Opening City Hall

Originally published on Torontoist on September 8, 2015.

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The Telegram, September 14, 1965.

When the new City Hall opened on September 13, 1965, that afternoon’s Toronto Star editorial echoed many initial thoughts about our new $31 million landmark:

Suddenly today every Torontonian is ten feet high. For the new City Hall is his. He is part of its greatness and shares its beauty. There in its mass and grace is his visible assurance that he is a citizen of no mean city. The building in Nathan Phillips Square is more than an impressive and proud architectural statement of civic status. It gives the metropolis a focus. It is the heart of Toronto’s future. It is the symbol of the new Toronto and we can rejoice in what it means.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

Seven years after Viljo Revell’s design was chosen in an open competition, four years after ground had broken, the controversial structure buzzed with activity while preparing for its debut. Forty-two workmen moved furniture, including the mayor’s desk, across Bay Street via overnight dolly runs. Shelves were filled at the new library branch. Workmen scrambled to finish installing desks and rugs, catching up after an eight-week carpenters’ strike. Metro Toronto’s coat of arms for the council chamber arrived late. Officials decided that the first two floors of the podium, the council chamber, and the basement cafeteria were the only areas ready for public scrutiny.

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Cartoon by Sid Barron, Toronto Star, September 13, 1965.

A military band from Petawawa launched the festivities at 1:30 p.m., which drew a crowd of 15,000. The civic guard of honour escorted city councillors and suburban mayors and reeves from old City Hall to the platform in front of the new building. At 2:15, a 100-member honour guard drawn from five regiments marched into the square. Accompanied by the first of several RCAF flyovers, Governor-General Georges Vanier’s motorcade arrived on time. He was followed by the Finnish ambassador to Canada, Torstein Tikanvaara, Prime Minister Lester Pearson, and Ontario Premier John Robarts.

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Toronto Star, September 14, 1965.

In his opening speech, Mayor Phil Givens observed that many were responsible for new City Hall, “from an architectural genius in far-off Finland, to the humblest labourer in Canada, and, above all, the support and patience of the citizens of this city.” To Givens, the building symbolized both Toronto’s transformation into a world-class city, and the audacity to build so unconventional a structure in a city steeped in tradition.

Pearson praised City Hall’s modernity, while lamenting the likely fate of its predecessor, which “must become a sacrifice to progress” (plans released later that week for an early version of the Eaton Centre would have demolished all but the clock tower of old City Hall). He was followed by Robarts, three religious leaders, and the presentation of a ceremonial gavel by Hamilton Mayor Vic Copps.

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The living former mayors on hand for the ceremony (Allan Lamport refused to come, while Hiram McCallum was out of town on business). The Telegram, September 14, 1965.

But the man of the hour was Nathan Phillips, whose championing of the new civic square led to his name being bestowed upon it. Givens and Vanier presented him with the Civic Award of Merit gold medallion. Phillips slipped comfortably back into his “mayor of all the people” mode all day, joking with fellow dignitaries. When he examined Givens’ new office, Phillips grinned and said “I didn’t know I was building this for you, Phil.” Noticing the press later on, he assumed a serious tone to state how this was one of the most important events in his life, and how grateful he was for the honour of having served as mayor. He smiled as he switched back to his normal speaking voice. “How was that, eh?”

While Phillips was visibly moved by the reception he received, one of his predecessors was a party pooper. Allan Lamport had backed more conventional designs during his mayoralty in the early 1950s, and believed taxpayer money was wasted on the project. Having campaigned to review the project during his failed 1960 mayoral bid, his bitterness was still evident. Lamport spent the day at his insurance office. “I have to work for a living and I haven’t got the time for parties these other fellows have,” he declared. He had no desire “to cheer something that is wrong and impractical for the taxpayers.”

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Globe and Mail, September 13, 1965.

After the presentation to Phillips, Givens paid tribute to Revell, who had died less than a year earlier. Revell’s widow Maire sat in the front row next to the Finnish ambassador. The Toronto Finnish Male Choir sang “Finlandia” to honour Revell, whose work was commemorated with a plaque by the front entrance. Mrs. Revell was given a gold pendant depicting her husband’s work. Despite her stern bearing during the ceremony, she later signed souvenir programs and indicated she had enjoyed the day even if it was difficult to express her feelings about the realization of her husband’s work. She admitted in a Globe and Mail interview that initially it wasn’t one of her favourite designs. “But when I first saw the drawings for it, I knew that it was going to be for the best,” she said. “I was really shocked at the design—shocked in the sense of liking it.” One of her laments was that Revell had visualized a sculpture by Henry Moore as part of the square, an element which appeared only after a battle royale among city politicians the following year.

