Photo 1996
Leonard, an avid gardener, proudly displays part of his plum crop

May 30, 1997 Halifax Herald

Leonard Kitz, 1916 - 2006: human rights trailblazer

It was on April 9, 1916, during the age of religious segregation in Halifax, when our story's Jewish trailblazer, Leonard Arthur Kitz, was born to Harry and Yetta (Lesser). He and his older siblings, a brother and sister, were reared in the city's North end.

Leonard's first encounter with religious discrimination was when he was enrolled in school. There were no publicly funded separate schools for non-Christian children in Halifax, so the children of non-Christians were lumped in with Protestant children. Thus, his early education was acquired in the city's Protestant school system. When reminiscing about those days, Kitz often laments that many friends were prevented from attending schools together because of Catholic, Protestant or other religious affiliations.

Leonard rounded out his basic education at the Halifax Academy and then went on to Dalhousie Law School, from which he graduated in 1938. He became a member of the Nova Scotia Bar in 1939. After graduation, Kitz spent a short stint in Europe - financing it with returns received from a fictional piece he wrote about Captain Kidd and the treasure of Oak Island.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, Leonard joined up and was commissioned a Captain with the Princess Louise Fusiliers; he was named a staff officer with the 12th Canadian Light Brigade.

Nobody can dispute that wars are evil, but sometimes they lead to a few good things. While serving in Europe, Leonard met and married in 1945, a Scottish lady, Dr. Alice Duff. The union saw them become the proud parents of three children. Sons John and Alan are today residents of Halifax, while his daughter Hilary lives in the United States. His beloved wife Alice passed away in 1969.

At war's end, Kitz spent most of 1946 working with the European court Marshall tribunals. He then returned home with Alice and started a law practice in 1947. Shortly afterwards, Robert Matheson became a partner and Kitz/Matheson was born. Established in business he turned his efforts towards public service and began making what can only be described as remarkable contributions.

Kitz's public service achievements were all the more remarkable because his successes were realized in an era when the level of racial, religious and other forms of intolerance in Nova Scotia was very high. Jewish people, as well as Mi'kmaqs, Acadians, Blacks and others, were not generally welcomed by Anglo society into their clubs, homes, etc.

Leonard, who in his early years was himself barred from many entities, also recalls quite vividly instances where members of his family and other Jews faced blatant discrimination by different sectors of society.

Kicking off his public service activities, Kitz first ran for city Alderman in 1948, and won. He served in the post, with the exception of one year, until 1955. In 1955, he ran for Mayor and was victorious.

Prior to his election, the mayor's office had alternated between Catholics and Protestants who served one-year terms. During his term, in 1956, the province enacted legislation which extended the Mayor’s term of office for mayor to three years. Leonard re-offered was again the victor.

I'm told that up to this point in time, the dividing line between Catholics and Protestants was so well-defined that it even extended to the appointment of city staff - i.e, if the fire chief was Catholic, then the police chief had to be Protestant. Leonard's wins broke the Catholic/Protestant succession order, and signalled that the days of segregated religious hospitals, schools, universities and so on in Halifax would soon be over.

It boggles one's mind when one stops to think about how much petty intolerance this province's citizens once harboured within. By today’s standards, its almost unbelievable!

Leonard returned to Scotland in 1971 on a business trip, where he met his present wife Janet (Brownlee). They like to joke that Leonard knows where good Scotch and good women come from, and always returns to the source when in need. Janet is quite an accomplished person in her own right. She is an author, her most prominent production to date being Shattered City.

Among other public service contributions, Leonard is a former president of the Nova Scotia Barrister's Society, former director of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews, former member of the boards of governors of several universities, former chairman of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, former president of the John Howard Society and a former director of the Nova Scotia Red Cross Society.

Like all good and intelligent men, Leonard has a quirk: He is a true-blue Liberal. As a matter of fact, in 1957, he lost his senses completely and resigned as mayor to run for the Liberals, and lost. He didn't get any the wiser from the experience because he still totes around a Liberal card today!

Seriously, by having the courage to kick down the doors to forbidden places, Leonard has made Halifax and Nova Scotia much better places for citizens of all walks of life to live. Granted, the province's Jews, Mi'kmaqs, Blacks and other minorities still face measurable discrimination; however, because of the efforts of courageous people such as Leonard Kitz, we no longer can be barred from membership in clubs, denied access to public buildings, etc.

Kitz has received many well-deserved accolades for his lifetime of public service; foremost among these is an honourary Doctor of Law Degree granted by Kings College in 1980.

Hats off to you, Leonard; you are, indeed, a courageous and remarkable Nova Scotian!

Daniel N. Paul


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