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Historicist: The Rise and Fall of Daniel Webster Clendenan

The Junction's first mayor, and the slander trial that ended his political career.

Headline and drawings from the Toronto News, April 27, 1894.

In 1882 an ambitious young lawyer named Daniel Webster Clendenan purchased 240 acres of land in a community which would soon come to be known as the Junction. As the area developed Clendenan became one of the Junction’s most prominent early citizens, and eventually the town’s first mayor. Ten years later, however, rumours of problems in Clendenan’s personal life began making the headlines, culminating in an 1894 slander trial that shocked both the Junction and the city of Toronto.


Daniel Webster Clendenan was born in Detroit in 1851. He spent his formative years on both sides of the border; his father was a travelling pastor with the Disciples of Christ Church. After completing law school in Toronto he was called to the bar in 1876, and soon began practicing downtown. Shortly thereafter, Clendenan began seeking land on the outskirts of the city, anticipating that the growing rail network in southern Ontario would generate profitable investment opportunities.

In 1882, impressed by the many railway lines in the area, Clendenan acquired about 240 acres of land near Dundas and Keele Streets which had been previously owned by the Keele family. It was largely undeveloped, save for a few residential buildings and a racetrack that had hosted the first four runnings of the Queen’s Plate (from 1860 to 1863).

Clendenan initiated the process of planning streets, and had the land subdivided into lots. As the area grew, Clendenan maintained an active financial interest in the area’s development. An early history of the Junction written for an 1891 town directory notes that Clendenan and his partner, J.M. Laws, invested $5,000 in advertising, and that “fully ten thousand dollars was expended in clearing, grading, and sidewalks.” In a short time the Junction became a household name from one end of Ontario to the other.

20130525clendenanpurchasemap

When the area incorporated as the village of West Toronto Junction in 1888, Clendenan was elected reeve; when it attained town status the following year, Clendenan became its first mayor. As the population grew Clendenan recognized the need for amenities, and helped shape local development. In addition to residences Clendenan reserved sections of land, usually along main streets, to be used as churches, schools, and a Mechanics’ Institute. Perhaps most importantly, he promoted a lowered tax rate and discounted water rates to entice businesses to move to the community.

(Left: Plan showing the Junction, marketed by Clendenan in February of 1883. Image courtesy of the Toronto Public Library.)

In 1890 Clendenan, a Conservative, stepped down from the mayoralty in order to challenge John Taylor Gilmour for the local provincial seat. By all accounts he invested substantially in his campaign, reportedly going so far as to obtain a financial stake in a conservative newspaper and relocate it to the Junction, where it was to compete with the York Tribune, a Liberal publication published by Gilmour. Clendenan renamed this newspaper the Junction Comet and West York Gazette, and used it to promote his platform during the run-up to the election. Despite his heavy investment Clendenan was defeated at the polls—a loss often attributed to his decision to run on a temperance ticket, despite having sponsored a liquor license petition for a local tavern.

Clendenan returned to the Junction mayor’s chair in 1891, but was now under financial strain. Not only had he lost an expensive election, but development in the Junction was beginning to slow as the local land bubble burst. That autumn also began a chain of events which would see his personal life completely unravel.

Clendenan had married Clara McMillan in Erin, Ontario, in 1878. After starting their family in Toronto, they relocated to the Junction in the 1880s, and lived for several years in a house on High Park Avenue. Daniel and Clara eventually had seven children together, and lived among the Junction elite. The Toronto World wrote: “Blessed with considerable means, a handsome residence at the Junction, a character against which the breath of suspicion had never been heard, an active member of the Disciples of Christ, Mr. Clendenan, his wife, and family of seven children were the envy of many a household.”

Toronto newspapers appear to have first reported trouble in May, 1892, when Clara issued “a writ for alimony” and Daniel temporarily disappeared. Multiple papers reported this as the culmination of events dating back to late 1891, when rumours had begun circulating that Clendenan was having extramarital affairs. According to the Toronto World, “it has been an open secret for some months that Mrs. Clendenan’s domestic happiness had been blighted.” The central rumour concerned Rebbie Marron, a woman who had been employed in the Clendenan family as a private secretary, and had previously served as a governess. According to the News, “Mrs. Clendenan became convinced that her husband was much more attentive to Miss Marron than he should have been,” causing Clara to go and stay with family in Guelph.

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Several Toronto newspapers also suggested an affair with a second woman. Although most of the newspapers only alluded to this rumour vaguely, the News dared to print the most detail, writing that during the winter of 1891-1892, “stories became current gossip which said that Clendenan had an intrigue with a widow and her two daughters, who live at the Humber. He was accused of intimacy with the whole family. These reports were talked of all over the city and county.”

