Articles

HE CHANGED THE TORONTO SUNDAY

Outspoken Allan Lamport became Toronto's mayor when the record said he didn’t have a chance. And all those people who shudder at the memory of a Toronto Sabbath just wouldn't know the old place now

ERIC HUTTON July 15 1952
Articles

HE CHANGED THE TORONTO SUNDAY

Outspoken Allan Lamport became Toronto's mayor when the record said he didn’t have a chance. And all those people who shudder at the memory of a Toronto Sabbath just wouldn't know the old place now

ERIC HUTTON July 15 1952

WITHIN the memory of men still spry, trolley cars were not permitted to run in Toronto of a Sunday. In Sept. 1949 one John Comartin was fined twenty-five dollars or ten days in jail for painting a car on Sunday, and the Toronto Argonauts indignantly declined an invitation from the Montreal Alouettes to play a football game—in Montreal—on a Sunday.

In March 1937 Captain Archibald Pither. fined two dollars or one day in jail for buying a fifteencent package of tobacco in Toronto on Sunday, observed bitterly that "overseas I had to fight as hard on Sundays as any other day"and elected to serve the sentence. Toronto storekeepers once plugged their penny-in-the-slot weighing machines on Sunday for fear of prosecution. Toronto druggists demanded prescriptions for ginger ale after nineteen of them were fined in one day for Sunday sales.

Lamport, who goes to church every Sunday, was primarily responsible for giving Sunday sport to his beloved home town, against united Press opposition.

Nine billiards players were haled into court under an 1859 Toronto law which prohibited "skittles” on the Sabbath. An amateur bowling tourney which brought six hundred players and spectators to Toronto from as far away as Buffalo was halted by police when the final games ran thirty minutes into Sunday. The visiting bowlers departed with vows never to return to the unprintable city.

If those people who still speak of spending a week in Toronto one Sunday would relent just once they’d never know the old place now. Up to twenty thousand fans jam Toronto's baseball stadium for Sunday doubleheaders, with no greater punishment

than watching the Maple Leafs fumble away both games. Canadian rugby, soccer and other outdoor and indoor sports are wide open every Sunday afternoon. Maple Leaf Gardens resounds to highly paid amateur hockey. Toronto’s Sunday sophistication reached the point last winter where the Barrie contenders for the Memorial Cup were given the ultimatum of playing Sundays at the Gardens or getting out of the league.

The man largely responsible for the fact that a cannon can no longer be fired harmlessly down Toronto’s main street at high noon on Sunday (a favorite outlanders’ joke"! is Allan Austin Lamport, who goes to church every Sunday and spends the rest of his waking hours working at being mayor of Toronto.

The apparent incongruity of Toronto electing the man who broke open its traditional closed Sunday is only part of the Lamport paradox. He has made a career of giving Toronto what the city’s selfappointed spokesmen were sure the city did not want. The Toronto Telegram stated in an editorial just before the city voted for Sunday sport: “Toronto has no need for the introduction of Sunday sport. It is not necessary for the enjoyment of this day.” The Star decided that Sunday sport “is something the city does not need or want. Toronto’s Sunday is something typically Canadian, and should be kept that way.”

Two years before Sunday sports became a civic issue, Lamport committed what seemed to be political suicide. The Conservative provincial government passed a law permitting cocktail bars in cities of more than fifty thousand without a vote of the citizens. Thoroughly alarmed at the vengeance “Toronto the Good” would wreak on elected representatives who permitted such iniquity to go unchallenged the city council passed a resolution demanding (a) cocktail bars be held up pending a vote; (b) cocktail bars be kept out of Toronto under any circumstances.

Lamport, then a mere alderman and a Liberal at that, jeered at the predominantly Tory council for failing to support party policy. He added that Toronto was getting to be a grown-up city and grownups were supposed to be able to take their liquor or leave it. The vote was twenty-two to one. Five years later Toronto has seventy-two liquor outlets.

Lamport has recently come out in favor of Sunday movies and opening the Canadian National Exhibition on Sundays “if the people want those things.” A plebiscite on the subject is likely.

Lamport himself disclaims responsibility for changing Toronto. “The simple truth,” he says, “is that Toronto has been changing for many years. All I did was recognize that it was happening, and help it to happen in the healthiest way.”

Lamport is not one to dwell on past triumphs. “I haven’t got the time. Being mayor of Toronto is like being a prime minister—without a cabinet or « majority. The four members of Toronto’s board of control are independent, and so are the members of the city council. I have to talk them into everything I think should be done. Being mayor of Toronto is two full-time jobs—a social job and an administrative job.” He fits the two jobs into a sixteen-hour day.