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Mayor Phil Givens’s office. Canadian Architect, October 1965.

Among those sitting on the green benches reserved for dignitaries was 90-year-old Alfred Stagg. He had ventured downtown that day to buy a hearing aid battery for his wife. Noticing the crowd in the square, he asked a police officer what was going on. Stagg then shared stories about his childhood adventures on the site. “We used to play on the vacant lot there,” he told the Telegram. “And there used to be circus wagons there sometimes…and snake charmers and medicine men. I had a tooth pulled out by one of them.” The officer took Stagg by the arm and walked him past the VIP barricade. Asked his opinion of the new building, Stagg replied “I used to call it Phillips’ Folly. But now I like it.”

The ceremony ended with the official ribbon cutting. Watched by Givens and Metro Toronto Chairman William Allen, Vanier used a giant pair of scissors to cut the 132 foot long ribbon. Fireworks went off.

Confusion ensued when the dignitaries went on a post-ceremony tour. Robarts was accidentally barred from the mayor’s office. The building’s circular shape led confused guests into places they didn’t expect—trips to the cafeteria turned into expeditions through the chauffeurs’ garage. Limited elevator service created long waits for overcrowded cars to reach the council chamber. Pearson and others vainly searched for a staircase, only to discover that they were closed because they also led to the freshly asphalted front podium roof (workers were afraid high heels would leave holes). The PM joined everyone else in line.

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Toronto Star, September 10, 1965.

Press reaction was positive, steeped in civic pride and confidence in Toronto’s future. That feeling carried over into the Star’s man-on-the-street interviews, such as one with civic worker Jack Boustead:

You can have memories, but you can’t live in the past. The old City Hall, and I knew it for 54 years, served its purpose. The new City Hall is a symbol of Toronto’s progress and outlook on life. The City Hall should lead in new architecture.

Not everyone was pleased. Roofer John Fridz felt it lacked dignity, charm, and a clock tower. “This new thing is cold, grey, and not worth the cost,” he observed. “If it impressed any one—it won’t be from beauty.” At least one letter writer to the Star preferring that the hoopla be directed to building the Bloor-Danforth line into Etobicoke and Scarborough, proving you can work complaints about subway service in the east into any Toronto political development of the past half-century.

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Toronto Symphony Orchestra performing in Nathan Phillips Square. November 14, 1965. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 329, Series 1569, File 2531.

Opening day ended with the first of a week-long entertainment series in Nathan Phillips Square, a salute to Canada’s military history. The next evening, around 30,000 watched a bill featuring the Canadian Opera Company, National Ballet of Canada, and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. The latter decided not to fire cannons during the 1812 Overture out of feat of shattering hard-to-replace glass—the replacement smudge pots proved a bust. “The entire event recalled something of a civilized ritual of a bygone era, the conversazione,” noted the Globe and Mail’s Ralph Hicklin. “There was music there—beautifully presented, well amplified—for those who wanted to hear it. There was room for the others, who had come to promenade, or to chat, or do a little courting. In Toronto, where we are reputed to take out pleasures sadly, it was wonderful to see so many people having a wonderful time, in surroundings as beautiful as any you could find in North America.”

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The Telegram, September 14, 1965.

Day two also saw the building open for public tours. Over 200,000 passed during the week, their enthusiasm keeping the tour guides perky. Some cranky visitors felt it was their right as taxpayers to visit private spaces. The most popular stops were the neighbouring offices of Allen and Givens.

Politicians testing the new facilities found flaws. The Board of Control found a committee room was too small to hold other officials and the press, while the Public Works committee met in the cafeteria. A policy to use the council chamber solely for full city and Metro council meetings was revisited. When Metro Council held its first full meeting on September 21, East York Reeve True Davidson, no fan of the building, insisted councillors didn’t need mics to be heard. She was later asked to remove her hand from her mic. After the session, she claimed she didn’t like how she sounded over the sound system.

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The Telegram, September 20, 1965.

The evening celebrations carried on, including events ranging from a multicultural night to square dancing. It climaxed on September 18 with “Toronto A Go Go,” a teen-centric concert featuring local rock acts and go-go dancers. Givens taped radio ads for the show, urging “all you cats and those who are young at heart” to come on down. The crowd of 60,000 whipped itself into a frenzy, causing officials to ask for calm several times. One of Givens’ requests turned into a duet featuring the mayor and Bobby Curtola singing “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Around 200 police officers were present in case the show went off the rails.

