Canada in the Caribbean

A forthright statement of the weakness and strength of our trade effort in the West Indies

HARWOOD STEELE February 15 1929

Canada in the Caribbean

A forthright statement of the weakness and strength of our trade effort in the West Indies

HARWOOD STEELE February 15 1929

Canada in the Caribbean

A forthright statement of the weakness and strength of our trade effort in the West Indies


NEWLY returned from an exhaustive investigation on the ground, I find myself almost convinced that Canadian business men are incredibly short-sighted, slack and conservative in their dealings with the British West Indies; yet at the same time, they appear in reality to have been remarkably discerning, keen and progressive.

Though they have achieved truly great things, they have not done one half those things which they ought to—or might—have done and which they simply must do if the new era we hear so much about, just launched with the new Canadian National steamships, is to become an accomplished fact rather than a dream.

A paradox? Let me explain, in ardent hope of helping things along.

The British West Indies constitute with their population of over 2,000,000 a very considerable market for Canadian

goods when these meet local requirements. They also form Canada’s logical—but as yet barely tapped— sources of tropical produce. They are so close to us that a letter sent overland from Montreal can reach Jamaica, in the centre, within seven days. Their people are our people—British to the tips of their toes. They are intensely, almost pathetically, eager for closer co-operation of all kinds. Largely dominated commercially by aliens, most of them, though not desirous of political union with us, regard Canada as an immensely powerful big sister who is able to raise them from their relatively inferior position if only she will.

Of such facts Canadian business men generally do not appear to be aware. Bermuda—called West Indian, under protest, for the sake of convenience—the Bahamas,

The Part that Ships Play

Jamaica and British Honduras, all of the Western Group; and the islands of the Lesser Antilles, set with British Guiana in the Eastern Group—to Canadian business men generally these stand for nothing but exquisite scenery, pirates, winter golf, cocoanuts, spices and a life of lazy luxury.

And—frankly—they do not consider British West Indian trade worth going after.

A very brief summary of what their wiser brethren have already accomplished in co-operation with our little sisters of the south serves to show how mistaken such views are and will cast light upon the bright side of the picture. It serves also to strengthen the constructive criticism of the British West Indians, with which I will deal hereafter.

TT IS to successive Canadian Governments and to the Canadian National Steamships that the achievements of the past are largely due. By a series of trade agreements, the first of which was signed in 1912, the last in 1925, Canada and the British West Indies arranged mutual preferences on their goods, and this country undertook to provide certain steamship services between British West Indian and Canadian ports, toward which the colonies volunteered annual subsidies.

The Canadian National Steamships, accordingly, of late years, has run vessels continuously between the colonies and Halifax, Saint John, and Montreal. Though small and lacking refrigeration systems suitable for bringing us the tropical perishables, forming tfie chief products of the British West Indies, these ships, thanks to the capable management of R. B. Teakle, his staff and their officers and crews, have helped greatly to increase trade. Under the friendly wing of preferential

tariffs they have enabled the colonies to sell us raw sugar, coffee, cocoanuts, molasses and other nonperishables profitably, and our more long-sighted merchants to leap into the British West Indian forefront in many suitable lines of trade.

In 1912, before the first agreement went into effect, Canada’s share of the British West Indian import trade was valued at $4,868,122, or only 8.6 per cent, of the total. In 1926, the last year for which figures for the West Indies as a whole are available, the colonies imported 20.4 per cent, of their goods from Canada —a percentage worth $20,480,914. The percentage of their exports taken by us has not risen in this period. It was 21.9 in 1912 and in 1926 was 20.6. But the actual values have risen from $8,845,736 in 1912 to $16,501,267 in 1926.

Since the signing of the last agreement the increase has been amazing.

