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Dr. Liverpool man of foresight

Dr. Liverpool  man of foresight

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Dr. Joseph Alban Liverpool was, in a word, a fighter. As a young black doctor, he knocked down racial stereotypes and founded Toronto’s College Euclid Clinic, where he headed a team of Caribbean doctors.

And when it came to sharing his love of West Indian culture, he pulled no punches in organizing the first Caribana Festival, which featured Caribbean music, dance, literature, art and food.{{more}}

The Caribbean-Canadian trailblazer died Sunday May 8th at the age of 85, but his legacy remains very much alive.

“He had dreams and was determined to make those dreams a reality,” his daughter, Camille Liverpool-Barnett, said on Friday May 13th. “You couldn’t tell him something could not be done, because he’d find a way.”

Liverpool’s spirit of adventure soared even while he was growing up in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. As soon as he finished high school, his wanderlust led him to Canada.

After moving here, he signed up to become a fighter pilot in World War II, but was refused entry into the air force because he was black. Undeterred, he joined the Canadian Army and set out for Europe – but only after securing a promise from Elaine, a young beauty with whom he had fallen in love that she would wait for his return.

As a soldier, Liverpool found much more than he’d anticipated. He was thrust onto the world stage, playing a role in the invasion of Normandy.

With the war over, Liverpool returned to Canada and married his true love, who had kept her promise. The pair moved to Montreal, where Liverpool obtained his medical degree at McGill University in 1955.

While at McGill, he served as president of the university’s Premedical Society and West Indian Society.

After Liverpool qualified as a physician, the couple moved to Toronto where he interned at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

“Along the way, he met with a lot of discrimination,” his wife said… She recalled one occasion when Liverpool, who did house visits, responded to a call from a white man whose brother was deathly ill. When Liverpool arrived, the man was reluctant to let him in, but eventually yielded to the young doctor – a move that saved the dying man and earned Liverpool a new, loyal patient. When Liverpool founded the College Euclid Clinic in 1966, he created an institution in the black community, said Bromley Armstrong, a pioneer in Canadian race relations. “We had no black doctors. He started the clinic to bring in other black doctors from the Caribbean,” Armstrong said of Liverpool, who he called “a man of great foresight.”

For Violet Carter, who came to Canada from Jamaica in 1962, having a black doctor was very important.

“It meant a lot because you speak the same language,” said the retired nurse, who was Liverpool’s patient for a decade. “He understood my culture, my customs, and that made a big difference.”

In 1967, when Canada was celebrating its centennial, Liverpool founded another institution, which would grow into the largest Caribbean festival in North America.

“It was quite a big hit,” said Elaine Liverpool, recalling the first Caribana parade down Yonge St., complete with a steel band from Trinidad and a transplanted palm tree.

“Then, it was more of a serious cultural event – we were trying to inform Canadians about the culture of the West Indies.”

While Caribana today is a wildly successful two-week festival that attracts more than a million visitors annually, she thinks Liverpool would be disappointed with how far the event has strayed from its original intent.

“I think most people feel Caribana is a big jump up,” said Alvin Curling, MPP for Scarborough-Rouge River and Speaker of the Legislature. “But Liverpool saw it as much more of a cultural contribution and expression of people in the West Indies. It was an education for other Canadians.”

Liverpool moved back to the Caribbean in 1974, practising medicine in the Bahamas and in Barbados.

“He never forgot his countrymen,” said Elaine Liverpool, adding that in 1979 her husband organized an effort to help send medical supplies and help to the island of St. Vincent after a volcano erupted. Liverpool eventually returned to Toronto in 1999.

Liverpool’s funeral was held on Saturday May 14th in Canada. He leaves his wife of 58 years, son Ronald Liverpool, daughter Camille Liverpool-Barnett, her husband Michael Barnett and granddaughters Michela and Viola Barnett

Editor’s note: This was taken from the May 14,2005 edition of the Toronto Star and was published as an Obituary

by Isabel Teotonio

Staff Reporter

Toronto Star

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