By Neil Armstrong
PRIDE Contributing Writer
TORONTO, Ontario December 6, 2016 — The late Stanley G. Grizzle accomplished many things in his life — including being the first African Canadian to be employed by the Ontario Ministry of Labour (in 1962) and the first African Canadian judge in the Court of Canadian Citizenship (appointed by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1978) – but it is his wit, charm, mischief and playfulness that some who knew him remember.
Grizzle, who was born in Toronto on November 18, 1918, died on November 12 at Toronto East General Hospital, just days before his 98th birthday.
His parents, Theodore C. Grizzle and Mary A. Sinclair Grizzle, had come, separately, to Toronto from Jamaica in 1911 and met and married here.
The oldest of seven children, Grizzle, who was a recipient of the African Canadian Achievement Award’s (ACAA) Lifetime Achievement Award, attended King Edward School and then went on to Harbord Collegiate.
He worked for the CPR as a sleeping car porter for twenty years and was active in the organization of the union, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, serving as president of the local chapter for 16 years.
His work in the labour and social justice movement included being a delegate to the Toronto Labour Council, 1955-61; a member of the Toronto Labour Committee for Human Rights, 1956-61; a founder of the Railway Porter’s Trade Union Council, 1958; and he was also an officer of the Ontario Labour Relations Board, 1961-78.
“Stan grew up to challenge the colour barrier that prevented Black Canadians from enjoying equal rights. At age 19 he co-founded the Young Men’s Negro Association of Toronto. As a soldier in Europe, Stan challenged the then-common practice of using soldiers of colour as butlers for senior officers,” notes his obituary in the Toronto Star.
In 1942, he was conscripted into the military for World War II and spent time in Scotland, England, France, Holland, Belgium and Germany before returning to Canada and being discharged from the military in February 1946.
He took a two-week leave of absence to marry Kay in Hamilton, Ontario in September 1942.
“We crossed the English Channel to France on a ship thirty days after D-Day, June 6, 1944. I still hated every minute of being in the army and as therapy I took up jazz singing. Everywhere we went, I sang in jazz bands. It was therapy to me,” writes Grizzle in his memoir, in which he describes himself as a pacifist.
Track was also great therapy for him since he hated army life, said Grizzle, who would jog up and down the hills of Terrace, British Columbia, in preparation to being sent overseas during his conscription.
In Canada, his multiple interests resulted in him being an associate editor and columnist for Contrast, the groundbreaking Black community newspaper; he ran as a candidate for the provincial CCF Party in 1959 – the first Black Canadian to do so; was chairman of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Fund of Toronto, 1966; and became the first trade unionist to be appointed a judge in the citizenship court.
Grizzle was inducted into the Canadian Labour Hall of Fame in 1994 and is the recipient of the Order of Canada from Governor General Romeo Leblanc in 1995; the Order of Ontario from Lieutenant Governor Lincoln Alexander in 1990; and the Order of Distinction from the Government of Jamaica in 1978.
In 1998, he, working with editor, John Cooper, documented his life in the book, My Name’s Not George: The Story of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in Canada. Personal Reminiscences of Stanley G. Grizzle.
“Dad has had many firsts in this wonderful country of ours. While Rosa Parks was fighting for a seat on a bus in the southern USA in 1958, Dad was fighting for a seat in the Ontario Legislature under the banner of the CCF (now the NDP), the first person of colour to fight for a seat in any province! This was when I first realized that Dad was a fighter. He started fighting before I was born and the legacy he leaves has benefited people of all colours and religions and will continue to do so for my grandchildren and yours,” notes a posting from Stanley E. Grizzle, his son, on the day that the nonagenarian was laid to rest.
Itah Sadu, co-owner of A Different Booklist, says she will miss Grizzle because he was “our daily patron” who would walk by the store up until the age of 91.
He had a regular ritual to walk from his home nearby to the bookstore.
“He takes his walks and he’d look in the window, and he’d be looking for My Name’s Not George, knowing full well that it’s probably out of print. He wouldn’t see it and he’d walk in. He’d go to the shelf and he’ll probably find the one copy that we have in circulation because we anticipate this moment with him. And he’d pick it up and he’d put it in the window. And he goes, ‘Have a nice life, dear.’”
Sadu said Grizzle would walk up the street and she would have to take the book back out the window because if she sold it he wouldn’t have anything to put in the window.
