August 30, 1963 –
March 18, 2021
Broken Bank, Rock River, Clarendon
A gentleman. Hard worker. Dependable. A man of his word. An honourable man.
He liked to joke, to add a little levity when the going got tough at work on the farm.
These are a few of the words his coworkers used when describing Gussy. The name on his passport was Gladstone Pusey, his surname taken from the wealthy British plantation owner who relied on the labour of hundreds of enslaved men and women in 1718.
For hundreds of years, the wealth generated by the fertile Jamaican soil had literally built empires abroad in the U.K. and Scotland.
Gussy’s ancestors have deep roots in the parish of Clarendon, each one with the dream of owning their own land and providing a secure life for a family of their own.
When Gussy married Eunice over 35 years ago in the town of Rock River, the dream was no different. He loved farming, and working the soil that his parents had farmed on. Deep pockets of rich soil allowed coffee, cocoa, sugar cane, bananas, plantains, and yams to thrive, providing rich cash crops for centuries.
Radical economic changes coming their way, however, had an immediate impact on the once self-sufficient communities. Inequitable trade policies in the 1960s allowed heavily subsidized produce, powdered milk, and chicken from the U.S. to flood the markets, forcing small scale producers and dairies out of business. The collapse of local economies precipitated the immigration of thousands to the U.K. Many Jamaicans emigrated to Canada through the domestic worker program, which allowed families to stay intact.
In the mid-1960s Ontario tender fruit farmers were in a labour crisis, with crops going unharvested. The development of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) and the promise of a steady labour force heralded a new era of progress and expansion for Niagara farmers.
Men and women from the Caribbean came up on eight-month work programs, and also had the opportunity to be sponsored by their employer to bring their families and eventually become Canadian citizens. Many of these families have continued to live in Niagara, still contributing to our communities decades later. The path to immigration was discontinued in the early 1970s when Mexico joined the SAWP.
Gussy was only 23 years old when he started working at the Froese farm, where he was employed for the next 35 years.
Like many working on local farms, he only planned to stay on the program until he had his house built and livelihood established.
With the arrival of three children, Karlene, Gladstone Jr. and Saneicka, his responsibilities grew at home. The cost of living on the island increased exponentially, and with it came the realization that there was not going to be a recovery to the Jamaican economy in the foreseeable future.
Returning to Canada each year became a way of life, not only for Gussy but for thousands of Jamaicans.
Gussy was scrupulous with his earnings. The steady devaluation of the Canadian dollar had a direct impact on the purchasing power of his paycheque back home. Every dollar was carefully budgeted to build his house, invest in his farm, pay for his children’s education, and transportation expenses, as well as set aside the necessary funds for his application fees for the following year.
After eight long months away he couldn’t wait until the familiar sights of Rock River came into view. The lights in his cheery bright green home at the end of the lane were always shining bright no matter what hour he arrived home. Who could sleep when dad was coming back with a heavy suitcase full of goodies from Canada?
Turning up the path with a packed suitcase at the end of the season and a long journey home, the cheerful sight of his bright green house with pink trim lightened his steps.
He valued every moment at home for the four months he was able to be with his family. Taking no time to rest after his return, he plunged into work on his own farm.
His days started at 5:30 a.m. He was at his happiest when, after tending to the goats, he would head up the narrow path to distant fields on Gretta, his surefooted donkey. A slow cascade of golden sunlight rippling down terraced fields would warm his back. Overhead in the breadfruit tree the jabblin crows would be nattering like ladies gossiping after a church service. Later he would head back with a sack of yams, cassava, and bananas, checking first the sweetness of his Julie mangos in the yard before washing up for breakfast.
He found great delight in the three grandchildren who doted on their grandpa. Every morning his six-year-old grandchild would bring him his tea for breakfast. He would laugh when his two-year-old grandchild recently started sneaking into his bedroom before dawn, bringing him his “cutlass” (a gardening tool) and say “time to cut bush, Grandpa!”
He supplemented his income with a taxi route. His clientele knew the amiable driver well, trusting his skills as he navigated the winding roads that clung tenaciously to the mountainsides. Locally they referred to him affectionately as “Stamma,” a nickname bestowed on him years earlier.
When he was here in Niagara for eight months, there were constant concerns of life in limbo, and being separated from family when he was away from them. This weighed heavily when there was illness in the family, or during hurricane season. When monster hurricanes slammed into the island in 1988, 2004, and 2007, he and his coworkers could only pray and hope their families were safe.
Preparing to leave for such a lengthy absence required advance planning, and for those with farms, many long days to get crops planted or harvested, depending on the time of year.
The past year had been very hard financially, with grocery costs escalating exponentially due to COVID. They normally raise about 50 chickens to sell as broilers, but the rising cost of grain for their feed made it prohibitively expensive. A regular cabbage at a grocery store in a nearby city cost $25 U.S.
It was also becoming more costly to apply for the farm work program. There are multiple trips to Kingston for their pre-flight medicals, work permits, biometrics, police checks, and more recently, COVID tests.
The pandemic created unexpected complications and increasing stress for those on the farm work program.
On March 14, 2021, Gussy arrived at the Ministry of Labour as instructed, with the rest of the farm crew, to get their pre-flight COVID test. In order to reach the Ministry by 7 a.m. many of them had to leave home around 1 a.m., or even the night before. Gussy and a coworker were taken aside and told to go home. They were instructed to return for their flight a month later, even though they had just taken the COVID test.
He returned home late that night after several hours of travel and no sleep. For the next two days he was distraught at the loss of income and the cost of an additional trip to Kingston.
Early on March 18, he went to the little grove behind his house to cut some fresh plantain for breakfast. He returned shortly with stomach pains, thinking it was the stress of the past week. His little granddaughter quickly brought him his cup of tea, and he thanked her, drinking it so as not to hurt her feelings. The family decided he needed to be taken to the emergency department, but they believe he suffered a heart attack, and passed away in their presence, before they arrived at the hospital.
The family was in shock. He was only 58, and had seemed in excellent health, as was indicated in his medical exam a few weeks earlier. He had already invested several hundred dollars in required tests and related costs preparing for the upcoming season.
They were forced to sell the car he used as a taxi to pay for his funeral costs.
Gussy had lived and worked eight months of the year for 35 years in our neighbourhood, longer than most of the Canadian residents. As many local farmers have emphasized this past year, men like Gussy have played an essential role in the success of Niagara’s agricultural industry for the past 55 years.
He was and remains deeply loved by his family, coworkers, and Canadian friends.