Nathan Phillips (politician)

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Nathan Phillips
Portrait of Mayor Phillips, seated, wearing the mayor's chain of office
Phillips wearing the chain of office in 1959
52nd Mayor of Toronto
In office
1955–1962
Preceded by Leslie Saunders
Succeeded by Donald Summerville
Personal details
Born (1892-11-07)November 7, 1892
Brockville, Ontario
Died January 7, 1976(1976-01-07) (aged 83)
Toronto, Ontario
Occupation Lawyer
Religion Jewish

Nathan Phillips, KC (November 7, 1892 – January 7, 1976) was a Canadian politician and popular Mayor of Toronto, Ontario.

Early life[edit]

Born in Brockville, Ontario, the son of Jacob Phillips and Mary Rosenbloom, he was educated in public and high schools in Cornwall. In 1908, he articled with the Cornwall lawyer, Robert Smith, who later would be named to the Supreme Court of Canada. He graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1913 and was called to the Ontario Bar in 1914. He practised law in Toronto and was appointed a King's Counsel in 1929. He married Esther Lyons (1893–1983) in 1917 and they had three children: Lewis, born on December 30, 1917; Madeline, born on October 20, 1919, and Howard, born on November 30, 1931. Tragically on Mother's Day, May 12, 1929, Lewis was struck by an automobile and instantly killed.

Howard Phillips was a City of Toronto alderman from 1949 to 1956.

Federal and provincial politics[edit]

Phillips was a member of the Conservative Party having been involved in founding the Ontario Conservative Party's youth wing and then having run as the Conservative candidate in Spadina in the 1935 federal election. He placed second. Later, Phillips also ran unsuccessfully in St. Andrew riding during the 1937 and 1948 provincial elections.

Municipal politics[edit]

Phillips was first elected to Toronto City Council in 1926 and was the first Toronto mayor of the Jewish faith. He served as mayor from 1955 until he lost to Donald Summerville in 1962, after thirty-six years in municipal politics. Phillips was dubbed "mayor of all the people". Until his election all mayors had been Protestant and every mayor in the twentieth century had been members of the Orange Order which dominated the city's political and business establishment. Phillips became mayor by defeating Mayor Leslie Howard Saunders, an Orangeman, who had stoked controversy with his sectarian comments about the importance of the Battle of the Boyne. Phillips' victory marked a turning point in Toronto history and its transformation from a Protestant, staunchly British and conservative city to a modern multicultural metropolis.

Under Philips' direction, the City of Toronto pursued an aggressive agenda of demolishing heritage structures throughout the city in order to 'modernize.' Large blocks of downtown were purchased and razed and many landmark buildings and neighbourhoods were destroyed such as the University Avenue armoury, the Chorley Park estate, the General Post Office (built in 1873 in the Beaux Arts style, and the most expensive federal building ever constructed in Canada), Toronto's original Jewish community (called the Ward) around Old City Hall, and Toronto's Old Chinatown. Old City Hall itself narrowly escaped being demolished and Fort York survived a council vote to be moved to Coronation Park after the Toronto Historical Association rallied public support.

Nathan Philips is best remembered as the driving force behind the construction of Toronto's New City Hall and the selection of a striking avant-garde design by Finnish architect Viljo Revell. Nathan Phillips Square was named in honour of the mayor.

In 2005 a proposal to sell the naming rights to Nathan Phillips Square unleashed a storm of opposition from many Torontonians, including Phillips' grandchildren. The proposal was withdrawn.

References[edit]

  • "Nathan Phillips fonds". City of Toronto archives. 
  • Nathan Phillips. Mayor of All the People McClelland and Stewart, 1967