“We had this ongoing wonderful relationship and morning banter with him and saw how particular he was about his health. I’m going to miss that engagement.”
She remembers, about ten years ago, having the honour of taking Grizzle and Don Carty to the museum in Collingwood to show them their place in history.
They — Itah and Miguel – decided to do this on August 29, their wedding anniversary, alongside Carty’s wife, Doris.
Sadu said she did this, all the time not knowing that these are two men who never saw eye to eye.
She said one travelled with a valice, the other with a suitcase for the day trip, just in case they were asked to speak.
One wanted to listen to jazz; the other classical music on the journey but Sadu opted to resolve the matter, as the driver, by choosing funk.
She said it was a beautiful day; both men saw an old friend, saw themselves in history, had lunch, and on their way home they were very quiet, very thoughtful.
“And Stanley says, ‘I’ve done a lot of things in my life and the government has awarded me. I’ve got a lot of recognition. My family was never able to enjoy that recognition, and my wife.’ Nobody says a word. Then Don says, ‘All my brothers, we fought in the war…’ Nobody says a word.
“We get on the highway coming home, there is a little squabble about who gets dropped off first but here are these two men now just reflecting on their time in Canada, who they were, their names in history, what was that responsibility but in that important moment thinking of when you’re married to community, or when community gets married to you, and community is your family then what is the role of your family in that space.”
Reflecting on that day, she said: “When history calls you, it’s an incredible moment, and history called both those men.”
She describes Grizzle as the bookstore’s resident local historian and living history.
“I don’t ever recall him repeating the same things twice about his life, or the angle or the approach, and they would be the summation of the things he did. It struck me once when a high school group came from Calgary and he came to speak to them about the history of Bathurst Street and Toronto. And then he talked about being a jazz musician and playing jazz. I couldn’t recall him ever talking to or sharing that with the other students that came around. He would come a good couple of times a year, any time that groups came from Michigan, wherever in the world, we would call him up and say, hey Stan, would you want to come over and welcome them to the city?”
The avid storyteller said every time he came she learned something else about him.
She also said Grizzle had a mischievousness about him that endeared him to her daughter, Sojourner, and other young people who loved him.
“And, I shook his hand because his hand held the steering wheel of the car that drove Coretta Scott King to perform at Massey Hall,” Sadu quipped.
The wife of the civil rights leader performed as a soprano-narrator at her “Freedom” concert at Massey Hall in Toronto on May 14, 1966.
At the end of her performance, Grizzle, as chairman of the Martin Luther King Fund of Toronto, presented her with a cheque for $5,000.
Rita Cox and Pamela Appelt followed in Grizzle footsteps with appointments as Canadian Citizenship Court judges — Appelt in 1987 (as the first African Canadian woman appointed to that post) serving until 1998, and Cox in 1995.
Cox said she didn’t know him well but followed him in the Court of Canadian Citizenship and although he was by this time retired, he returned to do ceremonies.
“And I knew just how much he was loved by all the staff at Citizenship and Immigration. When he came back there was great excitement in the office every time. He was much, much admired.”
The retired librarian said Grizzle was “one of the pioneers who fought for so many of our rights.”
“He was unceasing and he wasn’t wishy-washy about it. He was determined. He contributed a lot. He was a constant figure in our community for progress. He was greatly admired. He was a good role model for us,” she said.
Appelt said Grizzle autographed a copy of his book for her daughter, Melanie, in November 1997.
“Stan was one of the first individuals that reached out to me after my appointment was announced. We had a great relationship prior to my appointment. He did not mind taking the train to Oakville and visit with my husband, David, and our family. They both enjoyed drinking Appleton rum. He was also there for my family when David passed in 1992.”
Appelt said in 1997, Grizzle became a colleague, as he was reappointed as a part time judge at the St. Clair citizenship court where she worked.
“On a few occasions, I sat in on his court ceremony and there was no doubt that he fully engaged all new Canadians. He was able to welcome them to Canada in at least fifteen languages. The entire staff at the St. Clair court had such respect for Stan. He ensured that the staff knew that his name was pronounced ‘GRIZZEL’ and not ‘Grizzle’ so when the applicants came for their hearing they were told before entering his chambers the correct pronunciation of his name.”
She is thankful that Grizzle paved the way for her and so many others who came from other countries.
Rosemary Sadlier, immediate past president of the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS), describes him as a concerned son, husband and father.
