Canada: land of opportunity

Jamaican Shirley Wright’s summer destination – southwestern Ontario – makes him a snowbird of a different feather

Forty-nine year old Kingston, Jamaica resident Shirley Wright has been coming to Canada every summer for the last 20 years to work at the Masfrankc farm, now the Strawberry Place (338 Elginfield Road, between Sylvan and Thedford – (519) 294-0070). Norm Masfrankc keeps bringing Shirley back for six-month terms: “Shirley works at the job as if it were his own. He’s very versatile. He’s a good gardener, carpenter. He can fix things; he’s mechanically motivated. He’s great in general to have around. If he can, he’ll motivate the other workers and keep them going. The main thing, he can be trusted.”

As told to Casey Lessard

Jamaican Shirley Wright loves his job and loves Canada.I had never been on a plane or to Canada. We had a big storm in Jamaica the first year I was here in 1988 and I go home and my roof was blown off. It was a surprise. You got to put it back together because you need something to live in.
This was the first place I came. I didn’t know where I was going. At first, everything was strange. You’re going to a strange place where you don’t know anybody. Nobody tells you anything. You only see a contract sheet, which you sign that you will work for an individual. You don’t know the individual and the first time I came it was flue tobacco. From there we moved on to black tobacco and now it’s strawberries.
I came through a program that goes on in Jamaica. The government started it to try to help the poorer class of people. If you want it, you take it; if you don’t want it, you leave it. They put out a lot of cards and you take a test. They test your urine, your eyes; stuff like that. If you fail the test, then you can’t come.
Shirley Wright has been working at the Strawberry Place for 20 years.I never even looked at the money. Most guys look at the money and say it’s really small. I never think of that. I never prepare myself to stick at a job in Jamaica – a handyman or carpenter – because I like to come back and be with Norm and Marg and especially Deb (their daughter). She built up my speed at work. I love to see her work.
Sometimes making a living in Jamaica is rough and sometimes it goes and comes. If I say I’m going to stick a job in Jamaica, then I can’t come here. It’s on and off. I will do something back there, but not long-term things. Then I come back.
When I’m there, I like to be by myself. I like to go fishing and be by myself. I enjoy that. Not go to dances or stuff like that.
I have (adult) children but I’m separated from my wife. I would come here every year and she felt lonely so she took off. I didn’t bother and kept going. I have kids with another girlfriend, but she died. They live in New York.
I like the boss. I love the family. They are there for me. If I do something wrong, they will say, Shirley, you’re wrong. I can see that. So I try to do the things that are necessary.
Shirley Wright outside his Canadian home at the Strawberry Place.Norm told me that he would put me on to somewhere else when he retires. If he wants to do that, I would appreciate it and take it.
I don’t think I’m ready to retire. I don’t know yet. It’s a way back. I see a lot more work and getting a lot more experience.
The favourite thing about Canada: I like the people. I have a couple friends around, especially in Parkhill and Thedford. It’s a nice country, very clean and cool. I get along with the people. That’s the reason I like Canada.
Me and Norm, we have our little ride to Kettle Point. He shows me around the beach. I like the place. The only difference is the water is cold. In Jamaica, the water is a little bit different because it’s salt water. At midnight you can go in the water, but here you can’t do that.
I love Jamaica. It’s my homeland. It’s a warm country; you don’t have winter. It’s a nice country. But I like Canada because coming here, the first time and working, it granted me a lot of opportunities and experience.
I just want to come and work and when it’s time to go, I go. To live here, well, if the opportunity came, I’d take it.