The climax came during the performance of the soul-influenced ensemble Jon and Lee and the Checkmates. During a cover of James Brown’s “Please Please Please,” singer Jon Finley’s gyrations “moved the girls in the front rows to new heights of endeavor,” reported the Globe and Mail, “as they screamed and tried to push through the police.” Givens and other officials had enough. According to Finley, the mayor tried to grab drummer Jeff Cutler’s cymbal, but was whacked across the knuckles as the band kept going. Finley was later helped off the stage, nearly unconscious—as another entertainer told the Star, “he doesn’t sing from his heart or that…he sings from his soul and it gets him emotionally.”

Givens ordered an early start to the evening’s fireworks.

Amid the mayhem, 19-year-old Brian Batt was stabbed, the result of an encounter with other youths described as wearing Beatles-style ensembles. The wound missed Batt’s coronary artery by a millimetre. Five men were later charged over the incident.

Despite the chaos, Givens was satisfied with how the go-go unfolded. “It was a great night and I’m glad we had it,” he told the Star. “There was a great spirit of enthusiasm, although I was worried a couple of times that someone might get hurt. But the police did a great job of controlling the crowds.”

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Cartoon by Al Beaton, the Telegram, September 13, 1965.

As politicians settled in and resumed their usual squabbling, the new City Hall remained a busy tourist attraction. To this day, the site retains its place as a symbol of our civic pride, and the heart of where we’d like Toronto’s future to unfold.

Additional material from Before the Gold Rush by Nicholas Jennings (Toronto: Penguin, 1997); the September 9, 1965, September 11, 1965, September 13, 1965, September 14, 1965, September 15, 1965, September 16, 1965, September 18, 1965, September 20, 1965, and September 22, 1965 editions of the Globe and Mail; the September 4, 1965, September 13, 1965, September 14, 1965, September 16, 1965, September 20, 1965, and September 22, 1965 editions of the Toronto Star; and the September 13, 1965, September 14, 1965, and September 20, 1965 editions of the Telegram.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

The final installment of  the second run of Vintage Toronto Ads, published on Torontoist on September 9, 2015, tied into this article.

When a major landmark opens, everyone (apart from skinflints complaining about cost) wants to join the party. It’s an opportunity to mark a major addition to your city, display optimism for the future, or find any means to hitch your wagon to the hoopla. Advertising in this vein ranges from simple congratulations to using the event as a springboard to brag about your latest milestone.

The opening of new City Hall in September 1965 was no different. The following ads mix historical perspectives, media coverage, building sketches, and corporations eager to embrace the future our new civic space symbolized.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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Toronto Star, September 8, 1965.

Bosley Real Estate’s ad highlights how the process to build City Hall went back nearly two decades, and tips its hat to previous occupants of the site.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

Shell Canada operated its head office at 505 University Avenue from 1958 until moving to Calgary in 1984. Design firm Mariani and Morris was among the contenders to build City Hall in the early 1950s.

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Globe and Mail, September 11, 1965.

The Revell-inspired sand castles resemble those built by Nathan Phillips in an editorial cartoon five years earlier.

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Globe and Mail, September 11, 1965.

John B. Parkin Associates’s Simpson Tower opened in 1968.

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Globe and Mail, September 10, 1965.

Given the firm’s work on City Hall, employees of John B. Parkin Associates earned a well-deserved day off.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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The Telegram, September 10, 1965.

The Telegram’s supplement was the largest of the newspaper sections honouring City Hall.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1965.

Whacking Whitney While Keeping Drew Out

Originally published on Torontoist on October 5, 2011 with additional material mixed in.

Besides lawn signs and public meetings, newspaper advertisements have long been a preferred method for Ontario politicians to spread their message to the public. Whether it’s a simple promise to provide “good government” or a full platform requiring a magnifying glass to read, the press has offered a forum for candidates to make their case to voters as long as they paid for the ad. Today’s gallery shows the evolution of Ontario election ads from short notices in partisan papers to spots where the reproduction quality barely hides the lines of a candidate’s toupee (sorry Mel).

1886

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Richmond Hill Liberal, December 23, 1886.

Back in the 19th century, a candidate generally placed ads in publications slanted toward their political party. Such was the case with G.B. Smith, a Liberal endorsed by the Richmond Hill Liberal. It wouldn’t be a great shock to discover that the paper’s December 23, 1886 editorial portrayed him as “man whose every utterance is straight-forward and fair, for a man whose conduct is open and fearless, for a man whose character and abilities should commend themselves to all.” Voters in York East agreed—Smith represented the riding until 1894.

