Election Results, 1930s Style

Originally published on Torontoist on April 29, 2011.


Newsstand at the northeast corner of King and Bay, November 9, 1931. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 58, Item 1289.

How will you discover the latest election results on Monday night? Watch them on television? Head to the neighbourhood bar? Follow Torontoist’s coverage? Take the matter into your own hands and tweet the early returns to the entire world? OK, maybe you should be careful with that last option—if a tattletale rats you out, an Elections Canada official may reward you with a hefty fine, since social media is off-limits while the west coast is still voting.

Back in 1930, early reporting wasn’t a problem. The internet hadn’t been invented yet, Canada didn’t have a national broadcasting network, any telegraph and telephone operators who sent early results to the west wouldn’t have faced any harsh legal penalties, as section 329 of the Canada Elections Act wasn’t enacted for another eight years.

How did Torontonians satisfy their election night curiosity at the dawn of the Great Depression? Thanks to the city’s four daily newspapers, voters who cast their ballots on July 28, 1930, had two options: listen to special radio broadcasts in the comfort of their homes, or join the crowds gathered outside the cluster of press buildings around King and Bay to find out if Conservative leader R.B. Bennett would topple the Liberal government of William Lyon Mackenzie King.

For those in a partying mood, the liveliest festivities were found at the Star’s new headquarters at 80 King Street West (now the site of First Canadian Place). Four screens were set up: one for typed bulletins with the latest results, one utilizing a telautograph (an ancestor of the fax machine) “by which the actual writing of the operator at the telegraph wire is made visible to the crowd,” and two movie screens. To soothe those who were anxious and to entertain those who were bored waiting for the results, a 22-piece orchestra was on hand. For readers who couldn’t make it downtown, the Star set up two screens at Fairmount Park at Bowmore Road and Gerrard Street East (one featuring the latest bulletins, the other comedies), which were accompanied by diversions ranging from a military band to a ladies’ softball game. Coverage on the Star’s radio station, CFCA, was anchored by hockey broadcasting pioneer Foster Hewitt.


Mail and Empire building, northwest corner of Bay and King streets, December 30, 1913. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 2037.

A few doors east of the Star at the northwest corner of King and Bay, the Mail and Empire didn’t add any frilly touches to its offerings, apart from a loudspeaker that played music and a platform for candidates to address the crowd. Results were screened across the street on the side of Cawthra House. The paper promised that during its four hours on air over radio station CKNC, there wouldn’t be any breaks from its election coverage for regular programming—“lulls, if any, between results will be filled in with music.”

The opposite was true of the Telegram’s radio plan. Listeners of CKGW were promised that there would be little disruption to the programs they normally enjoyed on a Monday night, as updates from the Tely intruded for three brief election bulletins. Meanwhile, down at the Tely’s office at Bay and Melinda (now occupied by Commerce Court), results were flashed on the side of the building. Breaks were filled by movies, projected drawings sketched on the spot by the paper’s cartoonists, and live music courtesy of the 48th Highlanders. (We wonder if any of the pro-Bennett blurbs the paper used as space fillers during the campaign—such as “British Bankers Back Bennett…So Should You” and “Vote Bennett and a Boom/Oust W.L.M. King and Gloom”—were projected on “the old lady of Melinda Street.”)


Advertisements, the Globe, July 26, 1930 (left); the Globe, July 28, 1930 (right).

The Globe, then located at 64 Yonge Street, projected returns for the public via a stereopticon (or magic lantern) onto a canvas hanging on the Melinda Street side of the Dominion Bank Building (now One King West). Seven phone lines were set up to provide returns for eager callers. The paper promised that for its radio coverage on CFRB, “Special preparations have been made to make the radio newscast as rapid and accurate as human ingenuity and the super-powered equipment of CFRB will permit.” Regardless of which way the vote went, readers were promised that Prime Minister King would provide a short radio message once the results were in.

That speech turned out to be a concession address, as Bennett emerged the victor. While the result may have disappointed ardent followers mulling outside the Liberal-leaning Globe, we suspect the crowd was jubilant outside the staunchly Tory Telegram. Despite each paper’s fierce partisanship, no fights between neighbouring left-leaning Star readers and right-leaning Mail and Empire fans were reported. If there were any bitter feelings, voters bottled them up until the internet comments section was invented.

