Leonard Austin Braithwaite – In Memoriam (1923-2012)
Born: Toronto, ON
Leonard Austin Braithwaite was born on October 23,1923 to West Indian parents, Reginald and Wilhelmina (née Cox), during the Great Depression in the Kensington Market area of Toronto. At the time Leonard grew up, life was hard for the few racial minorities living in the city. Due to racial discrimination and the Great Depression, finding gainful employment was difficult for Leonard’s parents. Reginald, Leonard’s father, was a trained machinist from Barbados, but was unable to find more than temporary, menial jobs in Toronto. Likewise, Leonard’s mother was only able to find work as a domestic servant cleaning wealthy homes, often having to support her family of seven on her small salary when Reginald was out of work.
In Grade 10, Leonard took a job selling newspapers on Spadina Avenue, against his father’s wishes, since for many West Indian parents it is the child’s job to study, not to work. However, for the sake of his family, Leonard persisted, and eventually bought the newspaper selling rights for Spadina and hired over six boys to sell newspapers for him. Thus, by the time he had graduated high school, he was running a successful business of which his father was very proud.
When World War II broke out, despite initially being refused admittance, Leonard enlisted with the Royal Canadian Air Force and served with the No. 6 Bomber Command in England. When the War ended, Leonard returned to school, which he had been taught was the key to achieving success.
He received a Commerce degree from the University of Toronto, a Masters in Administration from the Harvard Business School, and a Law degree in 1958 from Osgoode Law School where he was elected student body President and won the Gold Key award.
In 1960, Leonard began a successful political career in Etobicoke. He was the first Black person elected to the Etobicoke Township Board of Education and in 1962 became an alderman on the Etobicoke Council. Leonard was also elected a Member of Provincial Parliament (M.P.P.) in 1963, the first Black person in Canada to do so, and served as the Opposition Party Critic for the Departments of Labour and Welfare.
In 1964, during his inauguration speech at Queen’s Park, Leonard spoke out against the “old race law” of segregation in Ontario schools and was instrumental in its abolition in Ontario. Schools had been segregated for over 114 years and just a year after Leonard made his speech, the last segregated school in Ontario closed. Leonard considered this to be one of his greatest achievements. He also questioned the fact that all the pages at the legislature were male and so fought for gender equality for pages. Today, male and female pages are now appointed in the legislature. Leonard served as M.P.P. for three terms until 1975.
In addition to his achievements in politics, Leonard was also a successful lawyer. In 1971, he was named Queen’s Counsel, and in 1999 was the first Black bencher elected to the Governing Council of the Law Society of Upper Canada.
Leonard always kept the door to his law office open to anyone who came to him for mentorship and advice. Leonard believed very strongly in giving back to his community and to those who had given so much to him. This included sponsoring children’s sports teams, such as the Braithwaite Legal Eagles, and membership in many associations, such as becoming a founding member of the Etobicoke General Hospital’s Board of Governors and the Black Business and Professional Association.
In his lifetime, Leonard received many prestigious awards including: the Order of Canada, the Order of Ontario, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal, the Harry Jerome Award for Professional Excellence in the Practice of Law, the Alberta Cornwall-Miller Founder’s Award, and the City of Toronto William P. Hubbard Race Relations Award.
Leonard practiced law right up until his death at 88. He died on March 28, 2012 and is survived by his sons Roger and David.
Education: Honours Bachelors Degree in Commerce, University of Toronto (1950); Masters of Administration, Harvard Business School (1952); and LLB Osgoode Law School (1958).
Awards: Order of Canada (1997); Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal (2002); the Alberta Cornwall-Miller Founder’s Award (2003); Order of Ontario (2005); the Tropicana Community Services Community Builder Award (2006); the City of Toronto William P. Hubbard Race Relations Award (2011); and the Ontario Black History Society Rose Fortune Award (2012).