The board of directors of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations are saddened to note the August 17, 2018 passing of Dr. Bromley Lloyd Armstrong. One of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations founding members, Dr. Armstrong worked tirelessly to challenge and injustice. Born in Jamaica in 1926, Dr. Armstrong came to Canada in 1947 and almost immediately began his seven decades of work in support of equity for people experiencing discrimination. Dr. Armstrong is recognized as a pivotal figure in Ontario-based campaigns that led to Canada’s first anti-discrimination laws. 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.
Dr. Armstrong was always a leader. His strong family ties to the labour movement and his own factory work for Massey Harris between 1948 and 1956 prompted him to become a labour leader with the United Auto Workers Local 439. In 1954, he led a delegation to Ottawa to challenge the federal government’s discrimination against people of colour in its immigration policy. The improvements that were won through his efforts are the ones we are fighting to keep today.
One of his most notable efforts was his involvement in the “Dresden story.” Dresden, Ontario, a small town famous as the terminus of the Underground Railroad for people who escaped enslavement in the United States, had a population that was nearly 20% Black by the middle of the twentieth century. Despite this, many local restaurants and barbershops refused to serve people considered non-white. Building on the work of the National Unity Association of Chatham, Dresden, and North Buxton was instrumental in the passage of legislation that prohibited discrimination in employment, housing, and access to public places. In 1954, Dr. Armstrong joined other activists and labour leaders to participate in “sit-ins” in local Dresden establishments to “test” their compliance with the law. These sit-ins and the resultant media attention helped propel the establishment of the Ontario Human Rights Commission in 1991.
Dr. Armstrong and his fellow activists also “tested” landlords, restaurants, and clubs to see whether they complied with legislation that prohibited discrimination. By doing so, he and others were able to help end discriminatory practices within many public establishments.
Dr. Armstrong founded numerous organizations dedicated to anti-racism and social justice including the Jamaican Canadian Association, the Black Business and Professional Association, the National Council of Jamaicans and Supportive Organizations, and Urban Alliance on Race Relations.
He received numerous awards during his lifetime including the Harmony Award, the Order of Ontario, the Order of Distinction in Jamaica, and the Order of Canada. He was also presented with an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree by York University in 2013. The Toronto and York Region Labour Council established an annual award in his name in 2004 that is given to a recipient who demonstrates outstanding commitment and leadership to labour and human rights.
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.