Additional material from the July 28, 1930, edition of the Globe; the July 26, 1930, edition of the Mail and Empire; the July 26, 1930, and July 28, 1930, editions of theTelegram; and the July 28, 1930, edition of the Toronto Star.


Vintage Toronto Ads: A Checklist for Discriminating Voters

Originally published on Torontoist on April 26, 2011.


The Telegram, June 8, 1957.

As the federal election campaign hits its final week, one of the big stories is a series of polls that shows a rise in the NDP’s popularity. Whether the party will retain its current momentum and wind up with a substantial increase in seats remains to be seen. Digging around for old party election ads, we discovered a “checklist for discriminating voters” that the NDP’s predecessor, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) provided for electors back in 1957. While there was a crest of support for an opposition party that year, the tide went with John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservatives.

By the 1950s, the CCF wielded influence on social welfare policy that far outweighed its representation on Parliament Hill, and the party was not shy taking credit for inspiring legislation passed by the Liberal administrations of Mackenzie King and Louis St. Laurent. During a party convention in Winnipeg in 1956, the delegates updated parts of the Regina Manifesto to reflect current realities and to make these policies less scary to voters who thought the CCF were no better than Communists: threats to eradicate capitalism were changed to policies supporting public ownership wherever most appropriate.

One claim leveled at the CCF during the 1957 campaign is one which still plagues the NDP (or did until recently, perhaps): that a vote for the party is a wasted ballot. Though aimed specifically at voters in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, a press release from Saskatchewan Premier Tommy Douglas could have applied to dithering voters in Toronto too:

In this constituency you are being told that you will be wasting your vote by voting CCF. The fact remains that over the past quarter of a century every important economic reform and every piece of progressive social legislation has been popularized by the CCF and has been forced upon a timid and reluctant government. The Liberal Party does not need a bigger majority. What it needs is to be shaken out of its complacency and indifference.

With limited resources to run a federal campaign, the CCF relied more on dedicated volunteers than hired staff. Newspaper ads such as today’s featured item appeared in conjunction with one of the party’s few CBC radio and television spots. Maybe the party should have plastered each candidate’s photo in this ad, as the other major parties did: the best results local CCF candidates mustered were second-place finishes in Danforth and Greenwood. The party lost the only local seat it won in the previous election (York South, where MP Joseph Noseworthy served until his death in March 1956) and would not win again federally until future party leader David Lewis recaptured it in 1962.

Nationally, the results were slightly brighter: the CCF gained two seats for 25 overall. The party’s most stunning performance in Ontario was in Port Arthur, where schoolteacher (and future Telegram and Sun parliamentary columnist) Douglas Fisher knocked off “minister of everything” C.D. Howe.

Additional material from The Canadian General Election of 1957 by John Meisel (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962).

Vintage Toronto Ads: The Rise and Fall of a Diefenbaker MP

Originally published on Torontoist on April 19, 2011.


Don Mills Mirror, June 6, 1957.

If you think we’ve headed to the polls one too many times to elect a federal government over the past decade, then you’ll feel a twinge of sympathy for the average Canadian voter who had the opportunity to exercise his or her democratic privilege five times between 1957 and 1965.

The unifying figure through all of those elections was Progressive Conservative leader John Diefenbaker and his roller-coaster ride of popularity. Running alongside him: a Metro Toronto candidate whose fortunes mirrored those of Dief the Chief.

And so, a chronicle of five elections in five election ads…

1957: Frank McGee had politics in his blood. One grandfather served as an MP for eight years, while another was the longest serving Clerk of the Privy Council in Canadian history. His great uncle was assassinated Father of Confederation D’Arcy McGee. His father-in-law was Senator Grattan O’Leary. Shortly before his 32nd birthday, department store merchandise buyer McGee was chosen to carry the Progressive Conservative banner in York-Scarborough. During the February 25 nomination meeting, McGee promised to hold Liberal incumbent Frank Enfield accountable on the government’s role in the pipeline debate and the Suez crisis. The vigour of the national Tory campaign, as opposed to the stay-the-course mode the Liberals adopted, must have left an impression on York-Scarborough voters, as McGee received the largest personal majority in the country on June 10 (just under 20,000 votes more than Enfield).


Don Mills Mirror, June 13, 1957.

Of the 18 seats in Metro Toronto, the Tories captured all but one (rookie Liberal Stanley Haidasz won Trinity). Twenty-two years of Liberal rule was replaced with a Diefenbaker-headed minority government.


Don Mills Mirror, March 13, 1958.

