Beach Memories: : A look back at Toronto elections past and some of our more colourful mayors

Gene Domagala will be speaking at the Beaches Branch Library on the evening of Dec. 11 on the topic of some of Toronto's mayors of the past.


One might think that our last municipal election was one of the most controversial we’ve ever had, what with the Premier of Ontario taking over the City of Toronto’s ability to think for itself – chopping down 47 elected councillors to 25.

Most of those who were to be elected in the Oct. 22 municipal election had to scramble to get elected again because of this edict from on high. Nearly three million Torontonians were to be governed by 25 councillors – a ratio of about 115,000 people to one elected official.

Surely this was one of the worst examples of chicanery in Toronto’s history? Oh no, dear readers, it was nothing compared to what our city had to contend with during the beginning of Toronto.

You might think some of our Toronto politicians were different – nothing like what we have had over the years – whether they were aldermen, mayor, councillors or on the board of control, but I think you will be surprised by the hard and true facts of our city.

In our first year as a city in 1834, we had William Lyon Mackenzie as our first mayor – the little rebel with a cause. In that first year, the mayor was elected by his fellow members of city council, they comprised 10 aldermen and 10 councilmen for a total of 20 elected officials.

In 1834, the population of Toronto was approximately 30,000. So do the math – it appears one elected official represented 1,500 people. Compare that to today. What a difference between then and now.

That fact, dear readers, is only one of many about elected officials and elections in our city. Another is that the mayor was always elected by members of council, not the entire population of the city, for our first 25 years as a city.

Residents didn’t get to elect the mayor until 1859. That mayor was Adam Wilson, who had a connection to the Beach area.

By the way, Toronto was once called a “holy city” because we had five wards and they were St. Andrew, St. David, St. George, St. Lawrence and St. Patrick.

I’ve written several articles about our mayors, aldermen and councillors so I try not to get repetitive. Our mayors, for example, quite a number of them, were lawyers and a lot of them were quite young when they assumed office.

We had quite a few colourful mayors, and one of the first mayors who was called Mayor of All The People was Nathan Phillips. He was mayor from 1955 to 1962. The square in front of City Hall is named after him.

We also had John Sewell, our Beach activist who was mayor from 1978 to 1980. He was one of the best mayors and still to this day he keeps council on its toes.

Donald Summerville was one of our sports mayors, and our local swimming pool at Woodbine and Lake Shore was named after him. He died in office of a heart attack in 1963 while taking part in a charity hockey game.

Allan Lamport, mayor from 1951 to 1955, really brought sports to the city as mayor, especially on Sundays; though he assaulted the English language.

There are so many stories about all of our different mayors, such as one who shook hands with 25,000 soldiers and the mayor who survived the longest, but all that’s for another issue of Beach Memories.

Here’s some more facts about our city and the wards. You may think we have problems in 2018 with our elected officials, but it’s been going back to 1834.

Let me take you to the year 1888, when we had 12 wards (all of them still named after saints) and we had 30 aldermen.

One might also wonder about the naming of our elected officials as at different times they were called aldermen or councillors and sometimes there were both at the same time – very confusing. By the time we stopped being Saints in the City and went to numbers for Wards many were even more confused.

And now that you, dear reader, is totally confused – wait until next issue.

I will be doing a talk on our mayors, some of the places they lived, and anecdotes about our elected officials on Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. at the Beaches Branch Library.


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