Leonard A. Braithwaite (1923 – 2012) was the first Black Canadian in a provincial legislature when he was elected in Ontario in 1963. He served as a Liberal member of the Ontario legislature from 1963 to 1975. In his first speech to the legislature he spoke out against racial segregation in Ontario schools. Soon after, the Ontario government repealed the 114-year-old law that still allowed school segregation in pockets of the province…“That was perhaps my greatest accomplishment,” he said in an interview in 2009.
The son of West Indian parents, he was raised in the Kensington Market area of Toronto during the Depression. At the time, he recalls that “there were only about 1500 Black people living in all of Toronto.” Persisting through numerous rejected applications, he eventually served in the RCAF in World War II. After the war, he earned a Bachelor of Commerce degree from UofT, an MBA from Harvard, and finally a law degree from Osgoode Hall Law School before starting his own law firm in 1958. He was the first Black lawyer elected as a member of the Governing Council of the Law Society of Upper Canada.
In 1960, now living in Etobicoke, he became a member of the Etobicoke board of education and in 1962 was elected Alderman of the Etobicoke city council. He ran successfully in the provincial election in 1963 and was also re-elected in 1967 and 1971, serving as the Liberal Party Critic for Labour and Welfare. As a politician he fought for gender equality and the rights of minorities.
In 1998, Leonard Braithwaite was invested as a Member of the Order of Canada. He was appointed to the Order of Ontario in 2005. He continued to practice law at his Etobicoke office until his death in 2012.