Recruits of Quality

A vintage black and white photo of a man in a military uniform standing in front of a commemorative monument
Leonard Braithwaite became the first Black member of a provincial legislature in Canada, being elected to the Ontario legislature in 1963. He served as groundcrew in the Royal Canadian Air Force’s No. 6 Bomber Group during the Second World War. In this photo, he poses in front of a war memorial in London, England, shortly after V-E Day. PHOTO: Leonard Braithwaite via The Memory Project

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February is Black History Month. In this article, we examine the challenges that several Black Canadians conquered to become members of the Royal Canadian Air Force, their contributions to the Air Force and Canada, and their tremendous achievements during and following their military service.

The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) has always attempted to select the best possible candidates from among Canadian society. In the period before the Second World War there was much competition to gain one of the few positions in the air force. The RCAF could afford to choose the best candidates. The need for manpower during the war did not reduce the quality of the recruits being accepted. In 1940, the RCAF had an agreement with the Army that the RCAF could talk to the best Army volunteers and see if they wished to join the air force. Post-war, the RCAF continued to select only the best. This selection of the best of Canada’s young men and women can be seen in the achievements of Black Canadians who served in the air force. Michael Manley served as aircrew in the RCAF and in 1972 became the fourth prime minister of Jamaica. Lincoln Alexander, Leonard Braithwaite and Lloyd Perry all became lawyers, with Alexander becoming the first Black Member of Parliament and the first Black lieutenant-governor of a Canadian province. Leonard Braithwaite became the first Black member of the provincial parliament in Ontario, being responsible for pushing through important anti-discrimination policies while Lloyd Perry became a director in the Ontario attorney general’s office, responsible for protecting the rights of children.

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