Obituary: Ewart Walters hailed as ‘mentor and moral compass’

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In the early 1980s, when Ewart Walters sought work in the Canadian media, he applied with a resumé that would have cited two Carleton University journalism degrees and years of newspaper experience in his homeland, Jamaica.

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Then in his early 40s, Walters had also worked in the Jamaican Foreign Service, with postings in New York and Ottawa, where he had settled with his wife and three sons.

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Walters sent out 124 job applications. They led to four interviews, but no job offer.

“There was no media house in Ottawa that wanted to employ a Black man with a Master of Journalism degree, even though he was a Canadian,” wrote David Tulloch, in his recently published book Ottawa’s Caribbean Community: History and Profiles — Since 1955.

Ewart Walters receives the Order of Ottawa
Ewart Walters receives the Order of Ottawa at city hall in Ottawa in November 2015. Photo by Justin Tang /Postmedia

So, Walters became a public servant. After a stint at the Canadian International Development Agency, he worked at the Secretary of State for Canada and later Health Canada, until 2010.

But at the same time, he became a renowned and effective advocate for Ottawa’s Caribbean expatriates and Black Canadians. He founded, published and edited the Spectrum, a monthly Ottawa community newspaper, from 1984 to 2013. The Spectrum’s self-stated mission was “making minorities visible.”

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Walters “just had a sense that there were things that needed to be said, or exposed, or covered, that the mainstream media was not covering. People needed a voice. He had this sense of duty to help provide that,” said his son, Martin Walters.

Ewart Livingstone Walters died last Thursday in Ottawa at the age of 83. Diabetes, dementia and other health issues affected him in recent years, relatives said.

Among those lauding Walters online was Carleton University journalism professor Adrian Harewood, who on social media called him “a formidable civic leader … a mentor and moral compass to generations, and a tireless advocate for Black communities.

Ewart Walters
Ewart Walters is seen in a 2005 file photo. Carleton University journalism professor Adrian Harewood remembered him as ‘a formidable civic leader … a mentor and moral compass to generations, and a tireless advocate for Black communities’. Photo by Jean Levac /Postmedia

“He was respected and beloved,” Harewood wrote on X (owner Elon Musk’s new name for Twitter). He called Walters “a critical figure in journalism history in Canada,” and said students in Carleton’s class on the history of Black Canadian journalism studied Walters’s 2011 autobiography, entitled To Follow Right.

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“Ewart Walters was a teacher, a leader, an advisor and a friend,” tweeted Charles Bordeleau, the Ottawa Police Service’s chief from March 2012 until May 2019. “He helped me prior to and during my tenure. … Our community and police service is better because of his commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion and justice.”

In his book, Tulloch wrote a five-page profile of Walters and said: “There seemed to be no end to Ewart’s energies.”

In addition to writing several books and putting out the Spectrum, Walters co-founded Black History Ottawa, the Harambee Cultural Society and the National Council of Jamaicans and Supportive Organizations in Canada. Not only was Walters a deacon and choir member at the Fourth Avenue Baptist Church, he also appeared on stage at the Ottawa Little Theatre and with the Third World Players. He helped launch the CKCU-FM radio program Reggae in the Fields, and was the captain and president of the Bel-Air Cricket Club Association.

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Because of his activities, Walters collected a slew of awards, including an Order of Distinction, Commander Class in 2010 from Jamaica’s governor general and an Order of Ottawa in 2015.

Ewart Walters received the DreamKeeper Award during the Dream Keepers' celebration of Martin Luther King Day at Ottawa City Hall in January 2010.
Ewart Walters received the DreamKeeper Award during the Dream Keepers’ celebration of Martin Luther King Day at Ottawa City Hall in January 2010. Photo by Jean Levac /Postmedia

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, on May 26, 1940, Walters came to Ottawa in September 1964 thanks to a Canadian government scholarship to study journalism at Carleton. He already had considerable newspaper experience in Jamaica. By his mid-20s, he had worked in his homeland at the Public Opinion, the Daily Gleaner and the Daily News, for which he was the founding editor.

