William Dennison (Canadian politician)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
William Donald Dennison
55th Mayor of Toronto
In office
January 1, 1967 – December 31, 1972[1]
Preceded byPhil Givens
Succeeded byDavid Crombie
Member of Provincial Parliament
In office
Preceded byRoland Michener
Succeeded byEverett Weaver
ConstituencySt. David
In office
Preceded byAllan Lamport
Succeeded byRoland Michener
ConstituencySt. David
Personal details
Born(1905-01-20)January 20, 1905
Renfrew County, Ontario, Canada
DiedMay 2, 1981(1981-05-02) (aged 76)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Political partyUnited Farmers of Ontario / Co-operative Commonwealth Federation
Spouse(s)Dorothy Gertrude Bainbridge
ChildrenLorna Ann Dennison (Mrs. Ross Milne)
Alma materWestmeath S.S. # 8
OccupationSchool Principal

William Donald Dennison (January 20, 1905 – May 2, 1981) was a Canadian social-democratic politician that served in both the Ontario Legislative Assembly and finally as the City of Toronto's mayor. He served two nonconsecutive terms as a Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) in the 1940s and early 1950s. After his provincial-level career, he focused on Toronto's municipal politics, holding offices as an alderman, member of the Toronto Board of Control, and finally as the city's mayor. He was the mayor from 1967 to 1972, winning two consecutive three-year terms. Prior to entering politics, he was a school principal and teacher. As of 2015 he was the last mayor of Toronto to be a member of the Orange Order.


Dennison grew up on a farm in Renfrew County.[2] He first left home at age 15 to work in the lumber camps of Northern Ontario. As a young man he would trek west to Saskatchewan in the summers to earn money helping with the harvest and pitching grain. By night, he would educate himself by reading Little Blue Books.[3]

As a child and a young man he stammered so badly where he could not pronounce his own name, although after several failed attempts to correct his stammering, first at a school in Kitchener and later at a school in New York City, he eventually learned how to control and correct the habit himself, opening his own School of Speech Correction.[4]



Dennison was a member of the United Farmers of Ontario in the 1920s, and became a member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and its successor, the New Democratic Party. He was the CCF candidate in the Rosedale electoral district during the 1935 federal election: he placed third.

He won a seat in the 1943 provincial election as the Ontario CCF Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) representing St. David electoral district in downtown Toronto. He defeated Progressive Conservative candidate Roland Michener, a future Governor General of Canada. In the legislature, Dennison was an early environmentalist. As an early conservationist, in the 1940s, he tried to stop the de Havilland aircraft factory from polluting Black Creek. He also tried to force the government to stop a pulp and paper mill from polluting the Spanish River. In 1946 he personally planted 40,000 trees.[3] Michener defeated Dennison in the 1945 provincial election, but Dennison regained the seat in the 1948 election. Dennison lost his seat for the last time during the Conservative sweep that left the Ontario CCF with only two-seats in the 1951 provincial election.

City of Toronto[edit]

In 1938, he was elected a school trustee and served three successive one-year terms. In 1941 and 1943 he won election to serve as an alderman on Toronto City Council[3] After a ten-year interlude with his involvement in provincial politics, Dennison returned to Toronto City Council in 1953 serving again as an alderman. In 1958, he was elected to the Board of Control. On council he interrogated other politicians and officials on conflict of interest, expense accounts, and their relationships with companies doing business with the city.[5] He ran to be Toronto's mayor in 1966, campaigning on providing "a strong voice for labour in city affairs" and opposing the pro-development policies of incumbent Phil Givens.[6] He was elected despite being opposed by all three daily newspapers.[6] He was the first member of the CCF or NDP to serve as mayor of Toronto since James Simpson in 1935, and the last until Barbara Hall.

He opposed the early Eaton Centre development plan that would have seen the demolition of Toronto's Old City Hall, Dennison was a pro-labour mayor but later became more conservative in response to early criticism.[3] Serving as mayor during the Canadian Centennial, he urged the organizers of Caribana to make it a recurring event.[7]

He generally favoured development and complained about hippies and deserters from the US military flocking to the city saying that "a few hippies and deserters are Toronto's only problem." He decided not to run again for mayor, and due to a prostate operation, watched the 1972 municipal election from a bed at St. Michael's Hospital.[8]

Family and death[edit]

Dennison and his wife Dorothy (née Bainbridge) had a Christmas tree farm in Caledon East, where they went to get away from the city.[9] He was also a beekeeper, and at one point, had 900,000 bees living in his Jarvis Street home's backyard.[3] During his retirement, the Dennisons would vacation in Florida during the winter months. While vacationing in the United States, a medical emergency arose due to his Parkinson disease, and it finally forced him to be evacuated back to Toronto in April 1981.[10] He died at Toronto General Hospital from complications due to Parkinson's Disease on May 2, 1981.[10] Their only child, Lorna Dennison Milne, was a politician and eventually became a Senator, sitting in the Red Chamber as a Liberal from 1995 to 2009.[11]


  1. ^ Star Staff (1972-12-05). "4 new mayors in the boroughs: 'I didn't think I could win' Crombie youngest since 1867". The Toronto Star. p. 1.
  2. ^ Bruner, Arnold (1966-12-06). "A barefoot boy from Renfrew who'll be our next mayor". The Toronto Daily Star. p. 7.
  3. ^ a b c d e Globe staff (1981-05-04). "William Dennison: Stammering farm lad became mayor of Toronto". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. p. 20.
  4. ^ "Obituary: Dennison, William Donald". The Toronto Star. 1981-05-04. p. B11.
  5. ^ Horwath, Jean (1981-05-05). "Editorial: William Dennison". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. p. 6. ISSN 0319-0714.
  6. ^ a b Star Staff (1966-12-06). "It took Dennison 25 years". The Toronto Daily Star. pp. 1, 11.
  7. ^ Wickens, Max (1967-08-14). "Caribana whoop-up may become annual affair". The Toronto Daily Star. p. 19.
  8. ^ Star Staff (1972-12-05). "Dennison sits this one out". The Toronto Star. p. 4.
  9. ^ Weiers, Margaret (1966-12-06). "Mrs. Dennsion's not surprised". The Toronto Daily Star. p. 51.
  10. ^ a b Sutton, Bill (1981-05-03). "Ex-mayor Bill Dennsion dies". The Toronto Star. p. A3.
  11. ^ Library of Parliament (2014). "MILNE, The Hon. Lorna, B.S.A." Parliament of Canada: Parlinfo. Ottawa: Queen's Printer For Canada. Archived from the original on 2014-03-08. Retrieved 2014-03-07.

External links[edit]