Philanthropist. Amateur sport advocate. Municipal political kingmaker. Populist conservative publisher. Collector. Historian. Imperialist. Just a few of the terms that could be applied to the many passions of John Ross Robertson. Nearly a century after his death, legacies such as the Hospital for Sick Children and the public utilities he campaigned for continue to affect the lives of Torontonians.
The profile touches upon Robertson's contributions to the preservation of Toronto's past. The collection of pictures he donated to the Toronto Public Library remains a key part of the Baldwin Room Canadian Historical Picture Collection. He also published six volumes of Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto, which collected historical sketches originally published in the Telegram. A sample of the introduction to the first volume, published in 1894:
Though dotted with errors, the series provides an interesting look at Toronto's development from John Graves Simcoe to the eve of World War I. Robertson edited a number of other historical works, including the diary of Simcoe's wife Elizabeth.
One hundred years ago Chippewas in their wigwams were the only inhabitants to welcome the first white man, who with axe in hand hewed from forest trees a primitive log cabin on a half acre, now covered by palatial marts of business, valued in the millions. The rise, the progress, the development and material advancement of such a place should interest all who claim Toronto as a residence, whether as sturdy pioneers from the motherland, or as native-born descendants of those whose strong arms turned the forest trees into homes, or, like the Egyptians of old, fashioned the clay into the conventional red brick which to-day stands as a memorial of the early days of the closing century. The effort of the publisher in this volume is to give a readable and reliable history of the old houses and historic spots in the former town of York, with a glimpse at many of the familiar forms and faces of those who have aided in upbuilding Toronto.
|John Ross Robertson and William Findlay Maclean, between 1916 and 1918. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 657.|
The picture above, taken during Robertson's last years, depicts him with another long-time populist Toronto newspaper publisher who the producers of Renowned Editors of Canadian Newspapers decided didn't merit such a designation, William Findlay Maclean of the Toronto World. Hard to say if Maclean would have deserved space had there been any, though before the World ceased publishing in 1921 it served as a training ground for later influential journalistic figures like Joseph Atkinson, Hector Charlesworth, and John Bayne Maclean.
Robertson is buried in the Necropolis in Cabbagetown, the same cemetery as one-time boss/publishing and political rival George Brown, who Robertson once called "the most notable charlatan this country has ever known."