Shortly after her husband’s death in the mid-1990s, a woman requested photographer Egerton ‘Eddie’ Grant retouch the only photo she had of her spouse and remove the hat on his head. ‘No problem, but which side of the head was his hair parted?” Grant asked. The woman said he would see when the hat is taken off.
Late Jamaica Consul General in Toronto Margarietta St. Juste told the story and presented Grant with a roll of film to dispel a myth that one of his cameras was always empty at a community event to celebrate him in October 1994.
Nearly three decades later, the Jamaican government recognized the veteran cameraman with the Badge of Honour for Long & Faithful Service in photojournalism and documenting the development of the Diaspora Community in Toronto. Grant, who turned 90 last May, received the honour from Governor General Patrick Allen on National Heroes Day on October 16 at King’s House.
“I have been doing this work for a very long time,” he said. “So, to be recognized by the Government of Jamaica is very significant and something I really appreciate.”
An automotive mechanic in St. Thomas, Grant took up an uncle’s suggestion to travel to England in 1960. After discovering that the college he wanted to pursue mechanical studies was far from his residence, he switched careers and studied photography at the Clapham & Balham Institute of Photography.
“I brought a small point and shoot camera with me to England, but then bought a better one and took photos of my friends while hanging out on the beach,” recounted Grant. “They were impressed with my photos and encouraged me to go to school which I did.”
His work also caught the attention of Clayton Goodwin who was the Jamaica Gleaner correspondent in England. Asked to accompany Goodwin on assignments, Grant gleefully accepted and got the opportunity to meet several high-profile musicians and politicians, including late Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley.
During Manley’s visit in 1969, Grant volunteered to be the driver after organizers overlooked his travel itinerary. “Eddie said to me, there is a fourth seat in the car and why don’t you come along,” Goodwin recalled in his book, ‘Sorry, But I Thought You Were Black: 50 Years with the West Indian Press’. “It gave me the inside track on any other would-be reporter of the visit. It is what might be referred to these days as ‘embedding’.”
He said it was sad day for him and the Black community press in London when Grant chose to relocate to Toronto in 1972. “The number of events we attended would amaze present-day readers,” said Goodwin. “That was because Eddie had a car and knew his way around London with an expertise that would shame a cabbie and to us thinking alike…Like most people reaching the top of their profession from a position of disadvantage, Eddie did so through sheer hard work.
“When I first knew him, he was a floor worker at one of the West End’s best known department stores and carried on his photography from his modest home in Brixton. His bathroom was a mesh of celluloid film hanging up to dry. He has come on a long way since then.”
Why leave England after 12 years?
“Most of my relatives were in North America, including Canada,” said Grant. “I was the only one there along with my uncle. I had been to Ontario for about three months in the 1960s and loved it. To me, life seemed much better here than in England.”
As a Jamaica Gleaner photojournalist in Toronto for five decades, he has covered hundreds of community events and captured thousands of photos of well-known Jamaican entertainers, celebrities and politicians that have passed through the city.
They include the late Bob Marley during his first stage appearance in Toronto at Massey Hall in June 1975. “He was very pleasant, we had a long chat backstage, and he even offered me a ‘spliff’ he rolled which I declined,” said Grant. “I told him, ‘No brother, I don’t touch that stuff’. I will never forget that.”
He singled out a photo taken of late Canadian and Jamaican Prime Ministers Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Michael Manley and then Jamaican High Commissioner Dale Anderson and their wives as his favourite. “I was asked to go to Ottawa to take that photo that made the Sunday Jamaica Gleaner front page,” he pointed out. “I got a lot of positive reaction about that photo.”
To mark Jamaica’s 21 independence anniversary in 1983, Grant published ‘Jamaica 21’. He also shot photos for many corporations and tourist resorts, including the defunct SuperClubs and Sandals that he said stands out. “Sandals provided me with opportunities to travel to several Caribbean islands, including Jamaica four times, Cuba thrice, the Bahamas, Turks & Caicos and St. Lucia,” Grant added.