The progress in Jamaica is typical. In 1927, Canada secured £1,074,865 worth, or 18.8 per cent, of this island’s total import trade and for the first time boosted her score in that column to seven figures. Canada to-day is Jamaica’s best customer in raw sugar and coffee and holds the lead against all comers in sales of cheese, bacon, lard, newsprint, condensed milk, nails, screws and rivets, potatoes, refined sugar, unsweetened biscuits, butter, motor cars, flour, fish, tires, rubber boots and shoes—all this despite

the intense competition of many powerful rivals, including Great Britain and the United States.

The tale in these and in several other items is the same practically throughout the field. Bermuda takes most of her flour, feed, refined sugar, cement, butter, cheese and other farm products from us. In the Bahamas great strides have recently been made with flour, feed, cheap furniture and whisky. British Honduras reports a steady and heavy demand for Canadian flour, sugar and whisky, and the average cargo from Canada now handled by this colony amounts to 350 tons, whereas in 1922, when our first ship visited

her under trade agreement arrangements, she brought British Honduras a cargo amounting only to twentyseven tons. The Eastern Group report coincides substantially with that of Jamaica.

Canadian bankers, insurance men, engineers and some others have done very well. The Bank of Nova Scotia, so I was informed by G. C. Wainwright, its energetic, hospitable Canadian-born manager, has been in Jamaica for forty years; and, with the Canadian Bank of Commerce, and the Royal Bank of Canada, it dominates British West Indian financing.

The Sun Life, Imperial Life,

Confederation Life and other Canadian insurance companies are supreme in Jamaica and many other islands. Canadians own the Jamaica Public Service Company which runs the trams and supplies electric light and power for the island, and the Trinidad trams are

largely a Canadian concern. The head office of the Bank of Nova Scotia and the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Jamaica, two of the finest buildings in all the West Indies, are the work of Canadians. Similar instances of Canadian enterprise could be multiplied indefinitely.

The Other Side of the Picture

THEN—why the complaints? Let the business men of Canada read, mark, learn and inwardly digest what these prominent British West Indians have to say. Also, instead of rushing into print with countercharges, let them correct these evils with an eye upon the future.

In Nassau, capital of the Bahamas, its streets still torn by the hands of the recent terrible hurricane, I met R. H. Curry, a member of the local House of Assembly, chairman of the local development board, representative of Lloyd’s, Consul for Norway, agent for many big steamship lines, an Upper Canada College boy and one of our best friends: “The British West Indians consider that Canadians h*ve not been prompt or careful enough in filling orders and papers,” said Mr. Curry.

“There have been cases of extreme neglect and carelessness. A big order for Canadian butter was lost because the Canadian firm concerned did nothing for a whole month, till the customer in despair turned to the United States and got it filled in two days. Another Canadian firm sent a shipment, consigned via a certain vessel to Saint John instead of to Halifax, and missed the ship—with disastrous results.” This, my masters, is the wrong way to get business.

A prominent shipping man of Jamaica who insists on being anonymous, told me: “Both parties, British West Indies and Canada, have been remiss in their methods of packing, shipping and documenting, though there has been a great improvement lately. Canadians in some cases have been unscrupulous. One Canadian, on the strength of a short acquaintance, shipped apples in large quantities to me to dispose of without so much as by your leave.”

A successful Jamaican agent representing many Canadian firms, whose name I will not mention lest his frankness harm him, went further: “Inefficiency and even, in certain cases, dishonesty on the part of certain Canadians have created strong feeling against them in Jamaica and the British West Indies generally. This prejudice is only now disappearing. Canadians have been slack in filling orders and papers correctly and promptly. In most instances they have given themselves (the sellers), the benefit of the agreement preferences instead of acceding these to the British West Indians (the buyers), as is customary.

“Nor have they extended credits freely, forgetting that Jamaica at least, is not to be classed with other islands. Jamaican merchants and business men have proved themselves thoroughly reliable. Canadians tend to group all tropical countries as dishonest or in-

efficient, instead of giving to each individual colony the treatment it deserves. Nor do Canadians allow their local agents a free enough hand.

“In all these points, Canada has contrasted painfully with Great Britain and the United States.”

