Vintage Toronto Ads: Ensure Stable Government (1926 federal election)

Originally published on Torontoist on April 12, 2011.

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The Globe, September 13, 1926.

“Ensure stable government.” Isn’t stable government what the present-day Conservative party is promising if you vote for them during the 2011 election campaign? Some things never change…

Mind you, the situation when voters went to the polls on September 14, 1926, was volatile. It was the second election campaign in less than a year, thanks to a highly unstable parliament. Despite coming in second place after the vote on October 29, 1925, William Lyon Mackenzie King’s Liberals clung to power with the backing of Progressive party MPs. King’s government faced a never-ending series of non-confidence votes launched by the Conservatives, which finally looked like they were going to succeed after a report regarding a scandal over booze smuggling at a federal customs warehouse was presented to the House of Commons in June 1926. What followed was the constitutional crisis known as the King-Byng affair, which one usually needs a scorecard to follow.

In the midst of procedural mayhem, Conservative leader Arthur Meighen assumed power for three days before falling to another non-confidence vote and being granted the dissolution of parliament that Governor General Lord Byng had just refused to give King. During the campaign, King worked out arrangements with the Progressives and strong farmer/labour candidates so that in ridings where one party was stronger, the other wouldn’t run (hence the reason for the majority of the 48 blacked-out ridings in the map above).

As John Duffy noted when he profiled the campaign in his book Fights of Our Lives, “For many reform-minded electors, the three-day Meighen government of 1926 had shown that the hated Tories had a chance at power as long as the Liberals and Progressives remained divided; voting Progressive seemed a luxury to be indulged when the Tories were safely off in third place, as in 1921, but not now.” Meighen initially focused on attacking Liberal corruption, but when that ran out of steam he pulled out the patriotism-to-Britain card and attacked King for being a rebel like his grandfather William Lyon Mackenzie.

Meighen’s plea for a stable government succeeded…for King, who, with a handful of Progressives who ran under the Liberal-Progressive banner, easily formed a majority. Toronto did not succumb to King’s charms, as all of the Conservative candidates listed in today’s ad won. The tightest race was in York North, where Thomas Herbert Lennox defeated Liberal Henry Arthur Sifton by less than 300 votes (King had held the seat from 1921 to 1925). Others on the local Conservative slate included three former mayors of Toronto (Church, Hocken, and Geary), and a rookie whose parliamentary career lasted into the space age (McGregor, who served as an MP until 1962).

Additional material from Fights of Our Lives by John Duffy (Toronto: HarperCollins, 2002).

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

In an earlier post, I covered the nasty fight for the Conservative nomination in Toronto Northeast in 1926, which played itself out in newspaper advertising.  And stay tuned for another tale of the ’26 campaign in Toronto…

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The Globe, September 11, 1926.

globe 26-09-11 liberals king ad

The Globe, September 11, 1926.

Ads published on the same day for the Conservatives and Liberals. The Tories harped on the previous year’s customs scandal (which involved corruption at the federal customs department), while the Liberals touted their achievements and upcoming goals.

Vote Brillinger (The Druggist)

tely 1923-12-28 election ads brillinger the druggist

The Telegram, December 28, 1923.

Does being the first name atop a ballot help one’s political career? Likely not; otherwise Dobroslav Basaric would be among the critical contenders in the 2018 Toronto mayoral race. It didn’t aid Magnus Austin Brillinger (1882-1939) in the 1924 race for the two trustee positions up for grabs in Ward 6, which stretched from Parkdale up to his drugstore at St. Clair and Dufferin. When the votes were tallied on New Year’s Day, despite an endorsement from the Globe, he finished third behind future TTC chair W.C. McBrien and veteran board member Dr. John Hunter.

Better luck next year for the St. Clair Avenue West pharmacist, right?

Brillinger barely had time to mourn his loss. Hunter, who had intermittently sat on the board since 1894, intended to retire after the 1923 term, but friends convinced him he had another year in him. Hints were dropped that if he ran, he’d receive the chairmanship he long desired. The day after the election, rumours swirled that the job was no longer guaranteed, prompting an irritated Hunter to prepare a bombshell.

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Dr. John Hunter, Toronto Star, January 4, 1924.

When the board meeting began on January 3, 1924, trustee John McClelland proposed that an open vote for chairman be held instead of the usual secret ballot. McBrien seconded the motion. The board’s solicitor shot down the motion, advising the vote had to be confidential. No candidate won the first ballot, or the second. When the third showed Hunter in last place, he withdrew his name, left a letter on the table, wished everyone a happy New Year, and left the room. Another trustee lamely covered for Hunter’s sudden exit, claiming he had to attend to a patient.

After taking care of other communications, Hunter’s letter was read. He thanked Ward 6 voters for their support, then noted the circumstances which made him decide to run for one more term, including his belief that he had trustee support to become chairman. He noted the heavy responsibilities that came with running the board.

“However,” he wrote, “as neither the honor nor the heavy obligations have come to me, I desire to ask the electors of Ward No. 6, provided my successor can be appointed without putting the city to the expense of an election, to accept my resignation as your representative on the board of education, and for the latter, as soon as it can legally do so, to accept my resignation and to appoint another.”

After the letter was finished, there was a moment of silence before Hunter’s resignation was accepted. Two days later, the Globe concluded that Hunter’s fault “was that he did not see eye to eye with the controlling clique on the board.”

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Editorial, Toronto Star, January 5, 1924.