“And, for most of us, was a cultural warrior who addressed his efforts as a sleeping car porter, a labour advocate, a community champion and later as a Citizenship Court judge, with determination and gusto,” she noted.
Sadlier said it was Grizzle who hosted the first ever Black History Month celebration in Toronto under the auspices of the Canadian Negro Womens’ Association at the BME Church on Shaw Street in the 1950s before Black History Month was formalized with the efforts of the OBHS through the City of Toronto some years later.
She knew of Grizzle for most of her life but was not actually in personal touch with him until he was on the board of the OBHS.
“He was the type of person who was very meticulous and when he offered a motion or other contribution, he expected that each and every word he offered would be recorded.”
Sadlier said his efforts, with others, to seek out changes in immigration laws making it easier for people from the Caribbean, in particular, to enter Canada contribute the most to his legacy.
Grizzle joined the Negro Citizenship Association (NCA) in 1952, which was organized by Donald Moore and Harry Gairey, Sr. and was involved in fighting Canada’s discriminatory immigration policy.
“On April 26, 1954, the NCA’s delegation traveled to Ottawa. This was the first time in history that African Canadians had undertaken such a mission – to challenge the policies of the federal government,” writes Grizzle in his book.
Bromley Armstrong, a member of the delegation, notes in his memoir, Bromley: Tireless Champion for Just Causes, written with Sheldon Taylor in 2000 that: “In supporting briefs, the contributions and statistical data of persons of African descent in Canada were outlined by Stanley and Norman Grizzle.
Explaining the genesis of the NCA in February 1951 in Don Moore’s house on Dundas Street, Gairey in his book, A Black Man’s Toronto 1914-1980: The Reminiscences of Harry Gairey, edited by Donna Hill, says the “chief aim was to try and break up this immigration problem, because I knew that it was discriminatory.”
“Working around Union Station like I did, I saw all of the immigrants coming in, but no Blacks, not a trickle. I saw a number of immigrants from the countries that we’d been fighting, Italy, Germany, all over, the Europeans were coming in, no Black,’ writes Gairey.
Sadlier said Grizzle’s contribution “means that we will be seeing the results of his actions for decades to come.”
“One of his little joking farewells was “Abyssinia” – an historic North African place reflecting one of the last independent countries in Africa while also being the ‘sound’ of a common expression – I’ll be seeing you. Perhaps it captures his way of dealing with fervent desire for affirmation, independence and recognition with a little humour thrown in,” she said.
Lorna Simms, a former editor of Contrast newspaper, said Grizzle had lived and achieved a lot and was involved in all kinds of civil rights issues, thus making Canada a better place.
“I was new to Canada when I was asked to be editor of Contrast newspaper, the first Black newspaper. Judge Grizzle, then retired, like many of the elders, every day walked to the office on Bathurst Street and told me about what used to happen in Canada…full history, piece by piece.”
Yolanda McClean, the president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU)-Ontario, Canada, says the CBTU will be sponsoring a plaque in honour of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters at Roundhouse Park under Heritage Toronto’s coordination and support.
The ceremony will be in July 2017 at the park itself that is in the former Railway Lands in downtown Toronto.
“Stan Grizzle was a renowned labour and community leader and activist who fought for equality and social and economic justice in Canada fearlessly. He will be remembered proudly by the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, along with the labour movement, as a pivotal decision maker around workers’ human rights, in particular, the rights of black workers and workers of colour.”
This would be a fitting tribute to Grizzle and other former sleeping car porters.
Grizzle spent much of his time organizing in that union and, in fact, Union Station, is where he started working with the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1940 at the age of 22, filling in when regular porters were on sick leave.
In 2007, the City of Toronto named Stanley G. Grizzle Park, in his honour, at Main and Danforth in Toronto and in 2010, the Black Business and Professional Association presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Harry Jerome Awards. It had presented him with one of those awards in 1987 for community service.
He was presented with a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal by the Ontario government in 2013.
Grizzle is survived by his children – Dr. Patricia Grizzle-Huling, Nerene Virgin, Pamela, Stanley Edwin, Sonya, Latanya and foster son, Ricky Hurst –14 grandchildren, and many great-grandchildren.
A celebration of his life and legacy will take place in February 2017.
Courtesy of Neil Armstrong’s blog, Angles Covered: anglescovered.blogspot.com.