A business man who has had intimate and important dealings with our people in the Eastern Group and who consented to talk only if I promised not to mention his name, delivered himself of the following:

“Canadians have been too casual in their methods of seeking trade down here. No properly organized investigating parties or sales staffs to date”—this was in late September—“have been sent to the British West Indies by Canadian firms. Many profitable trade developments have resulted purely from accidental discoveries made by your countrymen when here on holiday. For instance, a Canadian brush manufacturer nosing around the shops found that he could make a better and cheaper brush than a certain line supplied by foreigners and promptly captured the business in that line. Fine; but not good enough; and much too casual! Think of what might be done by a trained staff specially sent here! There is un-

doubtedly a prejudice in the British West Indies against Canadians because of the slack business methods used toward us by you, but this is disappearing and if the new arrangements are carried out to the letter and taken advantage of, all will be well.” To cut the indictment short, let one manufacturers’ agent whom I met on board ship,

stand for the Eastern Group. This man spoke freely and forcibly. “Canadians have been abominably slow and inaccurate in filling orders, often shipping so late and so badly that heavy loss is thrown upon the customer. They do not use the cables enough and are altogether too haphazard. An order for 350 tons of coal was to my knowledge shipped so far behind the promised date as to be too late. The man ordering the coal suffered a total loss. This is very bad for Canadian business.”

Summarizing these and other charges I would do so like this: “Certain Canadians, with their bad business methods, failure to fill orders correctly or promptly and, in some instances, dishonesty, have hurt Canada in the British West Indies. The prejudice against us has been strong but is changing. Canadian attempts to strengthen trade with the British West Indies have been too haphazard. Properly organized sales and survey forces are needed.”

Hitherto I have refrained from mentioning the most outstanding complaint of all—the accusation that Canada has failed in the past to provide the steamship

services called for by the trade agreements, which speak of vessels with accommodation for one hundred first-class passengers and for large cargoes of perishable tropical products. Naturally this is the hinge on which the whole structure turns, at least from the British West Indian point of view, because, while ships of the sort are not absolutely essential to our trade with the colonies, only by means of such ships can the Colonies send to us the fruits, vegetables and other perishables upon the sale of which their very lives depend.

However, it so

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happens that consideration of the rights and wrongs of this complaint is now superfluous. Of the 8,000-ton ships in the Canadian National’s fine new, fully modern, beautifully appointed West Indian fleet, (the Lady Nelson, Lady Hawkins, Lady Drake—assigned to the Eastern Group—Lady Rodney and Lady Somers to the Western Group), all five provide for 103 first-class passengers,

13.000 cubic feet of refrigerated cargo and

285.000 cubic feet of grain cargo, while the Western Group couple carry additional passengers—thirty-two second and a hundred third-class and deckers. By establishing such vessels on these runs Canada has effectively fulfilled the clauses of the 1925 trade agreement which relate to steamship services.

And from this fact arises the need to discuss the future, since it is to these ships that business men throughout the British West Indies and their Canadian friends are looking, with an eagerness which must be experienced to be appreciated, for fulfilment of their rosiest hopes.

Broad-minded Canadians, as they go along, will note the friendly and constructive tone of the advice so freely tendered.

Starting with Bermuda, here is the gist of the remarks made to me by the Hon. John Talbot, a member of the House of Assembly and of one of the colony’s oldest and most distinguished families, a man who knows Canada and has close Canadian ties.

As we sat in the warm darkness on his palm-shaded verandah Mr. Talbot said: “The new Canadian ships are eagerly awaited in Bermuda and great things are hoped for. Canada could take Bermuda’s perishables—winter tomatoes, for instance—and should try hard to do so, for Imperial reasons. Bermuda can take Canadian manufactured goods when the prices and terms are equal to those of other countries, and will certainly do so. A great increase in the direct tourist trade is probable.”

