By Michael Van Cooten
TORONTO, Ontario August 24, 2018 (PRIDE) — When news broke that Dr. Bromley L. Armstrong had died, floodgates couldn’t constrain the tsunami of tributes and praise that poured in, for one of Canada’s most revered labour and civil rights activists and leaders.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica on February 9, 1926, Armstrong, a venerable, distinguished, and loved, Black community stalwart, pioneer and role model, passed away, peacefully, at Centenary Hospital, last week Friday, August 17, with his wife, Marlene, and one of his daughters by his side.
Two days after, the Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) — one of several community organisations he co-founded and was its third president, serving from 1971 to 1972 — paid tribute to Armstrong, describing him, in a public statement, as a “tireless fighter for the underdog and for just causes”.
In its statement, which contained tributes from its current president, Adaoma Patterson, and past presidents: Dr. Vincent G. Conville, Roy G. Williams, Valarie Steele, Miah Bailey, Herman Stewart, Audrey Campbell and Barry Coke, the JCA said it was “saddened by the passing of one of its past presidents and founding members of the organization, in 1962, Mr. Bromley Armstrong, CM, OOnt, who made his transition on Friday, August 17, 2018″.
“The Dresden story ranks among one of Bromley’s greatest involvements. On learning that racial segregation was rampant in Dresden, the home of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and that the town’s 20 percent Black population was banned from most public places, Bromley and Ruth Lor Malloy led a sit-in at Kay’s Café,” reminisced Dr. Conville.
“It was a dangerous escapade. It however, got national publicity, and was the beginning and the end of racial segregation in South Western Ontario. Bromley has certainly left a positive mark on the society, by leaving it a better place than he found it.”
Williams, the JCA’s first president, recalls, “Bromley was one member of the team that went to Ottawa to confront the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to reform the then-racist Immigration Act. He participated in test cases to highlight racist ‘no room available’ practices of landlords in Toronto.
“As he was the chief architect of the advocacy role for the JCA, Mr. Armstrong was dauntless and dogged in fighting against racism, discrimination, injustice and inequality in all its forms. When not fighting for better policing and social justice, he was the most affable and jovial human being. Rest in peace, Brother Bromley. You have fought, valiantly, for a better country for all of us,” Williams added.
“Another giant has left us and our community is poorer for it. Bromley has left us a rich legacy that no one can erase, particularly in the areas of human rights, immigration, labour relations and community activism,” said Steele in her tribute. “His mentorship of several current community activists is legendary. As a community that is underserved and discriminated against, perennially, we must continue the resistance and honour him that way.
“My sincere condolences to his family. Rest In Peace, Bromley Armstrong, your foot prints are all over this place,” she elaborated.
Bailey added, “Bromley will be missed by the entire Afro Canadian community of Canada, and others. Not only was he a founding member of the J.C.A. and a past president, but as a stalwart in all areas of social activism in Canada, via other organizations, such as the National Council of Jamaicans and Supportive Organizations in Canada Inc., of which he was the founding president; trade unions; and the National Black Coalition of Canada, just to name a few. Many will be grieving. May his soul rest in peace.”
On hearing of Bromley’s passing, Stewart had many fond memories. “My first face-to-face interaction with Bromley was back in 1981. I was then a union organizer, appearing before an Ontario Labour Board hearing and Bromley was one of the tribunal members. As soon as the hearing was adjourned for lunch, Bromley came over and introduced himself and that interaction changed my life for good,” he reminisced.
“Not long after that first meeting, Bromley not only convinced me to join the JCA, but at the first membership meeting that followed, he nominated me to run for a position on the JCA Executive Board.
“While our community is saddened by his death, we will cherish all the positive things that happened over the past seven decades, that make not only our community, but society in general, a better place for all.”
Campbell commented that Armstrong “was fearless in his pursuit of civil rights. He laid the ground work for future generations to follow. We are eternally grateful for his sacrifice”.
Coke declared: “Mr. Armstrong was a stalwart in our community and was instrumental in shaping the community into what we are today. We are standing on the back of this giant.”
Current JCA President, Patterson, commenting on behalf of the JCA Board of Directors, said of Armstrong, “I am honoured to have worked with him and learned many leadership lessons from him. His life was a true example of service and community building.
“Bromley played an important role in Toronto’s Black community and did much to advance civil and labour rights. The JCA family extends our heartfelt condolences to all of the Armstrong family and friends.”
