Trouble in Paradise: Canadian Banks in the Caribbean
I’m involved in a collaborative research project
that investigates, among other things, the history of trade between Canada and the British West Indies. I was, therefore, interested an article that recently appeared in the Globe and Mail newspaper
. It’s about how the Canadian banks are losing money in the Caribbean yet again. The article mentions that the economic ties between Canada and the West Indies are very old. I think that the Globe
article underscores the social relevance of our research project.
Canada’s commercial ties to the Caribbean run deep. Starting in 1864, the group that founded Merchant’s Bank in Halifax financed trade with British-owned islands in the Antilles. Ships leaving Canada packed with timber and flour returned home with sugar, rum and cotton.
Scotiabank planted roots in the British West Indies, as they were then known, by opening a branch in Jamaica in 1889. RBC began its Caribbean foray even earlier, in 1882, and CIBC set up shop in Barbados and Jamaica in 1920. Canadians were so enamoured with the region that Prime Minister Robert Borden talked to his British counterpart, David Lloyd George, about taking over some islands in 1919 (or so legend has it).
For all that history, our banks are sometimes still chided for being from afar. “Everybody always talks about these ‘foreign banks,’” says Anya Schnoor, a Jamaican who runs Scotiabank Trinidad. “I always say to everybody: If you’ve been in a region 125 years, we’ve kind of gone beyond” that line of reasoning.