The Haitian Heart of Love's Karl Lévêque arrived in Montréal in 1959 to pursue his dream of becoming a priest. It wasn't possible to be educated as a priest in Haiti, so Karl chose French-speaking Québec to do his studies. In the 1950s, the Haitian population in Canada only numbered in the forties. Most, like Karl Lévêque, had come for education and usually returned to Haiti at the end of their studies.
Karl Lévêque had no intention of returning to Haiti. Instead he became one of the supporting pillars of the growing Haitian community in Montréal.
The emigration of Haitians in more substantial numbers began with the bloody dictatorship of Francois Duvalier in the early 1960s. The Haitian diaspora, including all emigrants and their immediate descendants, is estimated to number close to 1 million. Many chose Canada as their new home, specifically Québec, for linguistic and religious reasons.(1)
The early Haitian immigrants, those who came between 1960 and 1970, were usually from the Haitian elite. They came from a comfortable life in terms of their social and professional status. Most were doctors, academics, teachers and pursued careers in the liberal professions. In 1965, Canada welcomed 38 Haitians in these fields. In 1966, the number increased to 42. Almost no Haitians of the working class emigrated over the same period.(2)
The Haitians of professional backgrounds received warm welcome in their new home. Their expertise was needed and they found work right away. Most had a level of education that was higher than that of the average Québécois. At the time, the medical, educational and civil service sectors of Québec society were expanding. Haitians were in demand and filled a gap in the labour force.(3)
In coming to Canada, professional Haitians often had to bypass a Duvalier law forbidding them to leave Haiti. They frequently were forced to flea Haiti with false documents and with no legal proof of identity. Upon arrival in Canada they would declare their status as political refugees.
The trend of French-speaking Haitian immigrants to Canada was to settle in Québec -- 95% of them. By 1965, some 2,000 Haitians had arrived.(4)
The period covering the late 1960 through the 1970s saw a dramatic change in both the volume and background of Haitian immigrants. This was the beginning of the massive exodus in response to the Duvalier regime. Haitians were drawn to Canada because of its tolerant immigration laws - foreign visitors, arriving with only an tourist visas, could later apply for landed immigrant status while in Canada. Canada also held an Eden-like quality for the Haitians, an image painted by friends already in Québec who sent reports home that employment was abundant and well-paid.(5)
From 1973 to 1976 an average of approximately 3,000 Haitians were admitted to Canada each year, with a peak of 4,750 in 1974. The settlement of Haitians in Canada by the end of the exodus was estimated to have reached 20,000. (6)