Saturday, December 23, 2017



Because of my trade as a journalist, I have known 19 Toronto mayors, some almost too well.
I don't include the city's first, William Lyon Mackenzie, because the ghost of the Firebrand only appeared to a colleague the night he wouldn't let me come along with him to sit in vigil in the rebel's Bond St. home.
Only one refused to give me or anyone else such basic personal details as their age. That was June Rowlands, who just died at 93. She's noted as Toronto's first woman mayor and had other famous firsts as a very competent female politician. Yet she was very much an old-fashioned lady about concealing her age.
We argued about it, and she confessed the reason had nothing to do with feminine vanity. In her family, she said, members lived a long time. They suffered late in life because of the way the world treated old people. Why she had a relative still working who was 95.
I now realize in my anecdotage that she had a point. Yet then I really didn't care that much but she was being mentioned as a possible Metro chairman, a position much more important than the mayor of Toronto before the city amalgamated. Her competition was Dennis Flynn, the Etobicoke mayor, who won, and Fergy Brown, the future York mayor. So it was two suburban Tories with good experience and fine war records against a downtown Grit alderman.
Since I had to find 11 columns every two weeks and filled in occasionally with editorials, I ran around  City Hall and Queen's Park like a hamster on a wheel. I was not bashful about hunting for info and developed unlikely but fruitful sources.
One was a junior city clerk with an encyclopedia knowledge of who was doing what to whom. It was Bill Price who confided it was going to be fun to watch the new Toronto Blue Jays try to play their first Sunday game because that was still illegal. After my column appeared, council had to pass a new bylaw and brought the city closer to a Sabbath more open than when they even took in the sidewalks.
So I went to Price with my riddle of this day about how I could find out Rowland's age without having to buy lunch for a clerk in birth records. Price said that was absolutely no problem because Rowlands had been in his elementary school class and he knew she was 60.
So I wrote about how interesting it was that the three candidates for Metro chairman all happened to be the same age.
Rowlands didn't find that coincidence justified my column and said so in language that I didn't think nice blonde wives from Rosedale knew.
There was a further cooling of relationships when she banned Salvation Army soldiers with their kettles from soliciting at Christmas time on Nathan Phillips Square because of their position against homosexuality. That encouraged activists who didn't give a damn about actually helping people to mutter complaints to aldermen about what the Salvation Army believed. Then she vetoed the Bare Naked Ladies from a Square appearance because of their name.
Any experienced journalist reveres the work of the Sally Ann. But not only had I watched them help the helpless without flaunting their religion as a reporter covering courts and police, my mother's family had been able to flee religious persecution because of their help. So I went after Rowlands with a vengeance and the Sally Ann made it back to the Square. Now, unfortunately,  the bells of the world's best charity have been silenced and their kettles diminished even at sensible stores that should know better, like Costco.
Rowlands was stubborn with her many causes like animal rights but at least she didn't attack me on the floor of council asking her colleagues to censor me, like Leslie Saunders, the mayor who was once the world's top Orangeman. My father had been his family doctor, he said, so why would I lie about him in print about some of his Orange views?
I did more drinking than fibbing with our mayors then because there was a much closer relationship between mayors and journalists before the explosion in media numbers stirred with the 24-hour news cycle and social media into fundamental changes to change political coverage at all levels.
I remember the day I drank with a mayor all afternoon until he pleaded with me to come home so his wife wouldn't yell at him for being late for his own birthday party.
I remember the mayor who wanted me to be present for a meeting with the hospital CEO he hated because he was afraid they would get into a fist fight.
 When I got married in 1961, city council adjourned briefly to a committee room and Mayor Nathan Phillips presented me with a movie camera. Later I wrote his memoirs. Phil Givens, later the mayor, congratulated me and came to the wedding. Don Summerville, later the mayor, took me off to a steam at the central Y and then to the free seats the senior politicians got for Leaf games. We did that regularly.
I'm not boasting, just stating how it was. What kept everyone honest was that both politicians and journalists watched each other like circling hawks to see who succumbed and sold out and who played the game in the public's interest.
In the end, we publicized all the relevant information, even the age of a feminist who had concealed it for all her adult life even through several election campaigns.

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