Dr. Maurice Bygrave, Dentist/Co-Founder of Caribana, Executive Committee
Born: St. Ann, Jamaica
Maurice Bygrave was born in Browns Town, St. Ann, Jamaica and learned a sense of responsibility at an early age. His father left the family to be part of the farm workers program in the US to better support the family. Maurice’s mother also left Jamaica to work and immigrate to Canada. She sent for Maurice and his siblings in 1954 and his father eventually joined them and the family was reunited.
The family lived in Toronto and Maurice attended Lansdowne Public School for elementary and Harbord Collegiate for high school.
Like many in Jamaica, Maurice grew up being terrified of dentists as the introduction to dentistry there was unpleasant. However, as a child growing up in Toronto, Maurice was impacted by Dr. Ralph Stewart a local dentist. Dr. Stewart made Maurice feel comfortable and safe in the dentist’s office and the experience influenced him to become a dentist himself. Dr. Stewart’s office was located in the same building as Dr. Alban Liverpool’s office. Maurice looked up to both of them and sought to follow their positive example. Maurice went on to attend the University of Toronto for Dentistry, receiving his dental degree in 1966.
In the 1950s, recognition and acceptance of people from the islands was not what it is today. At the time there was a real difference between children born here and those that had immigrated. When Maurice arrived, people made him very aware of his difference – pointing out things like his accent. Despite being pressured to assimilate, Maurice always tried his best to maintain his Caribbean identity. Because of this commitment to his heritage, through his connection with Alban Liverpool, Maurice became involved with the first Caribana.
For the event, Maurice acted as the publicity and advertising coordinator and promoted all events for Caribbean Centennial Week 1967. He enjoyed this portfolio because it gave him opportunity to access various media, which mainly revolved around radio.
In 1967, the Trinidad government sent the steel band group the Esso Tripoli Orchestra to Canada for the Montreal Expo. Maurice secured an opportunity for them to play at the Maple Leaf Gardens to promote the Caribbean Centennial Week. It was the first time many had heard steel pan in Toronto. Harold Ballad was the owner of the Leafs at the time and thus Maurice got to personally meet him. He also got to meet Philip McKellar, a notable jazz music radio disc jockey who would introduce many of the big jazz entertainers at the time. Maurice stayed involved with Caribana and kept the same portfolio for almost six years.
Upon graduation, Maurice opened his own dental practice in one of the first malls in North America: Westside Mall. When the mall was being constructed, Maurice approached them and took out a lease.
As a Black man, in the beginning owning his own practice was difficult. Many people assumed Blacks could not be professionals, and so when patients would come in Maurice would see the initial hesitation on their face. However, they would eventually relax and accept that a Black dentist was treating them. Maurice believes that this is because we are not socialized to see Black professionals on a regular basis. Over the years, he has even had white associates come to work in his practice who would make the assumption that he was not Dr. Bygrave. Thus, he has had to spend a lot of time convincing people of who he is and his professional status. But despite these struggles, Maurice still practices in the same location today.
Thirty years ago, he went to the race track with his brother-in-law, and became captivated watching owners celebrate after a win. He then purchased his own horse and he eventually began to breed and race horses. His best success was 10 years ago when he bred some excellent horses which won several Ontario Sires Stakes Races. These were eventually sold to prestigious establishments, one in Kentucky and one in Ontario.
Because racing is “the sport of kings,” and therefore a traditionally “white man’s sport,” being a Black breeder and race horse owner was challenging because not many Blacks were owners. Instead most Blacks were employed as horse grooms known as hot walkers. It also meant that as a Black owner, Maurice had to hope that the white jockey would do his best for him during a race. Still, Maurice enjoyed the extreme competition of the sport and successfully rose to the challenge of horse racing.
Maurice has two sons and publishes work on topics such as horse racing and Caribana for publications like the Toronto Daily Star, the Share News, and Canadian Trotting Magazine.
WHO INSPIRES YOU?
Many people: Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and my parents were a great inspiration to me.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE QUOTE?
In my practice, I have had the opportunity to influence many young people going in, and one thing I say to them is: “Be what think you can be.” Don’t let anyone tell you what you should be. And strive towards that. Don’t give up, stick to your goals.
WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?
I still get a charge out of it. Makes me feel proud to see if I can change the attitude of some of my young people. Through orthodontics, I am better able to give harmonious smiles and contribute to the facial aesthetics of Blacks.
GIVEN THE CHANCE, WHAT WOULD YOU DO THAT YOU HAVE NOT DONE YET?
I’m running out of time but I would correct some errors along the way; probably say what I feel and believe probably in a way that’s more readily acceptable. When you’re young we tend to spout, and so I’d say the same thing but with better results perhaps.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK AND WHY?
Besides medical texts, outside of that probably Malcolm X – his collected speeches. I was impressed with him and Martin Luther King, I was impressed by his ability to bring people to an awareness both for and against and to see the other side.