Originally published on Torontoist on August 26, 2011.
“Some of the thousands of citizens who passed through City Hall today to pay their final respects to Mayor Sam McBride as he lay in state are shown above with a few of the many handsome floral tributes and the solemn procession inside the building.” The Telegram, November 16, 1936.
While the state funeral planned for Jack Layton tomorrow is unique for being the first held for an opposition leader, it won’t be the first time a former councillor lies in state in Toronto’s seat of government. That honour was also bestowed upon two men who rose from council to the mayor’s office but died before the end of their mandate. Old City Hall served as the venue for the public to remember Sam McBride and Donald Summerville in a way that may be similar to that we will see at the new City Hall today.
The Telegram, November 14, 1936.
Fiery Sam McBride returned to the mayor’s chair in 1936, seven years after his first term ended. Described by the Star as “a two-fisted, red-blooded, go-getter who was ready on a second’s notice to fight for what he believed to be right and to champion the cause of the common citizen,” his second stint was marred by ill health related to a blood infection caused by a teeth-pulling. Though he continued to look after city affairs, his public appearances declined. On November 10, 1936, McBride suffered a stroke and remained unconscious until he died four days later. City council decided the appropriate venue to remember McBride, who was born in the nearby Ward neighbourhood and who had been involved in municipal politics for 30 years, was Old City Hall. Inspired by the funeral held for Sir John A. Macdonald on Parliament Hill in 1891, the plan was to have McBride lie in state at the base of the grand staircase of the building for four hours on November 16, followed by a funeral in the lobby at 2:30 p.m.
A long line of mourners stretched along Queen Street to grieve McBride that day. As members of city council took turns attending the casket, around 25,000 people passed through to pay their final respects. City offices were closed for the day, while courts ceased their sessions at 1 p.m. When the funeral began at 2:30 p.m. buses, ferries, and streetcars across the city ground to a halt to observe two minutes of silence. Officials requested that during that quiet time, local motorists should avoid honking their horns. For the overflow crowd in front of Old City Hall, loudspeakers were set up so they could hear the 45-minute service, while the rest of the city tuned into CFRB. The eulogy was given by Reverend W.J. Johnson, who noted that if the mourners could open McBride’s heart, they would see, “written in letters of gold, Toronto.” A procession led by 20 mounted police led McBride to his final resting place in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.
Toronto Star, November 21, 1963.
Almost exactly 27 years after McBride’s passing, the public again converged on Old City Hall to remember a fallen mayor. After 10 months in office, Donald Summerville’s intensive work schedule worried his city council colleagues. Though only 48 years old, Summerville had suffered a heart attack two years earlier. When it was suggested that city hire an official civic greeter to lessen his workload, Summerville, who often put in 16-hour days, insisted that he should make a special effort to be available to community groups who requested a mayoral presence at their functions. On November 19, 1963, the one-time practice goalie for the Maple Leafs donned his pads for a charity game at George Bell Arena to support victims of a flood in Italy (where he was scheduled to fly to the following day).
The Telegram, November 20, 1963.
He played for five minutes, clowned for the cameras, then complained of fatigue. Summerville went to the dressing room and collapsed from a heart attack, unable to reach his nitroglycerine pills. “Don Summerville died trying to be nice to people,” noted Telegram columnist Frank Tumpane. “As we all must die, it is a good way to go, better, by far, than to meet life’s end wrapped in bitterness or striking a selfish blow.” The Star ran a tasteless headline the following day: “MAYOR SUMMERVILLE SKATES OFF ICE TO DIE.”
Summerville lay in state inside the council chamber close to the mayor’s chair. Despite requests from his family to send donations to Variety Village in lieu of flowers, bouquets were piled high within the room. Before his casket was moved to Old City Hall, a wake was held at former mayor Ralph Day’s funeral home on Danforth Avenue, where mourners included federal opposition leader John Diefenbaker. The length of visitation hours at City Hall were similar to those planned for Jack Layton this Friday and Saturday: 12 hours on November 21, then two hours on November 22 before the funeral was held at St. James Cathedral. A book of sympathy was placed at the entrance to the chamber, but Alderman Allan Lamport had it moved when it slowed the flow of people.
The Telegram, November 21, 1963.
The Globe and Mail described some of the 30,000 people who paid their final respects to Summerville over those two days:
Women curtsied, old veterans saluted, many crossed themselves. Men and women dropped to their knees before the coffin to pray. Some reached forward to pat the mayor’s hand. A clergyman put a hand on Mr. Summerville’s forehead and murmured a brief prayer. A motorcycle policeman in uniform looked at the body of the chief magistrate, snapped in attention, and saluted
One imagines the mood during Summerville’s funeral became even more sombre after mourners heard the news out of Dallas that afternoon: John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.
To date, McBride and Summerville are the only Toronto mayors to have died in office. Unless a respected municipal politician reaches the same level of national prominence as Jack Layton, or there are extraordinary circumstances surrounding the demise of a public figure, we suspect the next person to lie in state within City Hall will be another mayor who is tragically unable to fulfill his or her electoral mandate.
Additional material from the November 16, 1936, and November 22, 1963, editions of the Globe and Mail; the November 14, 1936, November 16, 1936, November 20, 1963, and November 21, 1963, editions of the Toronto Star; and the November 14, 1936, November 16, 1936, November 20, 1963, and November 21, 1963, editions of the Telegram.
In March 2016, Rob Ford lay in state for two days at City Hall, the first time a former mayor received the honour. City staff rejected several requests from the Ford family, including an open casket and displaying a “Ford Nation” flag.
The Globe, November 17, 1936.
Toronto Star, November 20, 1963.
Inside coverage included a picture of Summerville lying on a stretcher before he was removed from George Bell Arena (which, so far, is not among the Star photos digitized for the Toronto Public Library).
The Telegram, November 20, 1963.