Who would replace Hunter? Several candidates were suggested, including the runner-up in Ward 8, a much smaller ward which included East Toronto and would have had three reps on the board compared to one from Ward 6. This didn’t sit well with community groups or the daily papers, who felt Brillinger deserved the honour. “What we want is British fair play for a good citizen. We want the position given to the man who was the runner-up in a hard-fought contest,” noted A. Greenhill, president of the Ward 6 Ratepayers ‘Association. “We want justice, not politics, to decide this matter.”

The Globe outlined Brillinger’s positives:

Among the considerations one hears urged in favour of Mr. Brillinger is the fact that he was the first president of the local ratepayers association, and the other fact that in his earlier manhood he served half-a-dozen years as a lay missionary in China—an experience that should mean much in the way of training for self-sacrificing public duty.

Aside: Brillinger first came to public notice in 1911, while he served as a Methodist missionary in China. When the Railway Protest Movement, a precursor to the Xinhai Revolution which toppled the Chinese monarchy, broke out in September, missionaries in outlying areas of Szechuan province were ordered to concentrate in Chengdu. Brillinger was among the 160 Canadians and their families on missionary work in the area—among the others were the family of future Ontario CCF leader Ted Joliffe. Brillinger was asked by Methodist officials to send cables from Chongqing updating the situation. Several of these were published on the front pages of Toronto’s newspapers, providing reassuring messages such as “everything decidedly more hopeful.”

On January 17, 1924 Brillinger was appointed to fill the Ward 6 vacancy. The Globe reported that he “remarked facetiously that in view of the publicity given the proceedings of the board recently he did not know whether his appointment was a matter of congratulation of for commiseration.”

Brillinger stayed on the board for the next 15 years, often winning the largest vote count among B of E candidates. He was regarded as a solid trustee, even if some were annoyed by his heavy use of board cars. He filled in as chairman for two months in 1930 following the death of Dr. W.R. Walters. Vowing to stay the course during his short tenure, Brillinger noted he was liberal enough to consider all suggestions, no matter from what source, and conservative enough to believe that all changes were not for the better.”

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Globe and Mail, July 15, 1939.

Though his health declined during the late 1930s, Brillinger found it difficult to settle into retirement. He sold his pharmacy at 1162 St. Clair West in 1938, got bored, and went into the insurance business. He was visiting his old store on July 14, 1939 when he suffered a fatal heart attack. Trustees, including future mayor William Dennsion, served as pallbearers at his funeral.

Additional material from the January 4, 1924, January 11, 1924, January 18, 1924, and October 22, 1930 editions of the Globe; the July 15, 1939 edition of the Globe and Mail; and the September 7, 1911, September 13, 1911, January 2, 1924. January 4, 1924, January 5, 1924, and January 10, 1924 editions of the Toronto Star. Portions of this piece were originally published on JB’s Warehouse and Curio Emporium on October 23, 2014.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Booted by a Billboard

Originally published on Torontoist on October 7, 2008.

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Election billboard for Liberal candidates Lionel Conacher and John A. MacVicar, City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1257, series 1089,

Most of the election signs currently lining the streets of the city stick to identifying local candidates and their party colours. Commentary on the other candidates is rarely seen on lawn signs, while billboards tend to be the domain of lobbyists. This was not the case during the Ontario provincial race in 1948, when passers-by got an eyeful of what the opposition thought of the government.

The Rich Uncle Pennybags character getting the boot was Premier George Drew, whose victory over the Liberals in 1943 launched the Progressive Conservatives’ 42-year run in office. Attempting to give George the boot was one of the Grits’ star candidates, Lionel “Big Train” Conacher. “Canada’s Greatest Male Athlete of the Half-Century” entered politics after his hockey and football careers wound down, starting with a stint as MPP for the long-gone Toronto riding of Bracondale from 1937 until his defeat in 1943 by Ontario’s second female MPP, Rae Luckock of the CCF (forerunner of the NDP).

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Election billboard for Progressive Conservative candidates George Drew and Dana Porter, City of Toronto Archives, fonds 1257, series 1089, item 2863.

The Tories countered with billboards using a sober portrait of Drew. Note the hint of a heavenly aura.

After the ballots were counted on June 7, the Progressive Conservatives won 53 of 90 seats, a drop of 13. Drew lost his own riding, High Park, to the CCF’s William Temple, a temperance crusader largely responsible for protecting The Junction’s dry status. Temple felt his victory was “a personal rebuke to the arrogant and dictatorial handling of public affairs by Mr. Drew. It is proof that his labelling as a ‘Communist’ everyone who disagrees with him no longer frightens the people of High Park.” Drew proved Temple’s accusation in a speech given after the opposition parties conceded, warning that the rise in the CCF vote (the party went from 8 to 21 seats) marked the “insidious, vile, poisonous encroachment of Communism,” and that Ontario voters should not be surprised if events similar to the recent Communist takeover in Czechoslovakia occurred. You be the judge whether Drew reflected period Red Scare fears or expressed sour grapes over his loss and the CCF’s new status as the official opposition.

With his personal defeat, Drew stepped down as premier and entered federal politics. By the end of 1948 he was leader of the Progressive Conservatives in Ottawa, losing twice to Louis St. Laurent before his retirement in 1956. His career wound down with a six-year stint as the first Chancellor of the University of Guelph.

The Liberals’ 14 seats did not include Conacher or John A. MacVicar, as both were defeated by the Tories. Like Drew, Conacher tossed his hat in the federal ring and was elected as an MP the following year. Conacher served Trinity as an MP until his death from a heart attack during a parliamentary softball game in 1954.

Additional material from the June 8, 1948 editions of The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star.