Recently a Toronto citizen who wanted « word with the mayor decided to telephone City Hall, although it was long past five o’clock. The mayor was in, all right, but conversation was hampered by a loud buzzing noise. Finally the caller bellowed that he would hang up and try to get a clear line. Immediately the noise stopped, and Lamport said with a chuckle, “Sorry. I was shaving.”

Lamport himself does not feel he merits particular praise for dedicating all his waking hours to the job. “There is,” he says, “nothing in this world I’d rather be than mayor of Toronto.” He dislikes calls of duty which take him beyond the city limits.

As a young man Lamport spent several months in Thessalon, Ont., bossing a building project for his father. As an RCAF officer he was transferred outside Toronto (punishment, he hints darkly to this day, for a Legislature speech in which he called Henry Ford, a pre-Pearl Harbor pacifist, “a blackhearted American quisling”). But, apart from those periods of exile, Lamport has spent his forty-seven years doggedly and happily in Toronto.

He is openly critical of city council colleagues and civic officials who organize junkets for themselves to distant cities. Lamport honestly cannot understand how anyone can bear to be anywhere else than in Toronto. When compelled to go to Ottawa to pound the desks of cabinet ministers on behalf of Toronto’s housing, finances and overflowing lakefront, he chafes at the overnight absences such trips sometimes entail. On a recent visit he badgered no fewer than six cabinet ministers between morning and evening planes.

Allan Lamport is one of those rare politicians who, having stated all the conventional noble motives for being in politics, adds: “Besides, I love politics and I love a fight.”

From the moment he took office Lamport has made sure he is surrounded by plenty of both. Scarcely had the last words of the swearing-in ceremony been spoken than he started flailing away in all directions. He inherited an impending transportation strike, and publicly pointed an accusing finger at the Toronto Transportation Commissioners for never having sat across a table from the union leaders.

Privately he criticized the union for calling the strike-vote meeting at midnight. “That meant,” he said sorrowfully, “many of the younger men waited in beer rooms—and were in no mood to listen to reason when they got to the meeting.”

Next he took an effective poke at the deeply entrenched officers of the Canadian National Exhibition for allegedly permitting midway concessions to become a private monopoly; future contracts are to be by open tender and CNE business methods are being scrutinized by efficiency experts.

Lamport threatened the privately owned Consumers’ Gas Company with expropriation for raising rates. He demanded that the Federal Government “pull the plug” in the St. Lawrence Gut Dam to lower Lake Ontario’s abnormally

high water level which was threatening to engulf Toronto Island. At the same time he shocked the island residents, four thousand die-hard dwellers on a semi-submerged sandspit in Toronto harbor, by telling them the island was in imminent danger of being inundated, that it was never meant to be a year-round residential area anyway, and they had better be prepared to abandon their homes. “Sometimes,” said Lamport later, “I talk a little tougher than I have to just so the problem will sink in.” For example, he scolded Toronto mothers after a child had been killed by a truck: “It’s up to every mother of a child under five to watch him or her every' minute of the day.”


But usually he prefers to talk tough to people his own size or bigger. He demanded that the federal government pay taxes on its Toronto properties: he chided Toronto bankers for “leaving money lying around to tempt bandits” and threatened to seize bank loot recovered by Toronto police. Then, with small-boy delight in cops and robbers, he arose before dawn one chilly' winter day' to take part in the capture of an escaped bank robber, à la Fiorello LaGuardia.

Lamport trampled on inter-city protocol by publicly lecturing the mayors of Ottawa and Montreal for being cool in their welcomes to Canada's first native-born governor-general, Vincent Massey. He sent Mayor Charlotte Whitton of Ottawa a peace offering of flowers, but she primly backed away from a make-up kiss offered by Lamport when she visited Toronto, and gave him a copy of Ottawa's symbol —a broad-axe. “Trouble with some people,” said Lamport darkly, covering the whole governor-general incident, “is they haven’t got a sense of humor.”

All in all. Toronto citizens—friends and foes of Lamport alike—had few dull civic moments in the first half of 1952.

On the other hand Canadians outside Toronto's orbit—people who live west of Hamilton and east of Oshawa—tend to find Lamport’s conversation at best dull, at worst downright revolting, because of his ¡neritable choice of

“Toronto”—it's the handiest word Lamport knows for starting a sentence —•‘Toronto is in process of becoming a city' of three million population even without the St. Lawrence Seaway. When the seaway permits eighty-five percent of the world's shipping to berth in Toronto harbor . ” Lamport

throws up his hands at the very magnitude of the thought.

