Jamaican farm workers enjoy dominoes, music, food, good vibes

Published On: July 10, 2024

Originally published in: Simcoe Reformer.

Jamaican farm workers in the Simcoe region enjoyed a Dominoes Extravaganza on Sunday featuring ‘music, food, beverages and good vibes.
And dominoes, of course, all hosted by the Jamaican Liaison Service at Townsend Fruit Farms east of Simcoe. “It’s a Jamaican pastime,” said Simcoe region liaison officer James Golding. “At most farms, that’s the way they socialize.” Dozens of farm workers were also presented long-service certificates, including Iva Freckleton from the Manchester parish in Jamaica, who on Sunday received a Jamaican Liaison Service certificate and gift for 45 years of service in the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program. 

“It’s a nice day today, a get-together day,” said Freckleton, born in 1955, who first came to work on a tobacco farm in Canada in 1974, working seven weeks on a priming machine in the Vanessa area. He’s still working seven or eight-month contracts at the same farm today, which has passed from Charles Addison to his son J.C. Addison.

“It’s my job,” Freckleton smiled. “I’m still in tobacco now. The whole time, it’s been tobacco – one tobacco farm – but the last three or four years, there is a harvester.” It might be his last year… or it might not. He will be turning 69 and that decision has not yet been made. “It could be this year, it could be next. It’s to be determined. When I retire, I will stay back home and do my little cultivation back home.” 

Freckleton said he does enjoy playing dominoes but is not a ‘pro.’ 

“No,” he laughed. “I play when I feel like it, but not really.”

Althea Riley, chief liaison officer (acting) with the Jamaican Liaison Service in Toronto, said their organization is committed to the welfare of Jamaican workers participating in the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program in Canada. 

SAWP, which started in 1966 in Norfolk County, allows Canadian employers to hire temporary foreign workers from Mexico and 11 Caribbean countries, including Jamaica, the first country involved in the program, when Canadians and permanent residents are not available. Contracts are up to a maximum eight-month period between January-December. The program is a win-win for both Canada and Jamaica, she said, as Canada needs labour and Jamaicans need work. It has been a source of good steady employment for workers, especially young men. “Being here today in this fashion is part of a broad initiative of the Jamaican government to the revamping of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program and the revitalization of the Jamaican Liaison Service… with better representation and more efficient services,” said Riley speaking to hundreds of farm workers Sunday. 

She said part of that revitalization includes having liaison officer Golding, who since Jan. 1 has been living in the Simcoe area – one of their largest regions – so that workers and employers can have better and easier access to the liaison service, a Jamaican Ministry of Labour government service. Riley expressed “sincere gratitude and appreciation” to all the workers who left their families to come to work in Canada. “Thank you workers, and thanks to your families for the selfless sacrifice you make year after year. And yes, it is a sacrifice,” she said. “You contribute so much to our economy. You are the true ambassadors for Jamaica. Hold your head up high. Be proud of the contributions that you make, not just to Jamaica but to Canada.” 

Riley also extended thanks to Canadian employers and the wider Simcoe community for making it possible for Jamaican workers to take care of their families. “A lot of their children have gone through higher education, and it comes right back to Canada because we have farm workers whose daughters have become nurses now working in the Canadian system as well.” Food for the 2024 Dominoes Extravaganza was provided by JK’s Restaurant, including goat soup, goat curry, jerk pork, jerk chicken, salad and rice. 

Sunday’s appreciation day in the Simcoe region followed a kickoff event in Niagara Falls. More social events are being planned in Leamington, Newmarket, the Georgian Bay area, and Delhi, as well as Nova Scotia and British Columbia.