|The Telegram, December 28, 1923.|
Does being the first name atop a ballot help one's political career? Likely not; otherwise, Said Aly would be among the critical contenders in this year's Toronto mayoral race (though thankfully his name sits just ahead of our city's perennial racist candidate).
It didn't aid Magnus Austin Brillinger (1882-1939) in the 1924 race for the two trustee positions up for grabs in Ward 6. When the votes were tallied on New Year's Day, 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 intended to retire after the 1923 Board of Education 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. When a secret ballot conducted on January 3, 1924 placed Hunter dead last among candidates, he stormed out of the meeting room. Before departing, he wished his fellow trustees a happy New Year and left a resignation letter. Before the contents were read, a fellow trustee lamely covered for Hunter's sudden exit, claiming he had to attend to a patient.
Who would replace Hunter? Several candidates were suggested, including one from another ward. 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.
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."
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.
* Brillinger was serving as a Methodist missionary in China in 1911 when the series of revolutions which led to the end of the monarchy broke out. He made front page news relaying messages that fellow missionaries caught in Chongqing (then known as Chungking) were OK…or at least, as he reported that September, “everything was decidedly more hopeful.”
Additional material from the September 14, 1911, 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 January 2, 1924. January 4, 1924, and January 10, 1924 editions of the Toronto Star.