James Simpson (politician)

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James Simpson
Mayor James Simpson 1935.jpg
44th Mayor of Toronto
In office
Preceded byWilliam Stewart
Succeeded bySamuel McBride
Toronto Board of Control
In office
Toronto Board of Control
In office
Toronto School Board Trustee
In office
Personal details
Lancashire, England
DiedSeptember 24, 1938 (aged 64)
Toronto, Ontario
Occupationprinter, journalist
ProfessionTrade unionist

James "Jimmie" Simpson (1873 – September 24, 1938) was a Canadian trade unionist, printer, journalist and left-wing politician in Toronto, Ontario. He was a longtime member of Toronto's city council and served as Mayor of Toronto in 1935, the first member of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation to serve in that capacity. He was also a member of the Orange Order in Canada.

Early life[edit]

Simpson was born in Lancashire, England and immigrated to Canada at the age of 14. Never attending high school, Simpson worked selling newspapers at the age of 10 and then began working for a grocer at the age of 13 before moving to Canada where he worked in a tin factory before joining the printing trade.[1]

Printing trade and journalism[edit]

In 1892, Simpson was one of 27 members of the Typographical Union on strike against the Toronto News. The strikers, including Simpson, founded the Evening Star on November 3, 1892, as a strike paper.[2] For ten years, Simpson served as the Star's City Hall reporter including nine years as the paper's municipal editor.[1][3] He subsequently became editor of a labour newspaper.[4]

Labour leader[edit]

Simpson went on to become a labour leader and was the vice-president of the Toronto and District Trades and Labour Council at the turn of the century and also served three terms as vice-president of the Trades and Labour Congress of Canada between 1904 and 1936.

Labour Party[edit]

1932 election ad for Simpson

As a socialist labour politician, he ran in the May 1902 Ontario election in Toronto.

As a candidate for the newly-formed Socialist Party of Canada, he ran in the 1905 Ontario provincial election and in a 1906 provincial by-election in Toronto and in the 1908 federal general election, all unsuccessfully.[5]

He was elected and served as a Toronto school board trustee, 1905–10.

He ran for mayor of Toronto in 1908 as a Socialist but was not elected.[6]

He was elected to Toronto's Board of Control in 1914 with the highest vote total ever given a candidate up to that time[1] and sat on the Board of Control again from 1930 to 1934.[7]

He was one of the co-leaders of the Ontario Labour Party (Ontario section of the Canadian Labour Party) in the 1920s and a Labour candidate for the House of Commons of Canada on several occasions that decade but was unable to win election to Parliament.

Simpson played a leading role in opposing Communists in the Labour Party. After Communists convinced the party to withdraw its nomination of Simpson as its candidate for Toronto city council's Board of Control in 1927, Simpson and his supporters quit the party leading to its collapse. They then formed the Toronto Labour Party, which explicitly excluded Communists from membership.


In the 1930s he became a leading member of the Ontario CCF. In 1934 he ran as a CCF candidate for the Toronto Board of Control and was elected which set the stage for him to run for Mayor of Toronto in 1935. The only one of the city's newspapers to support him was the Toronto Daily Star. The other papers and both the Conservative and Liberal parties supported Simpson's opponent, Alderman Harry Hunt and accused the CCF of being anti-British and under Communist influence. Percy Parker, a leading Liberal, declared on the radio that "the bells of Moscow will ring when Simpson is elected mayor."

Simpson's personal popularity and the organization put together by the CCF and the trade union movement was enough to elect him making Toronto the largest city in North America to have elected a socialist mayor. As mayor, Simpson supported the campaign to boycott the 1936 Summer Olympics being held in Nazi Germany that summer.[8]


Simpson was a Methodist and Christian socialist who became active with the Epworth League movement at the age of 16 ultimately becoming president of the Epworth League Toronto Conference. He also served as president of the Toronto Methodist Young People's Union and the Toronto Methodists' Cycling Union.[1] Simpson was intensely anti-Catholic which cost him the support of the Toronto Star. When he ran for re-election as mayor in 1936 this contributed to his defeat.


Simpson was killed in 1938 when his car crashed into a streetcar.[3]

Ruskin Literary and Debating Society[edit]

In 1900, Simpson and eight others founded the Ruskin Literary and Debating Society and served as its first president. Today, it is Canada's oldest debating society.[9]


  1. ^ a b c d "Former Mayor J. Simpson Killed With U.S. Companion", Toronto Daily Star, September 26, 1938
  2. ^ Michael Horton, "Out of the darkness The Evening Star is born --- A group of jilted printers had enough and created 'a paper for the people'", Toronto Star, November 1, 2002
  3. ^ a b Jimmy Simpson 1873-1938: Our shocking socialist mayor, November 1, 1992
  4. ^ "The Late James Simpson", Toronto Daily Star, September 26, 1938
  5. ^ Peter Newell, the Impossibilists, p. 28; Edmonton Bulletin, February 23, 1906.
  6. ^ Edmonton Bulletin, Jan. 2, 1908
  7. ^ Rupert J. Taylor, "Labour history: The struggle for workers' rights", Canada & the World Backgrounder, December 1, 1997
  8. ^ Bruce Kidd, "Early Boycotts", Globe and Mail, August 18, 1980.
  9. ^ Zena Cherry, Globe and Mail, February 16, 1980

Further reading[edit]

  • Reasoning Otherwise: Leftists and the People's Enlightenment in Canada, 1890-1920. By Ian McKay. Toronto: Between the Lines, 2008.

External links[edit]