Black historian, writer, community volunteer and long-time Centennial resident Rella Braithwaite passed away on July 23 at the age of 96. We have put together this accolade to her from the obituary written by her daughter, Diana Braithwaite, and a story written by Janice Bennink originally printed in the May 2017 issue of this paper.
From her modest Centennial home, Rella Aylestock Braithwaite spent many years building community pride. Her dedication to celebrating the accomplishments of others is reflected in her favourite quote by Stephen Grellet: “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.”
Rella and her late husband, Henry “Bob” Braithwaite, a World War II veteran, purchased their property on Centennial Road in 1946. They were one of the first African-Canadian families to live in the beighbourhood. Rella and Bob became very active in school, church and community groups in Scarborough while raising their six children, Bryan, Victor, Valerie, Cecil, Diana and Charlane.
The Braithwaites’ children attended Centennial Road Public School, where Rella would later receive a Lifetime Achievement Award for her involvement with the school for more than 25 years. She also covered Scarborough Board of Education meetings for the West Hill News.
Rella’s passion for writing grew after she recognized the need to share her rich cultural heritage with her children. Born near Listowel, Ontario, she was one of the last surviving elders who had grown up in the Wellington County Black community, the first African-Canadian Black pioneer community in Upper Canada that was formed in the late 1700s.
Since the 1960s, Rella’s research and writing recorded the history of Blacks in Canada. Her publications made signiﬁcant contributions to the existing body of work available today. She wrote for Contrast newspaper for 10 years, producing columns on Black history, and she co-authored a booklet, Women of Our Times, for the ﬁrst Black Women’s Congress.
In 1973, she was appointed to the Ontario Advisory Council on Multiculturalism for three years; 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. Also in 1978, she joined the Ontario Black History Society and served as Co-Chair for three terms. She played an important role in the formation of the Canadian Negro Women’s Club and National Congress of Black Women
Although a humble and soft-spoken woman, her writing was powerful, fueled by the belief that sharing Black history benefits all Canadians. In a 1976 presentation, she wrote: “For any race or nation to achieve recognition it has to have an identity. This identity will become a source of pride, because a country without a history is a country without a future.”
For her well-respected work, Rella was honoured with inclusion in Who’s Who in Black Canada (2002 and 2006); Hall of Fame Award, ACAA (1998); Scarborough Bicentennial Civic Award (1996); Kay Livingstone Award, Congress of Black Women (1989); accomplishment award, Association of Black Women (1983); Black Woman of the Year, Negro Colour Guard (1973). She was also nominated for inclusion on Scarborough’s Walk of Fame.
Rella Braithwaite’s gifts to our community continue with annual writing awards at Centennial Road Jr. Public School. This self-taught writer started a yearly creative writing award open to all students to encourage and acknowledge junior public graduates who are interested in creative writing.
Centennial was lucky to have this remarkable woman in our community for so long and we are richer for it. Rest in peace, Rella.