Canada’s first Black director of education Harold Brathwaite dies in Toronto

Harold Brathwaite

Barbados-born Harold Brathwaite, Canada’s first Black director of education, died at a Toronto hospital on May 31 last,  a day before his  80th birthday. He was recently diagnosed with colon cancer.

In a statement, Peter Joshua, director of education with the Peel District School Board (PDSB), said ” Brathwaite made history in 1994 when he became Canada’s first Black director of education.

“He served in this role with the Peel District School Board until 2002. In recognition of his remarkable contributions. a school  bearing his name was opened in 2003 in Brampton.”

Former Toronto City Councillor Gordon Cressy, a close friend of Brathwaite, had nominated him for a Vice- Chancellor Award that was to be presented at the 11th annual University of the West Indies (UWI) Toronto Gala on April 4.

The event was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Harold earned the award a long time ago… it was time to make it official,”  said Cressy.

“There is no question he became the strongest advocate for addressing the issue of equity as it related to Black students in the schools,” said Lloyd McKell, who worked with Brathwaite in the 1980s at the Toronto public board where Brathwaite was a senior superintendent.

McKell who later became an executive officer of equity in the  Toronto District School Board, said conversations about race ” were very uncomfortable for leaders within the school system…people weren’t used to talking about race in an open and frank way, and secondly, I don’t think there was at that time, in the 1980s, broad acceptance that there was racism in the school system.”

” Harold was a leader in education who paved the way for so many of us,” said Dr. Avis Glaze, a former York Region District School Board (YRDSB) Associate Director of Education and Superintendent and Director of Education with the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board.

A graduate of Harrison College in Barbados, Brathwaite attended UWI  in Jamaica and then went to France  to further his studies before moving to Canada in 1968 where he earned  a master’s degree in French at McMaster University and a teaching degree at McArthur College (Queen’s University).  He worked at Halton and Toronto before moving to Peel to lead the PDSB.

After retiring in 2002, Brathwaite went back to work six months later as Senior Adviser to the President of Seneca College. Beginning in September 2004, he was the Retired Teachers of Ontario Executive Director and served in  tbat position for almost 11 years.

Then after retiring for the second time five years ago, Brathwaite spent the winter months in Barbados.

He leaves his partner, Christine Shain, and two daughters, Michelle and Jennifer.

A memorial for the late Harold Brathwaite will be held at a date to be fixed.