Results December 28, 1886:
Liberal (Oliver Mowat): 57 seats
Conservative (William Ralph Meredith): 32 seats
Other: 1 seat

1898

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Short , sweet, to the point. The voters fulfilled the Globe’s vow, as the Liberals won their eighth consecutive term in office and their first without longtime premier Oliver Mowat at the helm. Conservative leader James Pliny Whitney was whacked again in the 1902 election, then finally won the premiership in 1905.

Results March 1, 1898:
Liberal (Arthur Hardy): 51 seats
Conservative (James Pliny Whitney): 42 seats
Other: 1 seat

1905

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News, January 24, 1905.

Liberal candidate Hugh Blain claimed nasty things were afoot in North Toronto as the campaign drew to a close. A poster entitled “Will Hugh Blain Deny” that alleged the candidate took advantage of government subsidies for beet sugar was circulated by Conservative supporters of incumbent MPP Dr. Beattie Nesbitt. Attacks on the Grits were common during an election that saw the end of 34 years of Liberal government. Nesbitt won, but he resigned his seat a year later to accept an appointment as registrar of West Toronto.

Results January 25, 1905:
Conservative (James Pliny Whitney): 69 seats
Liberal (George William Ross): 28 seats
Other: 1 seat

1919

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The Globe, October 18, 1919.

The first postwar election was accompanied by a referendum on the prohibition of alcohol, which the province had enacted three years earlier. There were four questions regarding varying degrees of repeal, from dumping the Ontario Temperance Act altogether, to allowing beer to be sold through the government. Voting on each question ranged from 60 to 67 percent against bringing legal booze back.

Results October 20, 1919:
United Farmers of Ontario (no official leader): 44 seats
Liberal: (Hartley Dewart): 27 seats
Conservative (William Hearst): 25 seats
Labour (Walter Rollo): 11 seats
Other: 4 seats

1923

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Toronto Star, June 23, 1923.

Voters didn’t heed Groves’s ad, as she finished second in Toronto Northwest, with 20.9% of the ballots. Her candidacy was attacked by the Telegram for ‘grossly violating” laws which prohibited political activity in schools. Brock Avenue School principal D.W. Armstrong posted a note on a bulletin board urging staff to support Groves, who ran for the Progressive Party. Armstrong accepted all responsibility. “Mrs. Groves did not speak to me about it and in no way have I heard from her in connection with the campaign,” he told the Star. “If it was an error it was mine and I must take the consequences.” Groves she had not campaigned in any schools, but was aware of support from teachers.

Results June 25, 1923:
Conservative (Howard Ferguson): 75 seats
United Farmers of Ontario/Labour (E.C. Drury): 21 seats
Liberal (Wellington Hay): 14 seats
Other: 1 seat

1926

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Toronto Star, November 30, 1926.

Alcohol was the key issue of the 1926 campaign. Premier Howard Ferguson ‘s Conservatives proposed repealing the act to allow government sales, which led to ads like this one. Killjoy drys were overruled in this election: Ferguson won a majority and introduced the Liquor License Act in March 1927, which led to the birth of the LCBO.

Results December 1, 1926:
Conservative (Howard Ferguson): 72 seats
Liberal (W.E.N. Sinclair): 15 seats
Other: 12 seats
Progressive (William Raney): 10 seats
United Farmers of Ontario (Leslie Oke): 3 seats

1934

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The Enterprise, June 13, 1934.

Proof scare tactics can backfire on a party: Premier George Stewart Henry (whose name lives on in the North York neighbourhood named after his farm) saw his party’s fortunes collapse as the Conservatives dropped from 90 to 17 seats against the populist appeal of Mitch Hepburn’s Liberals.

Results June 19, 1934:
Liberal (Mitch Hepburn): 65 seats
Conservative (George Stewart Henry) 17 seats
Liberal-Progressive (Harry Nixon): 4 seats
Other: 4 seats

1943

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Globe and Mail, August 4, 1943.

Governor-generals have to start somewhere. Though unsuccessful in his 1943 campaign against future Toronto Mayor William Dennison, Roland Michener was elected to Queen’s Park two years later.

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Toronto Star, August 3, 1943. 

Following its opposition to Canada’s entry into World War II, the Communist Party of Canada was officially banned in 1940. Despite this, candidates continued to run in federal and provincial elections. In Toronto, A.A. MacLeod (Bellwoods) and J.B. Salsberg (St. Andrew), who advertised themselves as “Labour” candidates, won their ridings. Shortly after the election, they agreed to sit as MPPs for the Communists’ new legal entity, the Labour-Progressive Party.

Results August 4, 1943:
Progressive Conservative (George Drew): 38 seats
CCF (Ted Jolliffe): 34 seats
Liberal (Harry Nixon): 15 seats
Labour-Progressive (no leader): 2 seats
Other: 1 seat

1945

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Toronto Star, June 2, 1945.

