Larry McLarty was Toronto’s first Black police officer

Larry McLarty was Toronto’s first Black police officer

When Larry McLarty became Toronto’s first Black police officer in 1960, he took that duty seriously knowing that he was given a golden opportunity to pave the way for others.

He certainly didn’t let anyone down.

The trailblazing cop died on December 1, 2016 at age 87 after a lengthy illness.

Chief Mark Saunders said McLarty has left an indelible mark in the city.

“Being the first brings a lot of challenges and he would certainly have been subjected to many difficulties,” said the city’s first Black police chief. “You have to have thick skin and he definitely had that. When you look at how we have progressed as a police service, we have to remember the starting point was Larry. If there was no Larry, who knows where we will be today.”

McLarty was an inspiration for many Black officers, including retired deputy chief Keith Forde.

“Larry had the temperament and all the other qualities that were necessary at that time,” Forde said. “He was someone that never got flustered and he clearly understood where he stood in history and what he had to do to keep the door open for others to follow. He fitted the role perfectly. Not only should visible minority officers be indebted to him, but also the Service, the city and Canada for what he did in challenging times.”

Retired deputy chief Peter Sloly said McLarty lived a courageous life and left an inspiring legacy.

“He epitomized the saying, ‘As you climb, you must lift’,” Sloly pointed out. “He put his foot first on the first rung of the ladder and that allowed people like me to be able to aspire to climb that ladder and actually scale it.”

Migrating in 1957 from Jamaica where he was a police officer for eight years, McLarty anticipated continuing as a law enforcement officer in his new home.

He also knew he would have to pay his dues and do jobs outside his chosen field.

McLarty was right about that. 

However, what he did not know at the time was that the face of the Toronto Police Service (TPS) was completely White.

Employed for just a day as a railway porter, McLarty worked as a catalogue book packer at Sears, a night cleaner at the Bank of Canada and a helper in Toronto Western Hospital’s kitchen before making his move.

His first application to the city’s police service was rejected because he did not meet one of the requirements to become a police officer. 

He was one-eighth of an inch too short.

Two months later while being fitted for a new suit, McLarty asked the customer service clerk for his measurement. When informed that his height matched the Service’s job entry prerequisite, he reapplied and was hired on January 25, 1960.

A few months later, Trinidad & Tobago-born Gloria Bartley became the city’s first Black female police officer.

Inspector Sonia Thomas, the highest ranking female Black officer in the city, is proud to be standing on McLarty’s shoulders.

“For me, he was an icon,” she said. “His name resonates with Black officers and we owe him a debt of gratitude for all he did to make sure that we could succeed in this Service.”

Retiring in 1992 as a staff sergeant in the Public Complaints’ Bureau, McLarty’s pioneering legacy is kept alive through a Black Business & Professional Association-administered scholarship in his name funded through donations by members of the TPS Black Internal Support Network.

He and his wife Nona were married for 62 years.

“Larry lived a full and enjoyable life,” she said. “He loved people and he was proud of the time he spent with Toronto Police and would often talk about that aspect of his life.”

In addition to his wife, McLarty is survived by their children Michael and Althea McLarty-Penza.

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