Monday, October 13, 2014

bonus features: william dennison

This post offers supplementary material for an article I wrote for Torontoist, which you should read before diving into this piece.

Source: The Telegram, Dec 6, 1966.
While researching this piece, I was struck at several parallels between Dennison and Rob Ford, namely what we'd now call "retail politics" and campaigning on being mindful of taxpayer dollars. (There were major differences: Dennison was a teetotaller, displayed leftist tendencies during his early political career, and didn't make a public spectacle of himself). Several months before the 1966 municipal election, Toronto Star city hall columnist Ron Haggart looked at Dennison's chances, using language that could have been adapted by his successors in 2010:
But Dennison can by no means be written off. He has helped literally thousands of ordinary persons during his years as an alderman and controller at City Hall. He efficiently keeps in touch at election time with those whose problems have crossed his desk. He has an independence from, even a coolness toward, the City Hall Establishment which has earned him a reputation as a man who fights City Hall at City Hall. 
William Dennison as Rip Van Winkle. Toronto Star, October 24, 1967.
Dennison was fully aware of how political observers depicted him as a dinosaur, and seems to have had a mischievous twinkle in his eye whenever the topic arose. When he won the mayoralty, Dennison displayed, according to CFTO analyst Charles Templeton, a Cheshire cat-like grin. Watching the coverage, Globe and Mail TV columnist Dennis Braithwaite half-expected the new mayor to repeat Jackie Gleason's catchphrase, "how sweet it is."

Toronto Star, November 6, 1967.
160 park benches. 86 trash cans. 29 drinking fountains. 11 tree planters. The list of items Toronto asked Montreal to return after Expo 67 provoked laughter in both cities. Quebec City's Le Soleil ran a cartoon depicting a long line of lovers waiting to make out on a bench chained and locked to a tree in High Park. Montreal resident Claire Rappaport mailed Dennison a plastic trash can. "I'm sorry if this is not the right size or shape, but Expo was so wonderful I didn’t pay any attention to the garbage cans," she wrote. A radio station sent a barometer "to improve the temperature between Toronto and Montreal." Dennison, who was in Ottawa on city business, did not personally receive the first wave of "gifts." His reaction: "the incident is closed...we'll be happy to help Montreal if they ask us again."

Cartoon by John Yardley-Jones, The Telegram, December 2, 1969.
As the 1969 election approached, Dennison contemplated leaving politics and reopening his speech therapy school, spending more time at his farm in Caledon East, or travelling. But, as the Star's Michael Best observed, early that year "a new Dennison started to emerge, one who had finally begun to enjoy the mayor's job. His critics in and out of City Council, who rode him hard during his shaky early days of office, found fewer flaws." Organizers urged him to run again, while his renewed enthusiasm for office was reflected in his replacement of baggy off-the-rack suits with sharper, finely-tailored outfits.

Additional material from the December 6, 1966 and November 6, 1967 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the June 6, 1966, November 4, 1967, November 6, 1967, and September 11, 1969 editions of the Toronto Star

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