John Vieira dedicated his life to educating kids



John Vieira, the co-architect of the Vaughan Road Collegiate Institute’s Saturday Morning Tutorial Program, has passed away after a lengthy illness.

Vieira died at the Trillium Health Centre in Mississauga last Friday, five days after celebrating his 81st birthday.

Vieira and former community liaison officer, Ruth Wiggins, developed the then City of York Board of Education-supported program in 1982 as an off-shoot of a similar initiative at Brock Avenue Public School.

Starting with just 25 students and six teachers, the program expanded to more than 200 kids – the majority of them Black – and nearly 30 instructors.

“My focus is to have a Caribbean-style teaching program, discipline, honest-to-goodness love and content with the emphasis on Math, Literacy and French,” Vieira once said of the groundbreaking program.

Retired Toronto District School Board administrator, Lloyd McKell, said Vieira was a pioneer of community-based remedial and tutorial programs for kids in disadvantaged communities.

“He clearly understood the need for the kinds of remediation that’s sensitive to the needs of Black children and he was able to attract Black teachers and community volunteers to work with him,” said McKell. “That was testament to his credibility in the community. He was a doer and he provided the foundation for some of the progress we have made.”

Migrating from Guyana in 1968, Vieira taught for 25 years with the former City of York Board of Education. Among the schools he was assigned to were George Harvey Collegiate Institute, Frank Oke Secondary School and Weston Collegiate Institute.

Vieira and 96-year-old civil rights activist and York University Professor Emeritus, Dr. Lee Lorch, were the first Canadian educators to be honoured by the American-based National Alliance of Black School Educators (NABSE) with the Charles Moody Award at its 1995 conference in Dallas, Texas.

The former Canadian Association of Black Educators (CABE) president was instrumental in bringing the NABSE’s southeast regional conference to Toronto the following year.

“John was hardworking and very dedicated and CABE will always be indebted to him,” said CABE co-founder, Oscar Brathwaite. “We will miss him tremendously.”

Dr. Thomas Massiah, who survived the Great Depression in Canada in the 1930s to graduate from Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University) with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry in 1947, a Masters in Organic Chemistry from McGill University in 1956 and a Doctorate in Organic Chemistry from the Université de Montréal six years later, volunteered in the program for eight years after seeing an advertisement in Share.

“When I approached John to let him know of my willingness, he enthusiastically accepted and assigned me to upper level students in Math,” said Massiah, who founded the Montreal Negro Alumni Group (MNAG) in 1953 and became its first president. “He was very quiet, but yet very dedicated.”

Former Peel District School board director of education, Harold Brathwaite, remembers Vieira as someone who deeply cared about young people and did a lot for their educational and personal advancement.

“I met John in the 1980s when he opened opportunities for young people whose parents could not afford private tuition for their kids and those who needed support in terms of having some guidance,” said Brathwaite, executive director of the Retired Teachers of Ontario. “That is how I first met him and that’s incredibly imprinted in my mind. His love for young people was demonstrated in the amount of time he would put in beyond the classroom and regular days working on their behalf. John did all of this without seeking accolades or recognition.”

Several of the Saturday Morning Tutorial Program students have gone on to achieve personal and professional success, including University of Toronto graduate, Stanley Munro, who has two Master’s Degrees and is a candidate in San Diego’s independent doctoral program in educational leadership.

“The reason I am in the field of education and what I have been able to accomplish so far is because of people like Tom and John in the Saturday morning program,” said Munro, who is an elementary school principal in California. “I had amazing parents who pushed me, but those two gentlemen played a huge role. I remember John going from classroom to classroom making sure everything was running smoothly and sometimes filling in for Tom who rarely missed a Saturday.”

Vieira, who was buried yesterday, is survived by his wife of 52 years, Rita, and their children, Richard, Jennifer and Andre.

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