Sunday, October 24, 2010

# 8 ~ Municipal Elections, Then and Now

Well, the 2010 Toronto Mayoral election is just around the corner, and all sorts of media time has been dedicated to talking about the candidates.  There's Rob Ford, who claims to want to stop the City Hall Gravy Train, and George Smitherman, who wants to stop Rob Ford.  The third major candidate, Joe Pantalone, seems to be trailing in third place but seems dedicated to keeping his name on the ballot.  The discussions are heated, and hopefully voter turn out will be good, but with the two leading candidates in a dead heat only time will tell who Toronto's next mayor will be.

I'll spare you the insights into my opinions of each of the candidates for this election, but instead, I thought I'd indulge in a retrospective of some of the former luminaries to grace out municipal council.  Were they heroes, or rogues?  Given that all my choices are firmly rooted in the past, I feel it's safe to hold forth on my own opinion.  Though maybe, some of them are well known enough to still resonate today, and others will come forward with a challenging opinion!

 Before the tall clock tower of "Old City Hall" loomed over Queen Street, Toronto's first purpose built city hall stood at the southwest corner of Front and Jarvis streets.  The red brick building, constructed in 1844, now serves as the entrance way to the south Saint Lawrence Market building.  As you walk through the doors off Front Street and head south, the old 1844 structure extends as far south as the "Souvenir Market" on the left, but not as far as the first set of butcher stalls.  Everything south of this 1844 brick building was Lake Ontario.  The set of two images below shows Toronto's first purpose built city hall in the mid-nineteenth century, and again today.  Note the Georgian style window, with its curved top, in the centre of the building, visible in both pictures.

THEN : Toronto's first purpose built city hall, shown in the mid-nineteenth century, when everything south of Front Street was still Lake Ontario.

NOW : The 1844 city hall has been converted into the Market Gallery, the lake waters south of it have been filled in and now house vendors.

Toronto was incorporated as a city on March 6th, 1834, meaning that for the first time, we needed to have an election for mayor.  Well, sort of.  Back in the old days, there were elections for city council held each and ever year.  People would elect their city councillors, and then the councillors themselves would chose who got to be mayor.  And when I say that "the people" got to elect the councillors, what I mean is that wealthy men who owned property got the vote.  The impoverished, working class men of Toronto were not allowed to vote, and of course the franchise for women would not become practice in Canada until well into the twentieth century.  These were our initial steps towards municipal democracy.

From 1834, when the City of Toronto was incorporated out of the old Town of York, elections for city council, and therefore, for Mayor, were actually held every single year, right up until 1956.  Traditionally, campaigning was done for three weeks in December, and elections were held on or about New Years Day.  Now that they let just about anyone in Toronto who's of age go drinking on New Years Eve, perhaps some changes are for the best.

Toronto's First Mayor (1834)

THEN : William Lyon Mackenzie, Toronto's Mayor in 1834.

The first mayor to be chosen for the brand new City of Toronto was none other than William Lyon Mackenzie.  Born in Scotland in 1795, Mackenzie had emigrated to Canada in 1820, after leaving behind a youth spent drinking and gambling - not to mention the illegitimate son, James, that he left behind in the care of his aging mother.  Throughout the 1820s he was editor of a series of newspapers, most notable among them "The Colonial Advocate", which he used to slander various Tory politicians.  In 1826, the sons of some of the same wealthy luminaries who Mackenzie criticized broke in to Mackenzie's printing press, breaking up his equipment and throwing it into the harbour.  Although Mackenzie was in New York State at the time of their attack, he took them to court, and eventually won a substantial amount of money.  This was somewhat of a miracle for Mackenzie, as he'd been out of town in New York evading his creditors.  If those young Tories had just left him alone, Mackenzie probably would have gone bankrupt and no one would have heard from him again.

As it was, Mackenzie was able to use the money and the notoriety he gained from the Types Riot to launch a political career.  He was constantly being thrown out of the halls of government for his antagonistic behaviour, but then would get put in again in subsequent elections.  In 1834, the year that the City of Toronto was incorporated, he became our first mayor.  Mackenzie was essentially an ineffective mayor.  He did manage to throw out a number of conservative Tory candidates and replace them with his own supporters, but he did nothing to curb the large municipal debt, and he failed to make much needed improvements to municipal works.  In 1834, there was not even enough money to lay boards on the streets to serve as sidewalks.  Hmm, debates about government expense and struggles with the city's budget ... does that sound like a familiar election issue?

The Toronto city council had one thing to worry about in 1834 which fortunately has vanished today.  That year, the city was devastated by a cholera outbreak.  No one, rich or poor was immune, and whole families were wiped out by this terrible disease, which killed some individuals in half a day.  Huge mass graves - the most well known of which lies just to the east of the Cathedral Church of St. James - were filled in with hundreds of bodies.  Like everyone else, Mackenzie was impacted; he lost many friends to the epidiemic and was heartbroken by the death of his own daughter to the disease.  It was a great municipal tragedy.

