This blog post is the first in a series highlighting books available in our Merritt’s Mercantile, reviewed by the Museum’s Curator, Kathleen Powell.
As we round out Black History Month, my first Curator’s pick book review in this series will be A Struggle to Walk with Dignity: the True Story of a Jamaican-born Canadian by Gerald A. Archambeau. This book tells the story of Gerald Archambeau and his adventures from his birth in Jamaica to his migration to Canada and many of his ups and downs in between.
This book was published in June 2008 by Dundurn Press and is available in both print – in our Merritt’s Mercantile shop – and e-pub versions.
Born in 1933 in Kingston, Jamaica, Archambeau’s book provides the reader with an interesting look at Jamaica before its independence and during the Second World War. As seen through the eyes of a boy, the idyllic life of Gerald’s childhood living with his aunts, is brought into stark contrast when he is sent to Canada in the middle of winter, to live with his mother and stepfather. The reality of an abrupt ending to his school days at the age of 15 and stepping into the working world, is joined to the new experience of navigating racial and language divides in post-WWII Canada.
Archambeau goes on to paint a vivid picture of life working on both the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railway at the height of the popularity of railway travel in Canada. His love for his new country is clear and he provides an interesting look at the working attitudes and the stratification of labour based on race and nationality that was the reality into the 1960’s when rail travel began to decline due to the popularity and convenience of air travel.
Economic realities then led the author to a career with a major Canadian airline company where he worked until his retirement. This book provides a unique look at the racial attitudes in the Canadian airline industry during a period of major transition in not only the industry itself, but also in the changing diversity of the workforce. Archambeau’s drive for worker equity shines a light on the challenges that those working at the forefront of human rights would come across.
This story also is a personal memoire of Archambeau’s personal and family life during the ups and downs of his lifetime and is an unvarnished look at a life of mistakes and successes. It can be difficult to read at times but does not sugar coat the difficulties and tough choices that he needed to make as he strove to create a better life.
Archambeau takes us on a roller coaster ride through his story of a Jamaican immigrant as he becomes a Canadian.
If you’d like to read more about this book, check out this post on goodreads.com
Kathleen Powell is the Supervisor of Historical Services / Curator at the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre.