Originally Posted: July 26, 2022
By: Ron Fanfair
Impressed by the documentary, ‘Mr. Jane & Finch’ that was screened at the University of Toronto three years ago, outgoing Innis College Principal Dr. Charlie Keil contacted the principal subject, Winston LaRose.
During the conversation, the veteran community worker and auteur documentarian talked about his expansive video archive and asked if the university would be interested in acquiring it.
A few weeks later, Innis signed an agreement with LaRose to procure the nearly 4,000 hours of video footage covering over five decades.
The university went a step further, conferring the 84-year-old with an honourary Doctors of Laws degree at its Spring Convocation on June 23.
“For the past 30 years, he has been at the forefront of driving change for the residents of the Jane & Finch community as an advocate, organizer, help mate and chronicler,” said Keil who presented LaRose to Chancellor Dr. Rose Patten for the conferring of the degree. “His unsurpassed dedication to the neighbourhood and its people has earned him the title, ‘Mr. Jane & Finch’.
In 1994, LaRose expanded his sphere of care and influence after joining the Jane-Finch Concerned Citizens Organization founded 16 years earlier by Linda Morowei. In 1999, he became the organization’s Executive Director.
“Since then, he has dedicated himself to improving the lives of the disadvantaged, disaffected and marginalized and he has been crucial to the advancement of the neighbourhood, playing a leadership role in nearly 20 initiatives and organizations rooted in that community,” added Keil who is a former U of T Cinema Studies Institute director.
“From Caribana to the Pan Am Games, from Black Creek Community Farm to the Daimler Chrysler Hip Hop Summit, Winston LaRose has been at the table advocating for due recognition for Black experiences. He has supported African-Canadian entrepreneurs, spearheaded educational reform and questioned policing procedures. No dimension in life in Jane & Finch has gone untouched by him. In addition to his exceptional public service, Mr. LaRose has also given future generations an enduring archival legacy. He has been an avid recorder of lived Black experiences around the globe.”
Rhodes Scholar Dr. Kofi Hope, who supported LaRose’s nomination, was honoured to hood the octogenarian.
“I think it is really important that we recognize the stalwarts in our community who have supported the cause for the liberation of people of African descent,” said the Urbanist-in-Residence at the U of T’s School of Cities that explores and addresses complex urban challenges. “Very gracious with his time, Winston has opened doors for me. He has been an extremely positive influence and role model in my career and my work, always very encouraging and letting me know how appreciative he is of my community work. Sometimes, there is a divide between youths and elders in communities. It felt appropriate as someone from my generation to help spearhead the accolades for Winston who is so deserving of this recognition.”
In his convocation address, LaRose – who received an honourary doctorate from Northern Caribbean University in 2019 — reminded the graduands that the world is their oyster and they should capitalize on the high-quality education they have received from a university that stands out as the only one in the world to rank in the Top 50 for 46 specific subjects.
“What a profoundly exciting moment this is just looking out there at all of you who have great expectations of a future to come,” he told the Faculty of Music graduates. “For you, all of the possibilities and opportunities are available and there is no doubt that after working as hard as you have, whether it is over four or more years to reach to this point, you are now celebrating the receipt of a distinct honour that will open up the world’s corridors for you. You are coming from an institution whose reputation is well known around the entire globe and whose graduates have made significant impacts.” Who knows which of you will be among them?”
Receiving the honourary degree took on special meaning for LaRose who had a health scare last January. Alone in his Burlington home, he passed out.
When friends couldn’t reach him by phone, they became concerned and sent someone to check on his well-being.
“I really don’t know how long I was out for,” recalled LaRose who was the Founding Vice-Chair of the Hamilton Guyanese-Canadian Cultural Association in 1966. “It could have been a day or two. I was, however, conscious when I heard someone knocking on my windows and was able to get off my bed and let them in through the door.”
Rushed to hospital by ambulance, he was diagnosed with COVID-19 and catalepsy. He spent a week in hospital.
“This was the first time in my life that I have ever been hospitalized,” LaRose, who completed a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology in 1987 at McMaster University, said. “It was quite the scare.”
A Staff Nurse at the Georgetown Public Hospital in Guyana, LaRose was recruited in 1961 as an Operating Room Nurse at South Waterloo Memorial Hospital in England. He came to Canada three years later and continued practicing as a nurse until retirement in 2002.
After three years in Hamilton, he moved to Burlington in 1969.
While nursing was LaRose’s main job, he carved out a successful career as a real estate broker and property developer for almost 50 years. He was also an Ontario and Canadian Senior 100 and 200 metres and high jump champion.
Four years ago as a municipal candidate in Humber River-Black Creek, the 2010 Harry Jerome Award recipient was unsuccessful in his bid to sit on Toronto City Council.
Source: Ron Fanfair