Armstrong, described by his family as an exceptional athlete (boxer, swimmer, runner and soccer player), immigrated to Canada in 1947, at the age of 19, where his first job was as a factory worker at Massey Harris from 1948 to 1956.
He subsequently became an active leader in the United Automobile Workers labour union (UAW Local 439), rising to the position of shop steward, and later, as an adjudicator with the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
He also founded and published the Islander, a weekly newspaper that catered to the Caribbean-Canadian and Black-Canadian communities, and provided him with a powerful platform, from which he continued his over-six-decades-long assault against discrimination and racism.
On March 26, 1961, when the provincial government created its Human Rights Commission to administer the Ontario Human Rights Code, Armstrong was appointed as one of its earliest Commissioners.
In 2013, York University conferred its Honourary Doctor of Laws Degree on Armstrong, who was also a founding member of the Black Professional and Business Association (BBPA), the Black Action Defense Committee (BADC) and the Urban Alliance on Race Relations (UARR).
He was also a very active participant in social organisations, such as the Canadian Ethno-cultural Council and the Project for Advancement of Childhood Education (P.A.C.E.), among numerous other community groups.
Widely respected in the Canadian labour movement, in 2004, the Toronto and York Region Labour Council established an annual award in his name. The award is given to a recipient who demonstrates outstanding commitment and leadership to labour and human rights.
Dr. Armstrong has received many commendations and awards, including the Harmony Movement Award and two of his community’s most prestigious — the BBPA Harry Jerome’s and the African Canadian Achievement Awards of Excellence’s (ACAA) Lifetime Achievement Awards.
His birth island and his adopted province and country have bestowed their highest civilian honours on Armstrong — the Jamaican government: the Order of Distinction; the provincial government: the Order of Ontario; and the Canadian government: the Order of Canada.
Noting that the UARR Board of Directors and members were “saddened” by his passing, President, Nigel Barriffe, said, in a public letter, “Dr. Armstrong was always a leader.”
He “is recognized as a pivotal figure in the Ontario-based campaigns that led to Canada’s first anti-discrimination laws,” added Bariffe. “A self-described ‘blood and guts’ ally of the working poor, Dr. Armstrong demonstrated a lifelong commitment to the trade union movement and the battle against disadvantage and discrimination.”
He concluded: “We at Urban Alliance are honoured to be part of Dr. Armstrong’s legacy, and send condolences to his family and all who knew him.”
The Canadian labour establishment and community organisations and members took to the Twitter social media platform to express their sentiments about Armstrong:
“Canada’s labour movement mourns the passing of civil rights activist and trade unionist, Bromley Armstrong. From founding the Urban Alliance on Race Relations in Toronto, to challenging segregation in Dresden, ON, Bromley’s valuable legacy will live on.” — Canadian Labour.
“Bromley Armstrong was a social justice pioneer in Canada and in the Canadian labour movement. Every Ontarian, indeed every Canadian, is currently benefitting from a society that is more inclusive because of his determined leadership. Rest in peace my brother.” — Hassan Yussuff, President of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC).
“Bromley Armstrong was a mentor to so many young activists like myself, who were inspired by his unwavering principles and his commitment to ending anti-Black racism and discrimination for future generations. He leaves a hole in our movement and in our hearts.” — Marie Clarke Walker, Secretary-Treasurer of the CLC.
“I’m very saddened to learn of the passing of civil rights leader and human rights advocate, Brother Bromley Armstrong. His six decades of anti-discrimination activism laid the path for ongoing work against racism today.” — Chris Buckley, President, Ontario Federation of Labour.
“I feel so privileged to have known #BromleyArmstrong and to have been one of many, who celebrate his amazing leadership” — John Cartwright, President of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council.
“We mourn the passing of civil rights leader and human rights advocate #BromleyArmstrong. You can hear him speak about his work in this video from @torontolabour, titled “Welcome to Canada”: ow.ly/8Kxk30lsCOz #immigration #humanrights” — Ontario Federation of Labour.
“We are saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. Bromley L. Armstrong, who recently received an honourary degree from @yorkuniversity for his work in race relations, labour relations and human rights.” — CUPE 129.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire family and labour family for @UniforLocal222 brother Bromley Armstrong on his passing! Your strong leadership and activism will not go unforgotten!” — Unifor Local 649.
