Fay Jarrett

Fay Jarrett, BA, MLS – Pioneer Ottawa Caribbean Broadcaster

Thursday 14 September 2023

by Dave Tulloch

Fay Jarrett is the pioneer of Rogers Cable’s Caribbean Calendar. “This magazine-style show has highlighted the social issues, politics, people and cultural events which make up Ottawa’s vibrant Caribbean community. Caribbean Calendar succeeds in giving a voice to those who are often overlooked by the wider, mainstream media.”

In the early 1970s, Ottawa residents received television signals either via in-house antennas or from external “dish” antennas that were primarily installed on the rooftops of their houses. But “in late June 1966, the (City of Ottawa’s) Board of Control decided to split the city into two franchises and selected Ottawa Cablevision to supply cable services to the western half of the city and Skyline Cablevision (purchased by Rogers in 1991) for the eastern portion.” This decision initiated the transition from individually owned antennas with very limited broadcast reach to an era of expanded TV channels in Ottawa homes. Skyline Cablevision initially faced the challenge of providing adequate programming content. But two Caribbean immigrants, Carl Grey and Orville Adams, recognized an opportunity and proposed a Caribbean content program slot in the Skyline Cable line-up. The Program called ‘Data’ disseminated Caribbean-related information to the community through interviews and general announcements. Fay Jarett hosted the half-hour segment and launched a long-lasting Caribbean Community cable television presence in Ottawa.

Fay Jarrett is one of the early Jamaican immigrants to Ottawa. She graduated from Clarendon College in the early 1960s. Fay attended the University of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica where she earned a bachelor’s degree. She immigrated to Canada, initially living in Toronto, where she worked as a Librarian in the Medical School Library at the University of Toronto and later taught at St. Sebastian’s public school.

After relocating to Ottawa during the mid-1960s, Fay took on the role of a “stay-at-home mom” but employed her music talents as a piano tutor to neighbourhood children. The word that she was a piano tutor radiated throughout the neighbourhood and in a short time Fay had a flourishing business teaching some fifteen students at different levels of the RCM. She also entered them in piano competitions like the annual Kiwanis Music Festival. She also accompanied the local school choir in their music competitions.  Her endeavors as a piano teacher and accompanist changed the neighbours’ perception of Fay in a dramatic manner. She was no longer seen as someone who did not belong; on the contrary, she became a very popular person in her neighbourhood. Fay continued piano tutoring for several years until her children became more self-sufficient, and then she began to rebuild her career.

She completed a Certificate in Librarianship at Algonquin College which yielded a job at the National Library of Canada, leading to a long-term Librarian career in the Federal Government. During which she worked at Revenue Canada and at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CISIS). Fay also earned a Bachelor of Arts in Literature from Carleton University and subsequently, a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science (MLIS) from the University of Western Ontario.

In the early 1970’s Ottawa’s Caribbean community had grown substantially and its needs relating to community events and activities had become a major concern. The approach to address this issue was limited to word-of-mouth or posters and flyers that were handed out at community events and via a few Caribbean retail outlets. But the technology shift that ushered in the Cable TV industry paved the way for rapid information dissemination to the Caribbean Immigrants in Ottawa who at that time represented close to 90% of Ottawa’s Black population.

Starting in 1975 Fay brought in leaders of Caribbean community organizations to the Caribbean Calendar segment and had them explain their roles and initiatives to the Caribbean community and other viewers of the Skyline Television network community channel. She also brought in others like Ingrid Jean-Baptiste of Trinidad and Tobago and Milton Smith, another Jamaican, to co-host the segment with her.  The ‘Data’ programming name was later changed to the current ‘Caribbean Calendar’. This program continues to be one of the primary sources for Caribbean cultural expression in Ottawa. It also served the broader role of educating the wider community on the positive aspects of the people from the Caribbean who lived in Ottawa. Fay continued in this role for some 30 years, becoming in the process one of the Ottawa Caribbean community’s most effective community builders.

Fay is also a consummate artist. She is a playwright, a musician, and an author of three publications.  Her latest book:  And A Little Child Shall Lead Them, is available on Amazon. She founded the multi-cultural performance group ‘Niwewetu’ (Swahili meaning “it’s just you”) that performs Gospel and cultural-oriented music as well as skits to raise funds for philanthropic endeavours.

Caribbean Calendar with Ingrid Jean-Baptiste as the current host, continues to be a mainstay in the Ottawa Region under the Rogers Cable network.