are we any better off now than when you first arrived here?
Certainly! There has been much improvement. Black students are far less likely now to be turned away from apartments they had previously been assured were vacant. Jobs now depend much less on the color of skin – although in some places whites still feel that we should be thankful that we have a job and not look for a promotion or a job that is commensurate
with our education and skills. Nobody really sees us as exotic strangers these days.
There are some segments of our community which claim that Black men do not respect Black women and vice versa, that we tend to defer to other races when we interact with them, especially white Caucasians. Do you agree with this perspective?
No. That is not my experience.
Looking at the Black population in Ottawa, what do you see as our greatest challenge and how do we resolve it? What are our strengths?
I am going to demur on this one. I believe that I need some statistical support to deal with this question of the greatest challenge and its possible resolution. The strengths of a migrant community are found in the fact that we have the vision and wisdom of our native communities as well as the promise of our new homeland. This is a precious gift that we have
and we should employ it well. The second and third generations will need it less but it is of supreme importance to first generation Canadians.
What is your next project? Any new books in the pipeline?
Yes… there are three books in the pipeline. But the pipeline is getting clogged with the need to market the books already published! In the meantime, I am off next month to the University of the West Indies in Kingston where they have honoured me by arranging to do a symposium on my recent book: We Come From Jamaica – The National Movement 1937-1962. (Yes, copies are obtainable at Savannah, L&F Montego and from me in Ottawa, as well as from A Different Booklist in Toronto).
Even though you are retired, you still lead a very busy life, so what do you do to relax?
I love singing and listening to music. I have sung on choirs for some 40 years. I watch sports, especially football, soccer, table tennis, cricket and athletics. And I love writing.
Finally, do you have a message for readers of Black Ottawa Scene?
Since I stopped publishing the Spectrum there are hardly a day that I meet somebody who does not lament its disappearance. And so, my message would be this: support and cherish your media… in every way you can. You would
be surprised at how much assistance it provides you.