The names of Leonard Braithwaite and other African-Canadian trailblazers should be featured more prominently during Black History Month celebrations in this city, Toronto District School Board (TDSB) trustee, John Hastings, said at last week’s launch of a park bearing the name of Canada’s first Black parliamentarian.
“I know the TDSB does a lot during Black History Month, but the emphasis is too much on Americans,” suggested Hastings, who was a Member of the Provincial Parliament for Etobicoke North and Rexdale for eight years up until 2003. “We have our own Canadian identity and I hope we will have more Black History awareness around people like Len and the late Lincoln Alexander, who broke barriers.”
Braithwaite, who was also the first Black bencher on the powerful Law Society of Canada’s governing council and the first Black to serve on the Etobicoke Board of Education and on the since-dissolved municipality’s city council as an alderman, passed away last April at age 88.
Hastings said Melody Park, which was renamed Len Braithwaite Park, is a fitting tribute to a pioneer and leader.
“When he was the MPP for this area, he ensured that young people had the opportunity to serve as legislative page assistants at Queen’s Park,” said Hastings. “Little things like that are more important than a lot of the laws that are passed.”
Etobicoke North councillor, Vincent Crisanti, joined formed Mayor Bruce Sinclair; ex-city councillor, Bev Salmon; retired Justice of the Peace, Arthur Downes; Ontario Black History Society President, Rosemary Sadlier; and former president, Charis Newton, at the unveiling ceremony.
“Len taught all of us that with tenacity, drive and determination, we can break barriers and inspire lives one by one and leave the world a better place than we found it,” said Crisanti. “I am proud that our community has come together to honour a person who has contributed and provided good leadership and guidance for our young people. What I believed defined him as a leader and role model was his commitment to work with our youths.”
During his career, Braithwaite supported young people in his community, sponsoring boys’ and girls’ sports teams known as “Braithwaite Legal Eagles” for 26 years.
Students from the adjoining Melody Village Junior Public School paid tribute to Braithwaite with a song they wrote titled, “Responsible Leonard”.
The Len Braithwaite Park is located in the centre of the riding that he represented for 12 years.
“My dad would have been tickled pink at what is happening here today,” said Braithwaite’s son, David, who is a teacher at Winston Churchill Collegiate Institute. “This is quite an honour for someone who was big on work ethic and education.”
Braithwaite is among a handful of Blacks to have city parks and parkettes bearing their names.
The Percy Cummins Parkette, honouring the only Black Toronto police officer to die in the line of duty, was launched last May, while the Jean Augustine Park and the Randy Padmore Parkette were unveiled in the summer of 2010. In November 2007, the city dedicated an east end parkette to honour retired Citizenship Court Judge, Stanley Grizzle. Eleven months later, a park near King Street West and Dufferin Street was renamed after retired librarian, Rita Cox.
Empringham and Eastview Parks were renamed after youth workers, Shawn “Blu” Rose, who succumbed to an aneurysm in 2005; and Kempton Howard, who was murdered in December 2003.
North York’s Centennial Arena was renamed the Herbert H. Carnegie Arena in 2001 to honour the late ice hockey legend; the Harry Gairey Ice Rink was dedicated in memory of the late activist who was considered the patriarch of Toronto’s Black community and Flemingdon Arena was renamed to honour Hall of Fame hockey star, Angela James.