“Toronto’s potential expansion is literally unlimited . consider our good harbor . proximity to the richest mines in the world . . . mass markets . good roads and railways . . . mildness of our winters . . .”

“But . . .”

“I was just coming to that. Toronto is, of course, Canada's largest city in all significant respects—in bank clearances. auto registrations, telephone installations and long-distance calls, stock-market volume and retail commodity sales.

“Toronto’s annual budget of seventysix millions is greater than the tax collections of any of the provinces except Ontario and Quebec, and greater than that of all four Maritime Provinces combined . . .”

This immoderate Torontophile is a man of medium height who appears short because his torso is unusually broad and stocky. His years are belied by his boyish face and betrayed by a comfortable waistline. "That.” he insists, "is all muscle."

The present status of his lifelong love affair with Toronto is particularly gratifying to Lamport because the city finally seems to have reciprocated his feelings without reservation. In the past his fickle birthplace has treated Lamport harshly' at the very times he was doing his utmost on her behalf. In 1928 he tried to put Toronto on the aviation map by sinking all his

sa rings into building Barker Airport and organizing Century Airways, Canada’s first commercial airplane business. The venture survived little more than a year.

“Toronto wasn’t quite ready for commercial aria tion,” Lamport says forgivingly today. About that same time, though, with the Lamport fortunes at rock bottom, Toronto was ready' to seize his home on Harper Avenue, the rather modest story-anda-half house in which he still lives, for three years’ arrears of taxes. Lamport barely kept the bailiff from the door. In 1936, the first time he ran for city council, he was soundly' beaten. After one term in the Ontario legislature as Liberal member for his home riding of St. David he ran a remote-control campaign for re-election in 1943, while serving in the RCAF. He was rejected. In -Jan. 1951 Toronto turned down his first bid to become mayor.

Lamport’s election as may'or in Dec. 1951 was a triumph over the longest odds. As he puts it, “I had five strikes on me before I came to bat.” First, he was a Liberal and not since 1909 had a Liberal been elected mayor of Toronto. What's more, in the most recent provincial election the Liberals had been resoundingly defeated in Toronto ridings.

Never in Toronto’s history' had a mayor been elected without newspaper support. I .am port had long since lost the Star’s support. “They dropped me like a hot potato when I spoke up for cocktail bars,” he recalls. “The Telegram and the Globe and Mail spanked me. gave me a chance to reform and put me on their slates as a controller."

But the Sunday sports issue lost him all newspaper backing and, although a 1950 plebiscite favored his pet project by a comfortable majority, he barelysqueezed in as last man on the board of control. And Traditional Toronto seemed to be back in the saddle when Lamport was defeated in his first try for the mayoralty.

He promptly dusted off the motto he devised after his first political defeat fifteen years before: “The campaign

is never over until I’ve won.” He launched his 1952 campaign on Jan. 2, 1951. He turned down no opportunity to address groups of five, fifty or five hundred persons: he attended luncheons and banquets until creamed chicken and green peas became nightmare. He issued statements on every conceivable subject to newspapers and radio newsrooms. His two daughters. Jane, twenty, and Suzanne, seventeen, became u campaign team with Jane driving the car and Suzanne ringing doorbells. Mrs. Lamport did a lot of quiet organizing behind the scenes. Lamport, who describes himself as "an average social drinker" and is partial to dry Martinis and good rye. went on the wagon. He reasoned that “if anyone smells liquor on my breath they'll say I'm a drunkard.” He turned his lack of newspaper support

t> his own advantage with the oftivpeated battle cry: “Let the other

candidates have the newspapers—1 have the people!”

Came election night. He trailed badly in the early returns. Toronto the Good appeared to have spurned Lamport again. Many people went to bed satisfied that Toronto had been saved from a fate worse than a passed dividend. But later the Lamport vote picked up. By midnight it was almost an avalanche. When Lamport’s majority reached ten thousand Mayor Hiram McCallum conceded defeat. The Lamport margin finally totaled more than thirteen thousand votes.

Lamport has made no overtures of reconciliation to the newspapers which banished him from their slates and they still attack any widening of the Sunday breach. But they have developed a respect for Lamport. One editor admits: “We have found that

Lampy doesn’t really go off half-cocked —he just seems to. When he apparently takes a leap in the dark with both eyes shut he really has his hip pockets filled with documentary evidence to cushion the fall.”