Mackenzie's leadership style caused frequent arguments among his fellow councillors.  For his entire professional career, he was known as a man who was incapable of compromise.  By the summer of 1834, Mackenzie's style had crippled the city council and the Reformers accomplished nothing.  The Tories easily won the election of 1835 and Robert Baldwin Sullivan became Toronto's second mayor.  Just a few years later, in December of 1837, Mackenzie would be disgraced as the leader of the Rebellion of 1837, in which he led a large group of followers in an open revolution against the provincial government.  Although Mackenzie successfully escaped arrest and fled to the United States, several of his followers were captured and imprisoned.  Mackenzie literally left them to hang, with a few of the executions taking place on the north side of King Street, between Toronto and Church streets, more or less where a branch of the CIBC stands today.  Mackenzie lived the life of an exile until he was pardoned in 1849, and he returned to Toronto in 1850, dying in a house on Bond Street in 1861.

With his lack of accomplishments as mayor, his failure to muster any kind of cohesion amongst his fellow councillors, and his open revolt against the provincial government just a few years after his term as mayor, it's clear that as a municipal leader, William Lyon Mackenzie was a rogue!


Mayor of Toronto from 1845 to 1847, and again in 1858

THEN : William Henry Boulton, Mayor of Toronto, 1845 to 1847, 1858.

William Henry Boulton was a member of one of Toronto's wealthiest and most elite clans during the first part of the nineteenth century.  He was born into priviledge in 1812, here in Toronto, which was still known as the Town of York at the time of his birth.  Although he was only a boy when Mackenzie arrived in Upper Canada (now Ontario) in 1820, William Henry had the honour of being a member of the first family that our "illustrious" first mayor criticized in his reformist newspapers.  As a young man, Boulton studied law and entered a legal practice.  Boulton was first elected to Toronto's City Council in 1838, and in 1844 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada (then made up of parts of present day Ontario and Quebec).  As a member of the Legislative Assembly, Boulton represented Toronto as a conservative member - not surprising giving his family's membership among the establishment. 

Boulton served as Mayor of Toronto from 1845 to 1847, and then again in 1858.  Between the time of Mackenzie's Rebellion of 1837, and Confederation in 1867, there were many debates regarding reforms to  Canada's politics, education and governance.  This period saw the secularization of certain institutions that had formerly been run by the Anglican Church.  Most notable among them was education.  King's College, the predecessor to the University of Toronto, was originally established by the Church, and it was at this time that it was turned into a secular institution.  But the separation of church and education was not without heated debate.  Boulton voted against the secularization of post secondary education, showing his true conservative stripes.  However, he did show some support for reform, supporting a movement to make the Legislative Council elected, and not merely appointed.

William Henry Boulton died in Toronto in 1874, and his wife Hariette Boulton inherited the family estate, known as the Grange.  She remarried shortly after, and her new husband, Goldwin Smith, moved in with her.  When Smith died in 1910, the house was bequeathed to become the "Art Gallery of Toronto".  In the last century, the modern Art Gallery of Ontario - including the recent additions by famed Toronto architect Frank Gehry - has grown around the Boulton home.  The Grange dates back to 1817, making it one of the oldest surviving brick homes from the old Town of York.


Alderman for Toronto from 1894 to 1914, and acting Mayor for Toronto

THEN : William Peyton Hubbard, "Toronto's Grand Old Man".

Perhaps one of the most well loved politicians in the history of Toronto's city council, William Hubbard was born in Toronto in 1842.  His parents were escaped slaves, who fled to Canada from the United States, at a time when cities like Toronto were a haven for those escaping America before the end of slavery after their civil war.  Hubbard had embarked upon more than one career before entering municipal politics.  He worked as a baker for some time, and even invented a special oven, known as the "Hubbard Oven".  For a while, he worked as a coachman.  The story goes that while driving his coach across what would have then been the wilds of the Don River, at about Queen Street, he happened upon a man who looked to be drowning.  Hubbard rescued him, pulling him from the water, and discovered that it was none other than George Brown, Father of Canadian Confederation, spokesman for Canada's involvement in the Underground Railroad, and founder of "The Globe" newspaper, which would eventually become "The Globe and Mail".  From that point, Brown took an interest in Hubbard's career.

It wasn't until he was in his fifties that Hubbard entered politics, winning his first municipal election in 1894.  He served in city council over a span of two decades, and although he was never officially Mayor of Toronto, he did serve as Acting Mayor on a number of occasions.  Throughout his career he was known for a deep sense of public duty, a quick wit, and a wonderful ability for public speaking.  He fought to keep public supplies of water and hydroelectricity out of the hands of private companies, and kept large corporations from instituting harsh licensing restricitions on smaller companies, thereby ensuring that the small companies could remain open and offer competition.

Hubbard retired by 1915 and settled down in Toronto's Riverdale district, moving into a house on Broadview just south of Danforth.  He died in Toronto in 1935 at the age of 93.  He had long since earned the nickname of "Toronto's Grand Old Man", and was for at least a time the oldest man living in Toronto.


