He was the first Black to be granted an electrician contractor’s license in Toronto and he ran his own electrical company for nearly three decades.
Last Sunday, longstanding Oakwood/Vaughan resident John Riley’s historic accomplishment and community service was acknowledged at the 12th annual British Methodist Episcopal Christ Church/Toronto Police Service 13 Division’s Black History Month celebration.
Born in Toronto 88 years ago to a Barbadian-born father and a mother who emigrated from Jamaica, Riley curtailed his high school studies at Vaughan Road Collegiate Institute to serve in the Army in Nova Scotia.
The octogenarian completed his high school education after leaving the Army and pursued electrician maintenance studies at Ryerson University.
A tireless community worker, Riley served for a year as president of the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) of which he was a member for many years and he also coached community sports teams, including the Reliance Royals which won the local baseball championship in 1964.
Riley was not the only trailblazer honoured on a night when nearly 40 awards were presented for significant professional and community service achievements.
Two weeks ago, Sonia Thomas became the Toronto Police Service’s (TPS) first Black female inspector and Canada’s highest-ranking Black female cop. She joined the organization in 1986 after responding to an advertisement she saw in a subway station for police officers.
The Oakwood Collegiate Institute graduate started her law enforcement career at 13 Division in the Primary Response Unit before moving to headquarters to work in the recruitment office. She also was assigned to 54 Division before being promoted to sergeant in 2001 and staff sergeant six years later.
When now retired deputy chief, Keith Forde, was appointed the training college’s unit commander in January 2003, he recruited Thomas – born in Toronto to Jamaican parents – to work for him.
“I wanted role models and Sonia fitted the bill because she’s bright, highly respected in the field and she has a lot of credibility,” he said at the time. “She’s a very quiet leader and thinks before she says anything, but when she speaks, her words carry much weight around here. She made a tremendous impact on new recruits that she trained and that’s important because they are the future of the organization.”
Staff Sergeant Lawrence Smith and TPS civilians Joanne Gooding and Ann-Marie Henry were also honoured.
Raised in the Jane & Finch community, Smith joined the service 21 years ago and has been a positive role model for young people. He’s a mentor to many young officers and co-chair of the TPS Black Internal Support Network.
Gooding is a senior civilian staffing advisor and active participant in the Youth In Policing Initiative (YIPI) program since its inception while Henry, who has been with the organization since 1989, is an acting manager in compensation & benefits.
Entrepreneurs Albert Wiggan and Karl Williams, volunteers Kim Simon, Vincent Robinson, Ned Blair and Hermine Saddler-Walters and Ghanaian News publisher Emmanuel Ayiku were also honoured with community service awards.