While he attended Carleton as an undergraduate, he married his wife, Merle, who survives him, as do their three sons, Laurence, Martin and Nnamdi. Walters graduated in 1967, and in a 1987 letter to this newspaper, Carleton professor emeritus of journalism Wilfred Kesterton remembered Walters as one of three “excellent students” in his year who had come to Ottawa from Jamaica.

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Upon graduating, Walters returned to Jamaica, as per the terms of his scholarship, and resumed work at the Gleaner, which last week published an online obituary headlined “Ewart (Fats) Walters has died.”

After 10 years, Walters returned to Ottawa where he obtained his master’s degree in journalism at Carleton and worked as an information counsellor with the Jamaican High Commission. A stint at the Consulate General of Jamaica in New York followed, after which he returned to Ottawa.

Martin Walters, a 54-year-old who lives in Edmonton, recalled that his father spent hours each day working on the Spectrum at their home in Fisher Glen, where his office was decorated with a big photo of Bob Marley.

Ewart Walters, front row, second from the left, poses with the Bel-Air Cricket Club, Ottawa champions, 1983-84.
Ewart Walters, front row, second from the left, poses with the Bel-Air Cricket Club, Ottawa champions, 1983-84. Photo by Supplied /Ewart Walters

“The phone would ring constantly. My mother would say, ‘The phone is broken. It keeps ringing,’ ” Martin Walters said. “Most of those calls were obviously because he ran the Spectrum. He had a lot of people to talk to.”

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After Vincent Gardner, an unarmed Jamaican-Canadian man, was shot by an Ottawa police officer in September 1991 and died weeks later, Walters was cited frequently in news stories. The Daily Gleaner obituary for Walters also said: “The Spectrum would lead the coverage of the Gardner case in the city, and the controversies that ensued from it.”

In advance of a December 1991 march in Ottawa protesting the shootings of Black Canadians by police in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal, Walters, then vice-president of the National Council of Jamaican and Supportive Organizations in Canada, told this newspaper it was time for Ottawans to stand against police actions in all three cities.

”Why in a country of so many more whites than blacks don’t we get whites shot in a similar manner?” Walters said. ”If it’s not discrimination, what else could it be?”

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Matthew Kedroe, a 46-year-old who lives in Barrhaven, recalled that his uncle took him, a friend and his son, Nnamdi, to the wake for Gardner, whom they did not know. Initially, the teenagers were irked. “But the more we asked questions, the more we got to understand why we were there,” said Kedroe.

“That experience was odd … but by the time we left that building, the three of us had a different understanding of who my uncle was. He was really a community servant as well as a public servant, someone who was really there for the people of the city.”

Walters’s relatives said that in his private life he loved simple pleasures including music, dancing and singing all of which he embraced with obvious gusto.

“My uncle was a big guy. They called him ‘Fats’, and if anyone was to see him at a party back in the 1970s and 1980s …  he would dance with reckless abandon, sing with reckless abandon, just have a fantastic time. He was a fun-loving and jolly person in his element,” said Kedroe. “He was the first Black Santa Claus I’ve ever seen.”

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Martin Walters recalled his father enthusiastically watching cricket matches, and playing the sport competitively on weekends, even if it meant having to apply analgesic rubs all over his sore legs and back.

Martin Walters also recalled relaxing with his father five decades ago at beaches in Jamaica. “Whenever we’d go to the beach, he’d be floating on his back. I could probably ride him like a boat. He really enjoyed that,” he said.

Following a Friday mid-day visitation, a service is to be held for Walters at Fourth Avenue Baptist Church.

Late last week, a GoFundMe campaign was created to raise funds for Walters’s funeral costs. By Monday morning, it had raised more than $3,500 of its $5,000 target. The campaign is to donate any additional funds to “a charity close to Ewart’s heart.”

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