Mayor of Toronto from 1928 to 1929, and again in 1936

THEN : Sam McBride, Mayor of Toronto in 1928 to 1929, and again in 1936.
Samuel McBride's name may be familiar to modern day Torontonians because of the ferry to the Toronto Islands that carries on his name.  McBride had a cottage on the Toronto Islands, and represented the Islands as Alderman during part of his thirty years in Toronto municipal politics.  Believe it or not, in the mid-1930s there was a debate about building a tunnel to the Toronto Islands, but McBride had it stopped.  It was only after his death that the City of Toronto opened up the Island Airport, and the debates about alternate transportation to the Toronto Islands are still going on almost 75 years after McBride's death in 1936.

Although McBride had made a fortune in the lumber industry before entering muncipal politics in the early 1900s, he was considered a candidate for the working class.  He supported reducing the work day to only eight hours, and spoke out in favour of giving votes to women.  He also helped to develop the Toronto Transit Commission, and helped to build the Coliseum at the Canadian National Exhibition.

Despite his apparent abundance of humanity, he had a terrible temper.  He got into at least one fist fight with another alderman, and at one point, during another argument, threw a can of beans at another alderman.  He missed his intended target, but left a dent in the wood panelling of the council chambers.  He died on November 10th, 1936, becoming the first Mayor of Toronto to die in office.


Mayor of Toronto in 1963

THEN : Donald Summerville in 1959, before becoming Mayor of Toronto.  On the right is another later Mayor, Nathan Phillips, who became the first Jewish Mayor of Toronto.

Before entering city politics, Summerville served as a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War.  Legend states that during his training, he accidentally bombed the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition.  Summerville was elected to city council in 1955, serving as an alderman for a ward in the Beaches, and was eventually elected Mayor of Toronto in 1963.

On November 19th, 1963, Mayor Donald Summerville was playing at a charity hockey game in the west end of Toronto.  Tragedy struck when he suffered a heart attack.  There was an ambulance only about a mile away, in York Township, but it was never called due to the system of municipal boundaries that existed at the time.  Instead, a City of Toronto ambulance was sent out from over ten miles away.  Had the closer ambulance been sent, Summerville may have lived, but instead he died waiting for an ambulance from Toronto.  It was only after his death - complicated by a bureaucratic municipal policy - that the new Department of Emergency Services was created, and various Toronto emergency services were amalgamated.  Summerville was generally a popular mayor, and his death was considered a great tragedy throughout Toronto, but his funeral was overshadowed somewhat.  Summerville's funeral was held on November 22nd, 1963 - as his funeral cortege wound its way through a closed downtown Toronto, residents also learned that American President John Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas that very same day.


Since 1834, Toronto has had 63 mayors.  There's been too much unsavoury behaviour to expound on in one post.  Here are a few highlights of the lives and misdeeds of some of our other mayors, not covered above.

HENRY SHERWOOD was Mayor of Toronto from 1842 to 1844.  As a young man in 1826, he'd been one of a group of rich thugs who broke into the printing presses of William Lyon Mackenzie, at Front and Frederick streets.  The gang broke up Mackenzie's type and threw it in the harbour.  This was the afforementioned "Types Riot" that launched Mackenzie's publishing and political career.  Sherwood had 18 children, and claimed that he was unable to pay for all of his expenses during his term.  Sherwood died in 1855, in Bavaria, while travelling through Europe on a luxury first class vacation, having left his brood of children at home.

ERNEST MacDONALD was Mayor of Toronto in 1900, and surely was mayor for a new century.  He'd blown a real estate fortune worth $200-million in current figures, and had run for over a dozen elected positions - and lost - before being elected as Mayor of Toronto.  He served a single year, then was defeated.  He had a nervous breakdown, and his health continued to deteriorate.  He took to his bed and died of acute syphilis in 1903.

ALLAN LAMPORT was the Mayor of Toronto from 1952 to 1954.  He was, apparently, highly popular back in the day, though his lifestyle was larger than life itself.  In two years as mayor, he spent somewhere between $300,000 and $400,000 in high end dinners, alcohol, cigars and a private suite at the Royal York Hotel, all without any kind of approval and all at the expense of the taxpayers.

Such were the characters that have made up our municipal leadership for the last 176 years.  Whoever we get over the next four years, hopefully knowing who we've had will help give you a bit of balance ... even if you don't end up voting for our next mayor!


And now for something almost as frightening as staying up late on Monday night to watch the polls close ...

Every night from now until October 31st, I run my "Hallowe'en Season" of ghost tours.  The two-hour "Haunted Streets of Downtown Toronto" tour runs every night at 7:00 p.m., and the shorter "Ghosts of the University of Toronto" tour runs every night at 10:00 p.m.  Both tours are held each and every night.  Make sure to reserve though, as some nights are already almost sold out.  Reservations may be made by contacting me by e-mail at, or by telephone at (416) 487-9017.  Hallowe'en is always a busy time of year, and I am thankful to all the people who help to keep it that way!

Sign up now, as some nights are already sold out!
For more information on either of the two ghost tours, please visit these links.
"The Haunted Streets of Downtown Toronto" Tour
"The Ghosts of the University of Toronto" Tour


  1. Ironically we were at Boulton and King's house with you last week!

  2. Did you consider trading with the #1 Bitcoin exchange service - YoBit.