Building on the success of MacLeod and Salsberg in the 1943 election, the Labour-Progressive Party ran 31 candidates across the province, some of whom were allied with Mitch Hepburn’s Liberals. They failed to keep Drew out, as the Conservatives returned with a majority government. Part of the Tories’ success may have been due to a radio speech given by CCF leader Ted Jollife which accused Drew of establishing a “Gestapo” within the Ontario Provincial Police to keep watch on the opposition. The speech backfired on Jolliffe, though evidence was found years later to support his claims of government spying.

Results June 4, 1945:
Progressive Conservative (George Drew): 66 seats
Liberal (Mitch Hepburn): 14 seats
CCF (Ted Jolliffe): 8 seats
LPP (Leslie Morris): 2 seats

1948

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Toronto Star, June 5, 1948.

However, Drew lost his own seat to CCF candidate/temperance zealot Bill Temple in High Park. He quickly went into federal politics and won the federal Tory leadership. Peel MPP Thomas Kennedy served as interim premier until Leslie Frost became party leader the following spring.

Other notable candidates featured in this ad include CCF leader Ted Jollifee (running in a seat that another CCF/NDP party leader, Bob Rae, would hold), Agnes Macphail (Canada’s first female MP and one of Ontario’s first pair of female MPPs), Reid Scott (at 21, then the youngest MPP in Ontario history), and William Dennison (future mayor of Toronto).

Results June 7, 1948:
Progressive Conservative (George Drew): 53 seats
Liberal (Farquhar Oliver): 14 seats
CCF (Ted Jolliffe): 21 seats
LPP (no leader): 2 seats

1951

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Weston Times and Guide, November 8, 1951.

The province didn’t feel the same chill: Premier Leslie Frost’s Progressive Conservatives won all but 11 of the 90 seats at Queen’s Park.

Results November 22, 1951:
Progressive Conservative (Leslie Frost): 79 seats
Liberal (Walter Thomson): 8 seats
CCF (Ted Jolliffe): 2 seats
LPP (Stewart Smith): 1 seat

1963

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Don Mills Mirror, September 18, 1963.

Yes, the colour of margarine was once considered a major election issue, though butter-hued oil spread was not 100% legal in Ontario until 1995. The ’63 campaign was the first for John Robarts after succeeding Leslie Frost. Note the promises related to the Toronto area—Robarts flipped the switch when the Bloor-Danforth line opened three years later.

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Don Mills Mirror, August 14, 1963.

While Jim Service was unsuccessful in his run for the provincial legislature, he would serve North York as reeve and mayor from 1965 to 1969.

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Don Mills Mirror, September 18, 1963.

1963 was the first provincial election for the NDP, having changed its name from the CCF two years earlier. Party leader Donald MacDonald stayed through the transition, remaining in charge until 1970.

Results September 25, 1963:
Progressive Conservative (John Robarts): 77 seats
Liberal (John Wintermeyer): 24 seats
NDP (Donald MacDonald): 7 seats

1967

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Globe and Mail, October 16, 1967.

At least two of the “action politicians” were or would be easily recognized by the public. Stephen Lewis would win a second term in Scarborough West. Three years later, he became party leader. Over in High Park, Dr. Morton Shulman ran after he was fired from his role as Ontario’s chief coroner earlier in the year for embarrassing the government over inadequate fire protection in a new hospital. Shulman’s crusading medical career had also inspired a popular CBC drama, Wojeck.

Results October 17, 1967:
Progressive Conservative (John Robarts): 69 seats
Liberal (Robert Nixon): 28 seats
NDP (Donald MacDonald): 20 seats

1971

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Don Mills Mirror, October 6, 1971.

The Progressive Conservatives earned their ninth consecutive mandate under new leader William Davis, whose team. All of the candidates pictured in this ad, except for Deane (who lost to veteran Liberal Vern Singer) joined Davis at Queen’s Park. Timbrell ran for the party leadership twice in 1985, losing to Frank Miller in January and Larry Grossman in November.

Results October 21, 1971:
Progressive Conservative (William Davis): 78 seats
Liberal (Robert Nixon): 20 seats
NDP (Stephen Lewis): 19 seats

1975

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Toronto Star, September 16, 1975.

Who’s a better provincial candidate than Mel Lastman? EVVVERYBODY! Well, actually former Toronto mayor Philip Givens, who won Armourdale for the Liberals in election that produced Ontario’s first minority government since 1943.

Results September 18, 1975:
Progressive Conservative (William Davis): 51 seats
NDP (Stephen Lewis): 38 seats
Liberal (Robert Nixon): 36 seats