He cited the time Lamport asked a hostile meeting of Canadian National Exhibition directors why a Canadian artist had to sign a New York contract to appear in a Canadian show. One of the directors held a whispered consultation with General Manager Elwood Hughes then declared: “It just isn’tso.”

Lamport promptly pulled from his pocket an actual contract which hore out his contention. “They thought I was just fishing,” he said later, “hut I knew more about the workings of the exhibition than any of them. I’d been over it with a fine-tooth comh from accounting department to stock rooms ”

Although his basic feud with the newspapers continues Lamport maintains more cordial relations with the working newspapermen than most previous mayors.

Distinguished visitors to City Hall are presented to the Press as a matter of course. Recently when Lamport was c onducting the Governor-General from his office he spied Frank Tumpane. the Globe and Mail columnist who shares Lamport’s regard for Toronto but expresses it more briefly and pointedly. Lamport introduced the two men. “You read Tumpane’s column, of course. Your Excellency,” he said | with a twinkle.

“As a matter of fact,” answered | Massey, “I do.”

When the Rt. Hon. C. D. Howe paid a visit to City Hall. Lamport took him on a meet-the-Press trip to the municipal newsroom and threw the door open with a flourish. The lone occupant was a copy boy whom Lamport solemnly presented: “Meet Mr. William Elliott of the Star."

With the mayoralty, Lamport inherited efficient secretaries to keep track of his appointments but in addition he has his own unique memorandum system -innumerable small slips of paper which fill his pockets and overflow on his desk, bearing hieroglyphics only he can decipher. Recently the system missed a cog, and Toronto’s school children nearly lost a half holiday as a result.

On his first visit Vincent Massey asked Lamport to arrange the holiday for next day and the mayor duly made a note of it —then promptly forgot it When he remembered at the last minute Lamport went into furious action. He flipped buttons on his desk switchboard, which still baffles him in moments of stress, and shouted into the sound box: “Get me the chief of

police . the fire department I

mean the chairman of the board of education.”

“Phew!" he exclaimed when he had relayed the Governor-General’s request. “If I had fallen down on that—and those thousands of future voters had found out . . .”

Lamport’s detractors, still formidable in number and influence, suggest he won the mayoralty, as he had won previous bids for public office, by a process of attrition, by wearing down the voters much as a drip of water wears down stone. They picture him as a pop-off, a politician just smart enough to know he must remain in public sight and hearing, but too ready

to grab at the nearest issues tor the purpose. He has been called the most voluble and the least articulate of Toronto’s mayors. His critics saw an admission of this in Lamport’s decision to discontinue The Mayor Reports, a Sunday-afternoon radio feature for several years.

Lamport’s explanation: “In the first place I had been elected partly because I favored Sunday sport. So why should I expect the people to stay at home on Sunday afternoon and listen to me?

“In the second place. I am realistic enough to know that, although civic

politics interest rre. most Toronto citizens can take them or leave them alone for the greater part of the year. They elected me to do a job for them why should I keep running to them with my troubles every w'eek?"

Recently a radio executive revealed that, in rejecting the free air time most politicians would have grabbed greedily Lamport had been smarter than he knew. "The program had been drawing such a small number of listeners,” the radio man said, “that we couldn't sell the air time which followed it.”

Continued on page 61

Continued from page 59

As a speaker Lamport is in a class by himself. “I never had an elocution lesson in my life,” he says, a statement which listeners are willing to accept without question. One of his franker supporters admits, “Lampy can get more tied up in a sentence than a pup on a clothesline. His punctuation is based on his lung capacity—when he runs out of breath he not only finishes his sentence, he abandons it.”

But City Hall reporters have made an interesting discovery in their efforts to translate Lamportese into journalese. “Lamport,” says one, “is really an excellent speaker. His trouble is that he thinks a lot faster than he can get the words out. As a result, before he reaches the end of a sentence his thought processes start him off in a new direction and he just lets the old sentence lie there.”

Lamport makes free use of metaphors, similes and figures of speech, frequently with picturesque effect. For example, he once said, “If I suddenly started living in an ivory tower I’d be about as useful as a skunk at a garden

When opposing reassessment of property in Toronto he called the measure, “a Pandora’s box with two heads in it, one grasping at the small home owner and the other chasing business out of the city.” This was too much for the Telegram which found Lamport guilty on three counts—“mixing his metaphors, mutilating mythology, and misleading the voters.”

He’s “Pretty Well Fixed”

Lamport opposed forced amalgamation of Toronto’s thirteen suburbs, accused ex-mayor Hiram McCallum of "trying to force a shotgun wedding down the throats of our suburban neighbors.”

