You are never too old to ascend to rare air, as the first Canadian-born Black judge found out last week.
George Carter, who turned 93 on August 1, joined the ranks of Presidents, Prime Ministers, royalty and scholars to be conferred with a Queen’s University honorary degree.
He received the recognition at a special luncheon ceremony at Osgoode Hall.
Scheduled to be bestowed with the honour during last November’s convocation ceremony, the nonagenarian fell ill and was unable to drive with family members to the university’s Kingston campus.
Articling with Bertram Joseph (BJ) Spencer Pitt – the only Black lawyer in the city at the time who mentored many young Blacks and also provided free legal service to members of the African-Canadian community – before launching his firm in 1952, Carter practiced in real estate and criminal and family law for three decades before becoming the province’s second Black judge in 1976.
The late Maurice Charles broke the glass ceiling seven years earlier.
A provincial court judge for 16 years, Carter – who served in the military for a year – is a Toronto Negro Veterans and Toronto Negro Business & Professional Association founding member and an Ontario Black History Society member. He also played a key role in the establishment of Legal Aid Ontario and the Adoption of Coloured Children Agency.
Queen’s University started awarding honorary degrees in 1858, which was six years after Jamaican-born Robert Sutherland, who went on to become Canada’s first Black lawyer, became the institution’s first Black student and later on one of its most important early benefactors.
He left his entire estate of $12,000, which was then equal to Queen’s annual operating budget, to the university to help place it on a solid financial footing in the wake of a banking crisis that threatened its existence at the time.
Carter, who occasionally practices from his home office, joins a distinguished group of honorary degree recipients, including former Canadian Prime Ministers Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir Robert Borden, Richard Bennett, John Diefenbaker, Wilfred Laurier, Louis St. Laurent, Lester Pearson, Arthur Meighen, Pierre Trudeau, Jean Chretien and Paul Martin; actor Donald Sutherland; King George V; Prince Charles and American president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Roosevelt was honoured in 1938 while in Kingston to open the Thousand Islands Bridge.
Just a handful of Blacks are among the honorary degree recipients.
Carter was preceded by Dr. Glenda Simms, who spent 30 years in Canada before Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller invited her to return to Jamaica to become the executive director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs in 1996; educator, Dr. Enid Lee and the late Lincoln Alexander, Rosemary Brown, John Brooks, Oscar Peterson, Rex Nettleford and Dame Nita Barrow.