Updated: Dec 13, 2021
Many members of the Royal Canadian Air Force joined the war too late to see any combat service overseas. However, many went on to distinguished careers after the war. Wilson Oliver Brooks was one of these men.
Mr. Brooks was born in Windsor on 13 June 1924. He was the son of railway porter Oliver Brooks, and fourth generation Canadian Edith May Wilson, . Mr. Brooks grew up in the Dufferin and Dundas area of Toronto. He understood the effects of racism. He was a denied a job at a market because the manager though the customers would be offended by his presence. At age 16 he and several other Black-Canadians were denied entry to a Count Basie concert because of the colour of their skin. Perhaps as a result he became a member of the Anti-Discrimination Committee of Toronto in 1941.
On 26 April 1943 the young Mr Brooks enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. His education and aptitude tests indicated that he would make a good member of an aircrew. As a result he trained to be an air bomber, to guide the aircraft in dropping bombs on a target. He graduated on 21 April 1944. Because of his scores he was commissioned, becoming a pilot officer (today's 2nd Lieutenant). Pilot Officer Brooks was sent to England in June 1944. Here he received updated training on current techniques and became part of a crew that would fly missions together. During this time he was promoted to flying officer.
Flying Office Wilson and his crew arrived at 415 Squadron on 17 April 1945. The squadron was operating the Halifax Mark III bomber. Flying Officer Wilson and crew were unable to participate in any bombing missions before the war in Europe ended. They were the spare crew for the attack on Wangerooge on 25 April. If another crew could not take off, they would have flown. When the squadron returned to Canada, having converted to Lancaster Mark X bombers, Flying Officer Wilson volunteered for service with Tiger Force. This was to be Canada's contribution to the bombing campaign against Japan. The end of the war meant that this was no longer required. Flying Officer Brooks was discharged on 8 September 1945.
Using the money from his Veterans' allowance, Mr. Brooks attended the University of Toronto. He graduated with a Bachelor Arts degree. Here he met his wife, Phyllis with whom he had three daughters and a son. Being interested in equality it was natural that he would wish to teach. However, he and Phyllis had to go to Bermuda first and teach there for several years. In September 1952 Mr. Wilson became the first male Black school teacher in Toronto Board of Education system. He taught grade 5. He would go on to teach at Williamson Road Public School in 1958. In 1961 he became vice principal in at Gledhill Avenue School. He would later serve on the same position at Queen Alexandra Middle School.
Mr. Brooks was strong advocate of higher education. Studying part-time he received his Bachelor of Education degree in 1957 and a Master of Education in 1967. During this time he worked with Dr. Daniel Hill, secretary of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, to get Black children to go on to higher education. He also called for the school system to provide greater education on the contribution of Black-Canadians.
In 1971 Mr. Brooks was appointed principal of Shaw Public School. As such he was the first Black principal in the Toronto School Board. In the mid-1970s he worked in the personnel department of the Toronto Board of Education accepting resumes of prospective elementary and special education teachers. He returned to what he loved, working with students in 1980 when he was appointed principal of Glen Ames Public School, a post he held until he retired in June 1986.
Mr. Brooks was always active in the community. He was a member of the Toronto Negro Business and Professional Men's Association, and its president in the mid-1960s. He and Dr. Hill founded the Ontario Black History Society. Together they petitioned the City of Toronto to declare February as Black History Month, which it did. He helped found the Toronto Choiristers and was on the selection committee of the Harry Gairey Scholarship, which helps young Black-Canadians attend university. He even helped a 12 year old girl return to the ice when she was banned from playing on a boys hockey team.
At his funeral in April 1994, over 600 friends, colleagues and former students crammed into St. Olave’s Anglican Church. The Toronto Choiristers performed, as did Dan Hill, son of Ontario’s Human Rights Commissioner. Mr. Brooks left behind a legacy of working for equality and fairness. He also left a great impression on all of his students.