Born in Toronto in 1921 and raised at a home on Beverley Street, George E. Carter was the eldest of 14 children who would later become the first Black judge born in Canada.
His parents, John and Louise, came to Toronto from Barbados in 1920. The pair raised their children with a focus on education.
“We were economically poor but we were not culturally poor,” said Doris Brook, the youngest and only surviving sibling of George Carter.
In 1944, Carter received his BA from Trinity College at the University of Toronto.
“He was the only Black person at Trinity at that time,” said George’s daughter Linda V. Carter.
Later, Carter enrolled at Osgoode Hall Law School to pursue his dream of a legal career — graduating in 1948, when opportunities for Black law students were few and far between.
“He articled first with the only Black lawyer in this city and then he left him and went to a Jewish lawyer to article with and those were the only doors that were open to him,” said Linda.
As a model in the 1960s and 1970s, Linda would learn her own lessons about discrimination.
“You would only have so many parts that you were allowed to play,” said Linda.
“When I was going to do a fashion show, they could only have one Black person in it.”
Carter’s granddaughter, Micah Julia Nelson, said her grandfather chose to focus on possibility, hard work and perseverance.
“Honestly, just the most positive attitude despite many of the hardships he went through,” said Nelson.
“Biggest lesson from him, you know what? Educate yourself. That breaks the cycle. That shifts perspective. They can’t take away what’s in your mind,” added Nelson, who is currently a teacher for the Toronto District School Board.
Carter became the first Canadian-born Black judge in 1980 when he was 59 years old. Several years before his death in 2018, his daughter Linda produced a documentary called The Making of a Judge centred on her father’s journey as a Black trailblazer.
“Dad had a great attitude towards life…. He had a certain energy that just drew you in,” said Linda.
In 2014, a bust of Justice George E. Carter was unveiled in Osgoode Library.
On their website, the Osgoode Hall Law School writes, “Carter, who served in the Canadian Army from 1944 to 1945, is a founding member of the Toronto Negro Veterans.”
“He was a member of the Committee for the Adoption of Coloured Youngsters, a founding member of the National Black Coalition of Canada, a founding member and past president of the Toronto Negro Business and Professional Association, and a board member of the Ontario Black History Society. He also played an instrumental role in the establishment of Legal Aid Ontario.”