Lamport falls easily into the role of plain blunt man who is friendly with everyone. But in private life he belongs to the upper middle class which goes to private schools and belongs to the Granite Club and the Royal Canadian Yacht Club. Lamport also fulfills that strange Toronto social requirement which holds that anyone living on lower Jarvis Street today is socially suspect, but anyone whose parents did not live in that area is probably a parvenu. Grandfather Lamport’s homestead is situated in the centre of this desirably undesirable neighborhood.

Lamport is the highest-paid mayor in Toronto history, having been voted a fifteen-thousand-dollar salary by the city council three months after taking office (along with corresponding raises for aldermen and controllers, to be sure). He admits to being “pretty well fixed” in his own right. He once owned an airplane: now he has a twin-engined lake cruiser and three cars. He still flies occasionally and is proud of holding Canadian Unlimited Air License No. 143, which entitles him to fly any plane. “In theory anyway,” Lamport says. “After taking a look at a TCA airliner’s instrument panel it will remain a theory.”

The Lamports own their mediumpriced home in Toronto’s old and respectable Moore Park district, and have lived there since their marriage. He buys quiet higher-priced suits, but occasionally wears flamboyant sports shirts. His petite wife, the former Edvthe Thompson, prefers homemaking to trying to keep up with her energetic husband’s enforced social whirl.

“I’m not one who says a woman's place is in the home,” says Lamport, “but a wife like mine certainly helps a man like me keep his feet on the ground.”

Lamport has four businessman bro-

thers who take no interest in politics. His father, William, an eighty-fouryear-old lawyer, still goes to his office.

The Lamport family church is Walmer Road Baptist, but he also attends his wife’s family church, St. Paul’s Anglican. When the Toronto Centre Presbytery of the United Church recently reported Sunday sports had not affected Sunday-school attendance Lamport commented: “I could have

told them that—my daughters knew it from teaching Sunday school. And to think that two years ago every clergyman in Toronto preached at least one sermon against me.”

Allan Lamport was born in Toronto. This, he maintains, was no help in his climb to the mayoralty since Toronto has shown a decided preference for non-native mayors. He attended Upper Canada College, a sports-conscious prep school where his athletic feats are still a tradition thirty years later.

The account of his winning the school’s heavyweight boxing championship. as reported in the College Times of 1923. has a strangely contemporary sound: “Lamport started the fight

with a fusillade of tremendous rights and lefts . . .” He was also captain of the senior hockey team, a sprint star and shot-put champion. He played so rugged a game of football that Toronto Argonaut scouts signed him as flying wing right out of prep school. He played football one season before departing for northern Ontario. This year he was drafted as captain of the City Hall inter-city bowling team.

Among his friends Lamport has a reputation as a mechanical genius. One friend recalls being out in the middle of Lake Ontario in the mayor-to-be’s cruiser when one of its engines conked out. Lamport promptly turned the wheel over to his passenger and took the motor to pieces. “You’d think he’d have his hands full with that job,” the friend comments, “but darned if he didn’t poke his head out of the cockpit every couple of minutes to tell me I wasn’t steering right. A few weeks ago when Lamport was up to his neck in three or four controversies at the same time I said to myself: ‘That’s Lampy

all right—he wants to fix the engine and steer at the same time.’ ”

Soon after his return to Toronto j from Thessalon, Lamport married and went to work for his father-in-law, the late Alex. M. Thompson, one of Toronto’s pioneer automobile dealers. The idea of being the boss’ son-in-law did not appeal to him for long and he got a job as car salesman at O’DonnellMackie Limited.

In the depths of the depression, Lamport went into business for himself as an insurance agent. He prospered from the start and today owns one of the largest independent insurance agencies in Toronto.

“At least.” says Lamport, “my staff tells me I’m still in business I’ve been to my office three times, for a total of fifteen minutes, since I was elected mayor.”

Lamport's city-council colleagues are still in the stage of cautious appraisal of the new mayor, but they are generally agreed that his higher responsibilities have had some effect on his fier\r personality.

One day recently Lamport congratulated the council for ~ particularly smooth and productive session. “We don't seem to have those interruptions, those fights and wrangles which once made a Donnybrook of so many council meetings.” he observed benignly.

“That,” replied veteran alderman drily, “is because we got rid of the chief troublemaker—we elected him mayor.”

“And at that.” Lamport later admitted with a grin, “I guess he wasn’t far j wrong.” ★