Tribute to an Ottawa Caribbean Pioneer – Ivy May Fagan
by Dave Tulloch
May Fagan had just celebrated her 95th birthday a year earlier when I interviewed her for an up-coming publication on the life-stories of early Caribbean immigrants to Ottawa. I sat down with Mrs. Fagan at her residence in Westboro, Ottawa, during the Thanksgiving week in 2018 to hear her story. At that time she was vibrant, cheerful, full of energy and very happy to declare that she was 95 and that her 96 birthday was rapidly approaching. Her only complaint was that her eyes were getting dim, and as a result she was having difficulties seeing. But knowing that I was coming to visit her with the intent of getting her to tell me her story, she prepared a package of reference documents including the letter that she received advising her that she was among the first group that was selected o come to Canada as a Domestic Service Provider in 1955. “They advertised for people to go to Canada as pioneers. I came to Canada as a pioneer, to represent Jamaica.”
In December 1955, an Air Canada light carrying the first contingent of Jamaican women who came to Canada under the West Indies Domestic Scheme, landed in Montreal, Quebec. Ivy May Gayle, a 33 year old Jamaican lady was among this very first group of immigrants to arrive in Canada under the Domestic Scheme. This initial group, made up of seventy- two Jamaican women boarded a flight at the Palisadoes (Norman Manley) Airport in Kingston, Jamaica that would land in Montreal Canada later that day. The new immigrant ladies were not certain about their ultimate Canadian destination. But they knew for sure that they would be assigned to live and work with a Canadian family for approximately the ensuing two years, in a yet to be determined Canadian city. May Fagan and a very close friend Florence Robinson were among the list of passengers who disembarked in Montreal.
They were later given a choice of three cities: Toronto, Montreal or Ottawa. Many of this initial group elected to remain in Montreal and a number of the new arrivals went to Toronto. But a handful of these ladies, including May and her new friend, the late Florence Robinson elected to go to Ottawa, even though the only people that they had heard of in Ottawa were their prospective employers. “Why did you choose Ottawa?” I asked her. Her answer was simple. “Because Ottawa is the capital of Canada”. As it turned out, this decision would later impact the lives of a substantial number of future immigrants from Jamaica.
Once her mandated Domestic Services employment period was completed, May Fagan obtained her landed immigrant status and immediately thereafter she set out to re-unify her family in Ottawa, including her ageing mother. She later was one of the first 5 employees at the Island Lodge nursing home when it was opened in 1960. This opened the doors of employment for many other Caribbean immigrants at Island Lodge.
Mrs. Fagan’s decision to come to Ottawa would also impact my life some 16 years later. In 1971, while attending college here in Ottawa, I made my first trip to New York City. At that time Mrs. Fagan had temporarily moved to New York. And I had the privilege to go along with her son Wes who was going to visit his mother. So my first night in New York was spent at Mrs. Fagan’s home in Brooklyn.
On January 30th, 2019, May Fagan celebrated her 96th birthday and on Sunday, June 23, 2019, Ivy May passed away peacefully at home. And on July 5, 2019 at approximately 11:AM EST, six pallbearers ushered her casket down the center aisle of the Ottawa Seventh Day Adventist Church at 2200 Benjamin Avenue, setting it in front of the pulpit. The gathering of a large demographic cross-section of who came to show their respects, was a testimony to the influence that Mrs. Ivy May Fagan had on so many of our lives.
About the writer
Dave Tulloch was born in Jamaica. He immigrated to Canada in 1970 to study Electronics Engineering Technology at Algonquin College Ottawa. He later attended the University of Ottawa where he earned a Bachelor Degree in Administration and then a Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) Degree. He then attended Concordia University in Montreal where he earned a Master in Business Administration. Mr. Tulloch had a long career in information technology at Digital Equipment, Systemhouse, KPMG and Oracle Corporation. He retired from Oracle Corporation as a Director of Cloud Services. Mr. Tulloch taught information technology at CEGEP (Hull) and was a volunteer Tutor at the Wake Technical College in North Carolina where he has resided for the past 15 years. He wrote many articles for the Spectrum publication, and is currently documenting the life stories of early Caribbean Immigrants to Ottawa. He can be contacted via email: email@example.com.