McGill med grad Dr. Joseph Alban “Al” Liverpool emerged from a humble background to become a major figure in the Toronto Caribbean community. One of 10 kids in a family of farmers on the island country of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, in the Caribbean, young Al left to enlist in the Canadian Army during World War II. He was part of the invasion of Normandy, an event that reportedly affected him for the rest of his life. After the war, he made his way to Montreal and entered McGill, where he was president of both the Pre-med Society and the West Indian Society. He graduated from McGill’s medical school in 1955. His younger brother Samuel also attended McGill, graduating in Dentistry in 1959
After graduation, Dr. Liverpool encountered anti-Black racism when applying for residency programs. He eventually found a spot at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Toronto. Frustrated by the discrimination he experienced, he decided to open his own practice, called the College Euclid Clinic in Toronto, where he employed other doctors of West Indian or African origin. The clinic became an important institution for Toronto’s West Indian and Black communities, whose members valued having Black doctors to care for them. He was also chief physician at the former Doctors Hospital’s Department of Medicine, which also served a primarily immigrant population in the multicultural Kensington neighbourhood.
While at McGill, Dr. Liverpool had been very involved in the West Indian Society, including as president, through which he organized and emceed its Tropicana event. Years later, when the West Indian community in Toronto was asked to organize an event highlighting their cultural contributions for Canada’s Centennial celebrations in 1967, Dr. Liverpool volunteered to help. Along with luminaries like civil rights lawyer and activist Charles Roach and Julius Isaac, the first Black person appointed a Federal Court judge (and later Chief Justice), Dr. Liverpool was part of the organizing community that established Caribana, Toronto’s iconic Caribbean carnival. The carnival is still going to this day under the new name Toronto Caribbean Carnival.
Not long after, in the 70s, Dr. Liverpool decided to return to the Caribbean to practise medicine, first in the Bahamas and later in Barbados, where he worked as an allergist, a specialty in short supply in the region.
Dr. Liverpool’s connection to McGill didn’t end when he left Montreal. Though he never practised here, his granddaughter, Viola Barnett, would later study Economics at McGill. Ms Barnett was involved in student politics and was President of the Caribbean Students Society at McGill, the successor to the West Indian Society of which her grandfather had been president in the 1950s.
Dr. Liverpool eventually returned to Canada and died in Toronto on May 6, 2006, the 60th anniversary of V-Day. His family fulfilled his dying request: to be buried in his Canadian military uniform.