1958: McGee and Diefenbaker experienced a record-breaking election night. When the ballots were counted on March 31, the Tories captured a record number of seats—with 208 seats out of 265, they still hold the federal record for the highest seat percentage in an election. Every seat in Metro Toronto went blue. York-Scarborough voters did their part by giving McGee the largest majority ever received up to that time in a single riding as he defeated Enfield by 35,377 votes (the current record holder is Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua, who crushed his closest opponent in York North by 51,389 votes in 1993). During the 24th Parliament, McGee introduced a private member’s bill to abolish capital punishment. Though McGee’s proposal met the fate usually meted out to such bills, it helped pave the way for the eventual abolition of the death penalty.


Toronto Star, June 13, 1962.

1962: It didn’t take long for internal squabbling and Diefenbaker`s penchant for nursing grudges to cause rancor within the Tories. As John Duffy summed up in his book Fights of Our Lives, by 1962 “John Diefenbaker was already the doomed Tory hero, wrapped in a Union Jack and battling alone against the dragons of Americanization, big business, and technology itself.” Diefenbaker’s government was reduced to a minority, thanks to a resurgent Liberal party and the success of Social Credit in Quebec. Of the 20 candidates shown in this ad, only McGee and six others headed to Ottawa to take their place in Diefenbaker’s minority government. Our man’s margin of victory dropped to just over 5,000 votes over the resurgent Liberals. In the short-lived session that followed, McGee served as parliamentary secretary to the minister of citizenship and immigration.


Don Mills Mirror, April 3, 1963.

1963: Shortly before Diefenbaker’s minority government fell amid disarray over nuclear defence policy, McGee was made a minister without portfolio. By this point, he was campaigning on his own merits without comparisons to Diefenbaker. Voters decided that McGee wasn’t a good enough MP as he lost to Liberal Maurice Moreau by 21,500 votes. He wasn’t the only Tory out of a job; Diefenbaker lost the reins of power to Lester Pearson. Following his defeat, McGee became a political columnist covering the Conservative point of view for the Toronto Star and hosted a public affairs program on CBC Television.


Don Mills Mirror, October 27, 1965.

1965: When another election loomed, McGee left his media gigs in an attempt to regain his old seat. There’s no mention of Diefenbaker in McGee’s ad, which may reflect the ever-increasing animosity within the party toward the former PM. Local officials blamed Diefenbaker for turning local voters away from McGee, who was tied with Liberal Robert Stanbury for a time before losing by just under 4,000 votes. Still, it was a slight improvement on McGee’s performance in ’63, just as the Tories modestly upped their standing in the House of Commons by a couple of seats.

McGee came oh-so-close to returning to office during his final political run in the suburban riding of Ontario (which included parts of present-day Durham Region stretching from Pickering to Uxbridge) in 1972, but lost to the Liberals by four votes in a recount. Before his death in 1999, McGee also served as an executive at a public relations firm, a member of the Security Intelligence Review Committee, and a citizenship judge in Toronto.

Additional material from Fights of Our Lives by John Duffy (Toronto: HarperCollins, 2002), the November 10, 1965, edition of the Don Mills Mirror, and the February 26, 1957, edition of the Toronto Star.


Vintage Toronto Ads: Who’d Make a Better North York Controller than Mel Lastman? NOOOBODY!

Originally published on Torontoist on October 12, 2010.


Left: The Don Mills Mirror, November 19, 1969. Right: The Enterprise, November 12, 1969.

He had never attended a council meeting. He admitted he didn’t know what exactly the duties were for the position he was running for. He was unable or unwilling to partake in certain traditions of the campaign trail, like handshaking. None of these factors hindered Mel Lastman in his quest to become a North York Controller in 1969: his inexperience was seen by voters and several publications as a plus.


The Enterprise, November 26, 1969.

The Mel Lastman that entered municipal politics was a thirty-six-year-old millionaire who had gone from selling appliances out of the back of a truck to owning fifteen Bad Boy stores. He gained a reputation for attention-grabbing sales gimmicks such as running down Yonge Street in a mini skirt, selling fridges to Inuit, and standing on street corners handing out two dollar bills for a buck. His ignorance of the workings of municipal politics was seen as a breath of fresh air in some quarters, such as the endorsement he received from the Don Mills Mirror: “In his attempt to educate himself about the workings of municipal government, Lastman, in our opinion, will ask the questions which trouble many voters, but rarely trouble politicians.”

