“I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good thing, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow human being let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
The essence of beloved Black historian, writer and researcher, Rella Braithwaite, is best described in her favourite quote, mentioned above. Family and friends recently held a 90th birthday celebration for her at the Royal Canadian Legion in West Hill.
Rella’s party and soul food luncheon, prepared by family members, was hosted by her granddaughter, Malaika Palmer. Rella’s niece, Virginia Adamson, spoke of her aunt’s accomplishments and several tributes were offered by family, friends and guests, including Justice of the Peace, Tessa Benn Ireland.
One of the highlights of the event was a recollection by Rella’s longtime friend, Dorothy Sharp, about the socials and dances they attended at the historic UNIA Hall on College St., which was founded by Marcus Garvey.
Rella and her late husband, Bob Braithwaite, a World War II veteran, settled in Scarborough in 1946 and were one of the first African-Canadian families to live in the neighbourhood. Together, the Braithwaites raised six children: Bryan, Victor, Valerie, Cecil, Diana and Charlane.
Rella was inspired to develop a career as a Black historian, writer and researcher after seeing the need for her children to know their roots and rich cultural heritage. For over 50 years, Rella’s writing career has greatly impacted the community.
In the 1960s, she wrote for Contrast newspaper, where her weekly column presented Black history to the Toronto community for a decade. Over the years, she has addressed groups of students and adults on Black history and shared her extensive collection of Black memorabilia.
In 1973, Rella co-authored a booklet, Women of our Times, for the first Black Women’s Congress. In 1975, she published a book on outstanding Black women, The Black Woman in Canada and in 1978 she worked with teachers at the Ontario Ministry of Education on a Black Studies guide for students. She is also the author of Some Black Men: Profiles of over 100 Black Men in Canada and Some Black Women.
Rella has won numerous awards and honours, including the ACAA Hall of Fame Award, Scarborough Bicentennial Civic Award, the Congress of Black Women Kay Livingstone Award, and the Negro Colour Guard Black Woman of the Year. She is also included in Who’s Who in Black Canada.
Rella has had extensive involvement in the Scarborough community, including churches, schools and charities. She served on the Ontario Advisory Council on Multiculturalism, covered Scarborough Board of Education meetings for the West Hill newspaper and served as co-chair for the Ontario Black History Society for three terms.
A remarkably humble woman, Rella continues to be a role model and stalwart in the Scarborough community. Her latest community contribution is to Centennial Road Public School, where she started a yearly creative writing award open to all students to encourage and acknowledge junior public graduates who are interested in creative writing.