Arriving from Jamaica in 1957 where he was a police officer for eight years, Larry McLarty anticipated pursuing a law enforcement career in Toronto.
Like many immigrants, he was aware he would have to pay his dues and do jobs outside his chosen field.
He was right about that. However, what he did not know at the time was that the face of the Toronto Police Service (TPS) was completely White.
Employed for just a day as a railway porter, McLarty spent two years as a catalogue book packer at Sears, a night cleaner at the Bank of Canada and a helper in Toronto Western Hospital’s kitchen before making his move.
His first application to the TPS was rejected when he was told he did not meet all the requirements to become a police officer. He was one-eighth of an inch too short.
Two months later, while being fitted for a new suit, McLarty asked the customer service clerk for his measurement. When informed that his height matched the TPS’s job entry prerequisite, he reapplied and was hired on January 25, 1960, becoming the Service’s first Black officer.
McLarty and several other Black law enforcement trailblazers are featured on the federal government’s Black History Month poster which was launched last week at the Canadian War Museum. He is unwell and did not attend the event.
“When he was informed that he would be on the poster, he was quite honoured,” said Nona McLarty, his wife of 58 years. “Policing in this city was the best job he had and he was very happy doing it.”
Retiring just over two decades ago as a Detective Sergeant after 32 years’ service, McLarty’s pioneering legacy is kept alive through a Black Business & Professional Association-administered scholarship in his name funded through donations by members of the TPS Black Internal Support Network.
Jamaican-born Devon Clunis, who made history last October by becoming Canada’s first Black police chief, and Peter Sloly – one of two TPS Black deputy chiefs – attended the event in Ottawa. Clunis, who heads the Winnipeg Police Service, is also featured on the poster.
“I was proud to represent my Service at this event because it was the first time that a federal government had recognized the contributions of Blacks to public safety,” said Sloly. “It was also an opportunity for me to congratulate Chief Clunis and embrace him in person and in public.”
Senator Don Meredith, who was the Master of Ceremony, said he was elated to be in the company of Black law enforcement pioneers.
“On the second anniversary of my appointment to the Senate of Canada, I am delighted to stand in the War Museum with Canada’s first Black police chief as well as with Deputy Sloly who both have Jamaican roots,” said Meredith. “Their success reinforces that when immigrants are welcomed into Canada, they embrace the opportunities that this country has to offer and strive for excellence.
“I am so happy that the Canadian government has recognized the incredible contribution of Black men and women who serve in law enforcement. We are fortunate that across Canada, our communities are made stronger and safer through the dedication of these hard-working individuals. I believe that this recognition will inspire hope in future generations as we seek ways to engage, empower and encourage our youth.”
Federal Minister of Citizenship, Immigration & Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, noted that Black Canadians have made significant contributions to all areas of Canadian life.
“This year, we are focusing our celebration on the contributions of past Black pioneers and present leaders who have done so much to serve and protect our communities,” he said. “I encourage Canadians to celebrate Black History Month by participating in the many events that will take place across the country and by learning more about the law enforcement pioneers that we are honouring today.”
Also included on the Black History Month poster are Peter Butler III, Rose Fortune, Alton Parker, Edouard Anglade, Craig Gibson, Lori Seale-Irving and Lyonel Anglade.
Fortune and Butler were Canada’s first Black law enforcement officers. Fortune was a self-appointed policewoman in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia in the late 1700s while Butler served for 23 years with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) before retiring in 1936.
On September 1, 1942, Parker became Windsor Police Service’s first Black uniformed officer. He also made history nine years later when he became Canada’s first Black detective.
Confirmed in the position two years later, he served as Windsor Police Association’s first Black sworn member and the first African-Canadian member of a provincial police service to attend the Police Association of Ontario’s annual general meeting in Peterborough in 1949.
The mechanic-turned-pioneer law enforcement officer retired in 1970 after 28 years on the job and he remained an integral part of the community, co-hosting with his late wife, Evelyn, an annual summer party for kids and their families at Broadhead Park that was renamed Alton Parker Park in 1976. He passed away in February 1989 at age 81
A Haitian immigrant, Edouard Anglade joined the Montreal Police Service in 1974 and was the only Black officer on the job for seven years. He succumbed to a brain tumour at age 63 in 2007.
Lyonel Anglade is a community outreach worker with Montreal Police while Superintendent Craig Gibson, who is in charge of the Southwest Nova District, is the highest ranking Black Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officer. Seale-Irving made history in 2007 when she became the RCMP’s first Black female commissioned officer.
At the event, Kenney presented a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal to Ottawa parking officer, Abdulkadar Mohamed Dualeh, who saved three lives in three separate incidents last year. The son of a Somali police officer, Dualeh – he aspires to be an Ottawa Police officer – came to Canada as a refugee when he was 13.
“These inspirational stories remind us of the significant contributions that Black Canadians have made throughout our shared history,” said Kenney.
Guyanese-born John Dennison, who was appointed an Ottawa Citizenship Court judge last year, led the audience in a reaffirmation ceremony.