These remarks were confirmed by the Hon. H. J. Cox, described as “the recognized pattern of integrity in Bermuda.” And B. C. C. Outerbridge, a prominent Bermudan merchant, added: “The selling organization on both sides (Canada and Bermuda), should be improved. Bermuda has no Canadian Trade Commissioner—a pity. It would be well worth while for our government to send a proper staff to Canada to pave the way for a revival of our export business in perishables, persuading Canadians to buy our tomatoes, celery and other vegetables in winter.”

Some of the most valuable suggestions came again from R. H. Curry. “The Bahamas look for great things from the new ships,” he stated. “They should lead to a great export trade in sponges, sisal, tomatoes and like products to Canada. Canadians should ship more promptly and accurately. A properly equipped exhibit of Canadian products and a competent staff of salesmen should be sent to exploit opportunities here.

“Almost all lines manufactured in Canada could find chances in the Bahamas. The sponge fleet is painted in July. A Canadian paint manufacturer sending a salesman here a short while before would probably capture the paint orders—a large quantity. It would pay Canadian flour men to come out here and establish direct connections, cutting out the United States dealer, at present our chief source of flour supply.

“A great tourist trade is in prospect. Canada should have a hotel here. The Fort Montague, in existence three seasons but open only one, is available, a fine hotel in every respect. It should cater to Canadian tourists, less wealthy than American. I am sure that Canadian

business men would find taking over this hotel a profitable investment.”

J. P. Sands, a prominent grocer and builder of the Bahamas who has visited Canada, after endorsing Mr. Curry’s views on the benefits to follow the new ships, said: “At exhibitions in Canada there should be a central bureau well posted on all matters affecting trade between the British West Indies and Canada—freight rates, duties and the like—and equipped to take orders. On my last visit to the Canadian National exhibition at Toronto I wanted to place valuable orders for several commodities, but found no one able to quote prices or willing to take the order. If anyone actually was there, I couldn’t find him.

“There are openings here in groceries worth capturing. If prices and deliveries are right, Canadians can get the business every time for sentimental reasons. In one commodity alone I make purchases of several hundred dollars a week. I would buy this commodity from Canada if delivery were satisfactory. Hundreds of such commodities are open to exploitation in the British West Indies and the market is far bigger than most Canadians realize.

“A central wholesale grocery organization through which we could order all the Canadian grocery products we require would help immensely in developing trade.”

Bananas and Tomatoes

/^HATTING with His Excellency the ^ Acting-Governor of Jamaica, A. S. Jelf, C.M.G., at King’s House, Kingston, while spicy breezes drifted through the wide open windows, I became convinced that the colony he heads is anxious to co-operate with Canada in every possible way. My friend the leading Jamaican shipper enthusiastically said: “A great tourist trade, in fact, new life in every respect should come to Canada-British West Indies trade as soon as the new arrangements are felt. I look for great things as soon as the new ships come on. You will be able to take our winter vegetables and citrous fruits from which we expect so much, and we can take canned goods in increasing quantities from you. Where prices and delivery are right, there are big opportunities in the British West Indies for many Canadian products in regular small shipments, provided Canadians study the market and will manufacture, pack and ship accordingly.”

Another Jamaican who retains close touch with Canadian affairs in the islands, endorsed these remarks, throwing in an appeal for long credits: “You Canadians should remember that agriculture provides the chief purchasing power of the British West Indies and that hurricanes and droughts affect this. You should also export direct on the new ships. Support the enterprise and faith of those who launched them.” Then, after a caution—“the trade in Canadian agricultural products has almost reached its peak”—and a plea for us to buy Jamaican tobacco “as good as Havana but not so famous”—he proceeded to enumerate a long list of items in which he felt sure that Canada with reasonable effort might secure an important and even a dominating position in Jamaica and perhaps throughout the islands. These items included cheap cotton goods, wet salted pork, paint, hoops and shooks, lumber, silk, and counter flour; and, after a study of reports, I would supplement them with cement, implements and tools, meat, paper and stationery. Very considerable progress has already been made in British Columbia lumber but apparently much might still be done, and in most cases the other items, at present in the hands of rivals, have as yet brought no grist to

Canada’s mill because little or no attempt has been made to exploit them.