“Dr Bromley Armstrong was my mentor when I started my career as a Race Relations Officer in the 1980s. He did so much for our City, Province and Country to open our eyes, to have those tough discussions on racism and intolerance. He will be missed, but never forgotten.” — Maurice Brenner.
“The OBHS is saddened to hear of the passing of Bromley Armstrong, a dedicated human rights and labour activist. Our sincerest sympathies to the Armstrong family. He fought the good fight, now may his soul rest in peace.” — Ontario Black History Society (OBHS).
“#BromleyArmstrong Say his name and learn his legacy. A passionate civil rights leader and a strong advocate for human rights, for over 60 years, Bromley led the fight for racial equality and human rights reform. Rest In Peace.” — Celina Caesar-Chavannes, MP and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development.
“A giant, whose shoulders were broad enough for a whole generation of activists to stand on. Such courage. RIP Bromley Armstrong.” — Adam Vaughan, MP.
“We are saddened to learn of the passing of Human Rights, Civil Rights and Labour Rights leader Bromley Armstrong. Discover a portion of his story in the #NFBdoc ‘Journey to Justice’ → bit.ly/2nUdijQ #NFBdoc #BromleyArmstrong #BlackHistory #BlackRights #Canada” — National Film Board of Canada (NFB).
“Bromley Armstrong was a brilliant change-maker in every sense of the word. Our thoughts have been with his family and the communities he impacted throughout his life.” — Harmony Movement.
“Our condolences to Mr. Bromley Armstrong, his family and friends at the @JCA_Ontario, here in Canada and abroad. A life well lived deserves to be celebrated and remembered.” — VACA.
“Rest in Power to Bromley Armstrong, one of the most important activists in Canadian history. If this was a different country there would already be 2 biopics and 3 documentaries about him and his memoir would be required reading. www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/bromley-armstrong/ …” — Amanda Parris.
“Another sad day with the passing of #BromleyArmstrong, a Canadian civil rights leader. RIP Bromley Armstrong. Armstrong’s story is told in his autobiography: ‘Bromley: Tireless Fighter for Just Causes'” — Yanique Williams.
“If you’re not familiar with Bromley Armstrong’s name, that’s a failure of our education system, and our white-dominated media. Armstrong (along with Ruth Lor and Hugh Burnett) forced Canada’s first segregation trial to happen: (h/t @RachelDecoste)” — Andray Domise.
“Rest In Power, Bromley Armstrong. Thank you for being one of the giants on whose shoulders we stand.” — Jared A. Walker.
“One of Jamaica’s sons became a beacon of light for Torontonians. Thank you for the work you did Mr. Armstrong.” — @King 22
“Sad to learn of the passing of Bromley Armstrong, human rights and labour warrior. @torontolabour named an annual award after him as many great recipients have continued his legacy.” — Kingsley Kwok.
“Another great Jamaican Canadian! RIP Bromley Armstrong.” — Michele Rattray.
“R.I.P. to the great civil rights activist, labour union activist, and founder of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, our Brother and Elder, Mr. Bromley Armstrong.” — Naiima Farah.
“Today my heart is sad that our country has lost a trailblazer for all human rights. Thank you #Uncle Bromley Armstrong!” — Racquel Proctor Armstrong.
Dr. Armstrong, a loving and devoted family man, was married to his “best friend”, Marlene, for 47 years, and fathered eight children — Lana, Linda (predeceased), Everald (wife– Ada), Malcolm, Kevin (wife — Andrea), Bromley Jr. (wife — Jay), Anita and Desmond (wife — Alice). He had 18 grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren.
He was also brother to Monica (husband — Frankie), uncle and great-uncle to many nieces and nephews — and a great friend to many.
Dr. Bromley Armstrong’s viewing will be take place on Tuesday, August 28, from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the McEachnie Funeral Home.
And his funeral service will be held on Wednesday, August 29, at 11:00 a.m. at the Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, located at 796 Eyer Drive in Pickering, Ontario. In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations to P.A.C.E. Canada (pacecanada.org/donate).
A personable, friendly, caring and unselfish man, Dr. Armstrong’s humble and unpretentious personality belied the forcefulness, aggressiveness and determination with which he approached the defense of the Black and Caribbean community’s interests — for which he was universally respected and loved. He will be sorely missed.
R.I.P. “Brother” Armstrong!