Leonard Braithwaite, one of Toronto’s leading citizens and a much-loved member of Toronto’s Black community died March 28th at the age of 87.
Leonard Braithwaite was born in Toronto in 1923, the son of West Indian immigrant parents. After graduating from Toronto’s Harbord Collegiate in 1943, he enlisted in the RCAF and served with the No. 6 Bomber Command in Yorkshire, England. After the war he returned home to complete his education. He graduated from the University of Toronto with a BA in Commerce (Honours) and continued on to Harvard Business School where he completed his Masters in Business Administration (1952). He returned to Toronto to attend Osgoode Hall Law School from where he graduated in 1958. He was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1971 and continued to practice Law up until the time of his death – a career that spanned more than 53 years.
He became active in local and regional government affairs and was the first Black person to be elected to the Etobicoke Board of Education where he served from 1960-1962, and to the Etobicoke City Council as an alderman from 1962-1964. He was elected to the Ontario Provincial Legislature as Etobicoke’s first MPP. He also became the first Black person to be elected to a Parliament anywhere in Canada. He served for six years as an Etobicoke Controller and as a Member of Metro Council. He was instrumental in the abolishment of the 114-year old Ontario Law, which permitted segregation in schools. He fought for gender equality, questioning the Ontario Legislature as to why Student Pages working at Queen’s Park were all male. As a result both genders are now represented in the Legislature.
In 1999 Mr. Braithwaite became the first Black lawyer elected by a Province-wide vote to the Governing Council (Bencher) of the Law Society of Upper Canada. In June 2000 he introduced South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu to the Benchers at the Benchers entrance to Osgoode Hall. It was here where Archbishop Tutu was presented with an honorary Doctorate of Laws Degree.
He was an outstanding achiever and contributor to the community-at-large, served on numerous Boards and was a member of many organizations such as:
Founding member of Etobicoke General Hospital’s Board of Governors, and The BBPA
Member of the Board of the Canadian National Exhibition, The Law Society of Upper Canada, The Canadian Black Lawyers Association, The Metropolitan Toronto Law Association, Alpha Phi Alpha, Phi Delta Phi and The Harvard Club.
He was the recipient of numerous awards including, Induction into the Order of Canada as a Member in 1997, The Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal for contributions to Canada (2002), The Cornwall-Miller Founder’s Award which was presented to him in Edmonton in 2003. He was invested with the Order of Ontario in 2005 and recently he received the 2011 William P. Hubbard Race Relations Award from the City of Toronto and the 2012 Rose Fortune Award from the Ontario Black History Society.
Leonard Braithwaite was a dedicated pioneer who conducted his life and work with dignity, integrity and an overwhelming sense of commitment to the community in which he lived. Ontario Premier Dalton McGinty issued a statement saying, “We have lost a trailblazer, a champion and a friend. He leaves behind a tremendous legacy in the strong diverse province he helped build.”
Mr. Braithwaite is survived by his sons Roger and David, several nieces, nephews and many friends. A memorial service was held April 21st at St. Matthias Anglican Church in Etobicoke, Ontario.