Cecil Lindo, of Lindo Brothers and Co., one of the biggest capitalists and planters in all the West Indies, who is personally acquainted with Canada, I found anxiously tracing the course of a reported hurricane—for such things hold the scales between prosperity and ruin down there. Mr. Lindo, an enthusiast for trade with us, strongly advocated reciprocity between the colonies and Canada, then stressed one of the outstanding benefits to be expected by both parties from the new ships:

“They will enable us to ship bananas and other perishable fruits direct to Canada. The tariff of fifty cents a stem set by Canada against all foreign-grown bananas should help wonderfully.” The dean of all Jamaican planters, Thomas Kemp, now retired, to whom I am deeply indebted for many favors, gave me all sorts of information as we talked in his moonlight-flooded garden. Perhaps the most significant of his remarks was this: “Jamaica alone can supply Canada direct with all the bananas she can take.”

The prospect from such developments is cheaper, better fruit and other tropical products in Canadian homes with the United States middleman left out. Obviously, it is up to us at our end to see the prospect through. Those who fear an inferior quality may take the word of P. R. Cumming, manufacturers’ agent of Jamaica, whose work in helping Canada is well known, that steps are being taken to improve wherever improvement is necessary. Incidentally, British West Indian bananas need no improvement.

And Grapefruit . . .

TVOWN in British Honduras, where the going of late has been pretty heavy, all hands are looking tensely northward. The production on a large scale of grapefruit is their immediate concern. Sir John Burdon, the Governor, quotes Professor Clark Powell, British Government expert, as having declared that the grapefruit produced by his colony equals the best in the world. The new ships will bring it direct to our door. Plans for extensive re-sponging are also under way and here also we will benefit. G. Mapp, Shipping Manager of the Belize Shipping and Produce Co., one of the most powerful firms in the colony, informed me that “British Honduras will treble her grapefruit exports to Canada in 1929, sending out something like 700 crates on each

ship during a period of three months. And this is only the beginning.”

“There are possibilities in British Honduras for Canadian hardware,” I was told by T. C. Manders, manager of the Belize Stores, one of the colony’s biggest businesses; and similar hopes for hardware were expressed in regard to the Bahamas by J. Burnside, manager of the General Hardware Co., one of the principal firms of Nassau. A Canadian twenty-six years standing, well known in the West, now Archdeacon of St. Johns Cathedral, Belize, the Ven. Archdeacon Hogbin, D.D., told me how Canadian capital and enterprise could profitably develop the rich hinterland of British Honduras by concentrating on communications—which are bad—vegetables and citrous fruits.

And so it goes. In the Eastern Group co-operative society to look after the export of winter vegetables and such stuff to Canada was in process of formation. The Canadian Bank of Commerce erecting a fine new building in Kingston. Canadians are actively supporting the project for a new hotel at Constant Spring, Jamaica, to take care of the vastly increased tourist trade from Canada. Many of the colonies are crying out for Canadian hotels, and seems to me that in such places as Belize— the gateway to lovely scenery, big game hunting and fishing and old Maya cities— which has only one hotel and a poor one at that, Canadians might answer the cry with profit, provided they secure local assistance to exploit the attractions.

Undoubtedly, a new day has dawned British West Indian-Canadian trade relations. We can now ship far more produce to the colonies than ever before, and for the first time in many years can tranship all the tropical produce we want direct from the colonies, with incalculable benefits for both parties. The tourist trade from Canada should increase enormously as soon as the charms of the British West Indies and the advantages of seeking them in Canadian ships become known. Valuable opportunities in many lines are still open to our business men. But the competition from superefficient, extremely powerful countries like the United States, which in some respects has almost a monopoly, will be bitter, and only by heeding the constructive criticism of our British West Indian friends, and by ceasing to regard the West Indies unworthy of serious effort or consideration may our business men as a whole expect to see the dawn bring noonday.