Former politician and educator, Zanana Akande, was very familiar with the late Leonard Braithwaite. The children of West Indian parents, they were both raised in the Kensington Market community and Akande’s mother was very fond of Braithwaite.
He was the first Black elected to a Canadian parliament and the first Black Bencher on the powerful Law Society of Canada’s governing council. He was also the first Black to serve on the Etobicoke Board of Education and on the since dissolved municipality’s city council as an alderman.
Braithwaite, who was appointed a Queen’s Counsel in 1971, passed away late last month after a brief illness. He was 88.
“My mother would always say if Len could do it, you could also,” recalled Akande who went on to become the first Black woman elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario and the first African-Canadian woman to serve as a cabinet minister.
Akande was among more than 120 family members and friends who attended a celebration of Braithwaite’s life last Saturday at St. Matthias Anglican Church in Etobicoke.
“This is very moving for me because our parents were friends and we lived in the same community,” Akande said. “Len will be remembered for his determination. He showed that we could be involved, we could make a difference and we could do so quietly.
“I remember when I was elected, he told me to take things one step at a time. He was right. He also said sometimes the greatest effect you can have on politics is outside the House, so don’t be discouraged.”
A sole legal practitioner for 53 years, Braithwaite attended Ryerson Public School and Harbord Collegiate Institute and served in Canada and England with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) during World War II.
He was discharged on his return home and transferred to the RCAF Reserve in 1946. That year, he enrolled in the University of Toronto and graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree four years later. He also graduated with an MBA from Harvard University and a law degree from Osgoode Law School.
Barbados’ Consul General in Toronto, Dr. Leroy McClean, paid tribute to Braithwaite whose father was born in Barbados.
“I heard about his significant work in education, politics and law among other things before I was posted here and I had the opportunity to meet him shortly after coming to Toronto,” said McClean. “As a descendant of a Barbadian parent, I thought it was important for me to represent the government and people of Barbados at this farewell.”
Two years ago, Minister of Consumer Services, Margarett Best, invited Braithwaite back to Queen’s Park as a former member and to have lunch.
“He certainly enjoyed the time with us on that occasion and I was privileged and honoured to have had the opportunity to know Leonard Braithwaite and to welcome him back,” said Best, who made history in last year’s Ontario elections by becoming the first African-Canadian woman to be re-elected to the provincial legislature. “He has left an important legacy for all of us to appreciate and pass on to the next generation. He was a great Ontarian and Canadian.”
Braithwaite is survived by his sons Roger and David.
“Dad was big on education,” said David. “He often lamented the fact that young people today have so many opportunities, yet they are falling short.”
By RON FANFAIR