Lastman Loop

Diagram of “Lastman’s Loop.” The Enterprise, November 19, 1969.

Lastman’s platform stressed his business experience by questioning how anyone could trust politicians who emptied the financial coffers of North York and Metropolitan Toronto. Among his platform planks, the item that gained the most attention was “Lastman’s Loop.” He proposed to use sixty miles of railway track that CN and CP planned to phase out for passenger service on as a commuter loop operated in a manner similar to the then-recently-introduced GO transit system. The scheme would have used a CP line from Union to Doncaster Avenue in Thornhill, turned west along the track north of Steeles, then used CN lines on the east side of Keele to head back toward Union. Lastman claimed that a trip from Union Station to Doncaster would take half an hour. He also provided for extensions of the service using existing rail lines to the airport. According to a blurb in a Bad Boy ad shortly before the election, Lastman estimated that a system following his plan could build 200 miles of surface rapid transit for the same cost as one mile of subway (which he estimated to be twenty million dollars).

Vintage Ad #1,227: Lastman Speaks for Youth and Gets Things Done! (2)

The Enterprise, November 19, 1969.

Several aspects of Lastman’s platform were tailored for the youth vote, including a vow to fight pollution (“something must be done immediately about pollution or ten years from now, we will all be going in for blasts of oxygen to cleanse our lungs”) and offer clinics for users of illicit substances (“speed freaks and LSD bad trippers will kill themselves before they reach twenty. If they want help, give it to them. Turn your back on a child and you’ll never bridge the generation gap”). Lastman also supported amalgamation of all the municipalities within Metro Toronto, the expansion of North York into parts of Vaughan and Markham townships, improved facilities for students with special needs, private funding for a domed stadium, and an improved Landlord and Tenant Act to favour apartment dwellers.

Lastman’s campaign was marked by the candidate’s unwillingness to do the usual rounds of door-knocking and hand-shaking. “I’m so shy,” he told the Star. “I didn’t have the guts to go out and shake anyone’s hand. I tried it once in a restaurant and the woman told me to go away because she was eating. That was the last time.” This quirk didn’t harm Lastman’s chances among the nine candidates who sought the four available controller seats. When the ballots were counted on December 1, Lastman came in third with just under thirty-six thousand votes. Amid the cheers and high spirits of supporters at his victory party, the Star noted that Lastman looked “bewildered but happy.” If the accounts of his speech that night are taken at face value, it appears that Lastman was still unsure of what his new job entailed: “now, all I want to know is what does a controller do?”

ts 69-12-02 election results

Toronto Star, December 2, 1969.

When asked why he didn’t set his sights on the mayor’s chair, Lastman replied “well, then everyone would have thought I wanted to be king.” He bided his time as a controller before mounting a challenge to the throne in 1972. Once the crown was in his grasp, he held onto it for the next quarter century before overseeing the amalgamation he had supported during his first electoral campaign.

Additional information from the February 1968 issue of Toronto Life and the following newspapers: the November 19, 1969 and November 26, 1969 editions of the Don Mills Mirror; the November 19, 1969 edition of the Enterprise; and the November 29, 1969 and December 2, 1969 editions of the Toronto Star.


Vintage Toronto Ads: The Greatest Canadian of All Times Wants Your Vote

Originally published on Torontoist on October 5, 2010.


The North Toronto Herald, June 3, 1955.

During the current municipal election campaign, some candidates have unveiled promotional materials that demonstrate just how ballsy they are about their ability to govern the city. But for sheer belief in one’s abilities, few can match perennial 1950s fringe candidate George Rolland. The self-styled “greatest Canadian of all times” (we thought that title belonged to Tommy Douglas) tried to gain access to City Hall, Queen’s Park, and Parliament Hill and failed each time. Today’s ad, and its listing of his diverse talents, made Rolland an irresistible choice to 317 voters in the riding of Eglinton during the provincial election of 1955.

The great man had two major liabilities. Number one was a massive ego which led to all kinds of narcissistic fantasies. Whenever he showed up at candidate meetings during his run for Toronto’s Board of Control in 1954, he brought along a display board covered in medals he won in athletic competitions, which he felt entitled him to be a controller. It was reported that he sat in the window of a store he once owned and had a spotlight directed upon himself. He wrote an endless stream of letters to City Hall and local newspapers to prove his genius. As for his belief in his musical genius, Star columnist Ron Haggart noted in a 1960 profile that “he said there had been no composers worthy of mention in the past 500 years (except himself) and he had redesigned the musical scale.”

Liability number two was not so easily dismissed: the man was a raving racist. In his 1954 platform, Rolland promised to introduce “racial segregation laws” that would “correct the inter-racial mixing menace that sweeps over the world today, and destroys the true meaning of Christianity and destroys the self-respect of all persons alike.” If enacted, Rolland’s laws would have applied to schools, churches, hotels, restaurants, residences, and so on. His dream of bringing a touch of South Africa to Toronto was greeted with boos during candidate gatherings. His racist leanings became more pronounced as time wore on, climaxing in a fiery appearance on the CBC TV show Live a Borrowed Life in September 1959. Instead of limiting himself to talking about his supposed expertise on Abraham Lincoln, Rolland told the panel that blacks should move to Africa to establish their own culture instead of battling discrimination.

Rolland filed nomination papers to run yet again for the Board of Control in November 1960. His campaign would have likely included a battle against the design of the new City Hall, as its curving towers were “alien” in concept and would, he claimed, cause a vortex that would transform light breezes into hurricane-strength winds. But Rolland never got to make any more stump speeches. On November 23, the deadline day for candidates to qualify or drop out of the race, Rolland died of a heart attack at the age of fifty-six. His death almost sparked a crisis, as due to the rules of the day, a new nomination meeting had to be held no less than seven days before the election, on December 5. Such a meeting required six days notice in a newspaper. Time was tight and the spectre of holding a separate election for the Board of Control loomed. This scenario was avoided when the Star indicated it could slip the official notice into that evening’s paper. As Haggart noted a week later, “at City Hall, where they laughed cruelly at George Rolland, they had to take him seriously at last.”

Additional material from the November 25, 1954, December 4, 1954, September 10, 1959, November 23, 1960, and November 28, 1960 editions of the Toronto Star.


gm 1955-12-05 rolland racist ad

Globe and Mail, December 5, 1955. One suspects the paper wouldn’t run such an ad today.

Checking my files, it appears I only used the Star‘s archive when I wrote this piece. So, when prepping this reprint, I browsed the Globe and Mail to see what they had to say about this great Canadian. I’m happy to report that they didn’t pull any punches in calling him out for what he was, especially near the end of his life.

Here’s a description of his appearance at a candidate’s meeting during his run for the Board of Control in 1954:

Candidate George Rolland had a number of reasons last night why he should be elected to the Board of Control.

Winding up a rapid-fire election speech before a large audience at Brown Public School, candidate Rolland went to a satchel and pulled out a bright blue vest weighted with medals.

“Just look at those,” he exclaimed to the crowd.

“Running medals, walking medals, wrestling medals, boxing medals and singing medals.”

He looked at the crowd for a moment.

“Folks, all that skill and all that co-ordination of action is yours if you vote for me December 6.”

Among some of Rolland’s other beliefs:

  • Viljo Revell’s design for City Hall wasn’t sturdy enough to withstand a snowstorm. “It may topple over before it is completed,” he wrote in a letter to City Council in 1958. “The building will be very dangerous and unsafe.”
  • Pedestrian crosswalks were “a guessing game” and should be abolished.

His appearance on Live a Borrowed Life provoked editorials in both the Globe and the Star. “Mr. Rolland’s record as a racial agitator is too well known for the CBC to plead ignorance of his offensive views,” the Globe and Mail observed. “It should have realized he would grasp the rare opportunity of a national network audience to present them.” The Star chalked the appearance up to “a producer’s boner,” and that the discussion of heavy issues like racism should occur in a weightier setting than a light entertainment panel show.

Also not impressed with Rolland’s CBC appearance was script assistant Janet Hosking, who watched at home while sick with pleurisy. “I sat and slowly died,” she recalled a few months later.

ts 60-11-24 death tipoff

Toronto Star, November 24, 1960.


The headline of Rolland’s Globe and Mail obit pretty much sums up his character. One wonders how he’d thrive in today’s political climate. I’d hate to see his website…

Additional material from the November 26, 1954, October 2, 1958, November 18, 1958, September 11, 1959,  January 7, 1960, and November 24, 1960 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the September 11, 1959 edition of the Toronto Star.


Vintage Toronto Ads: Booted by a Billboard

Originally published on Torontoist on October 7, 2008.


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).


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.