(Right: Daniel Webster Clendenan in G. Mercer Adam’s Toronto, old and new. Mail Print Co., 1891: Toronto.)

After Clara’s departure for Guelph, Daniel reportedly relocated to some land he owned near Coxwell Avenue and the Don River. Upon announcement of her legal action in the spring of 1892, however, he reportedly left the Toronto area altogether, and for several days there were a variety of theories as to his whereabouts, including Lewiston, New York and North Dakota.

In response to the rumours Clendenan wrote a letter, published in the Toronto World, explaining that he was, in fact, in Buffalo. Expressing belief that his wife’s family had turned her against him, Clendenan wrote that he would not oppose a divorce, and would be trying to make a fresh start in Buffalo as attempting to fix things in Toronto “would be uphill work.” He added that “I deemed it better to leave all my estate in the hands of Mrs. C. for her and the children’s benefit, and to try to get into business in [Buffalo], where I can be near my children and earn a living for them.”

The matter soon faded from the Toronto newspapers, but re-emerged two years later with a slander suit, this time in considerably more detail.

As the Clendenans attempted to move on with their lives, so had Rebecca Marron, the servant who had been mentioned in connection with the split two years earlier. In April of 1894, however, Marron sued a woman named Agnes Youmans for $10,000 in damages, citing specific rumours that Youmans had allegedly spread about her and Clendenan, and further stating that Youmans had orchestrated Marron’s expulsion from the women’s branch of the Protestant Protective Association, an anti-Catholic group to which they both belonged. According to the News, “another charge is that Mrs. Youmans stated that Miss Marron had given birth to a child in Buffalo, of which D.W. Clendenan was the putative father.” Mrs. Youmans denied most of these charges with the exception of recounting “the alleged misconduct with D.W. Clendenan,” which she said she had relayed in good faith, believing the episode to be true and that it was her duty to inform others.

Dundas Street, looking east towards Keele in 1890. The West Toronto Junction Property Owners’ Association, The Town of West Toronto Junction. (York Tribune Steam Book and Job Office, 1890.)

The court proceedings began on April 26. Justice MacMahon, perhaps sensing what he deemed to be an unnecessary scandal, called for a reconciliation, but legal counsel for both sides said their clients were unable to agree to a settlement. Thus, the testimony began.

The plaintiff’s case began with Rebecca Marron. Described in the World as “a demure-looking blonde, prepossessing, with an air of quiet calm that nothing could ruffle and a smile that was ever-present,” Marron recounted her experiences living with the Clendenans. Although she did describe an isolated episode in which Clara Clendenan expressed suspicion about her relationship with Mr. Clendenan, she provided a mostly amicable impression of her time in the Clendenan household and denied any improper relations.

20130525clendenanworldmarronUnder cross-examination, it emerged that Marron and Daniel Clendenan had exchanged several letters following Daniel and Clara’s separation. In one that still remained (most had been burned), Marron seemed to refer to him with excessive affection. It also emerged that in November of 1892, once Clendenan had reportedly relocated to the east end of Toronto, he and Marron had gone to Buffalo together for a few days. Marron again denied that anything improper had passed between them, saying that Daniel had merely been concerned about her travelling on her own on a night train.

(Left: Rebecca Marron. The Toronto World, April 28, 1894.)

Other witnesses for the plaintiff gave testimony, most of it relatively tame. Another of Clendenans’ servants, Bella Marsar, testified she had once seen Clendenan kiss Marron goodbye, had once seen her take breakfast to Clendenan in his bedroom, and on one occasion had seen Marron “arrange Mr. Clendenan’s necktie.”

The defence begain its case began by putting Youmans on the stand. She again denied having claimed that Clendenan had fathered a child, but stuck to her assertion that he had been found in bed with Marron by Clara Clendenan, telling the court “I wish to state, my Lord, that what was said was true, and there are ladies sitting beside me who can prove it.”

The next day Clara Clendenan was called to testify. Judge MacMahon again asked the lawyers to attempt to reach a settlement, noting that “after this witness has testified, it will be useless to attempt to heal the breach.” Although several of the witnesses thus far had contradicted one another on certain points, it was clear that the Clendenans’ marriage was an unhappy one, and MacMahon presumably wanted to spare them the humiliation of having to explain in any further detail. After a consultation, however, the lawyers confirmed that a reconciliation remained unacceptable to their clients, and Clara’s testimony began.

20130525clendenanworldyoumansOn the stand Clara said that her suspicions were first aroused in early September of 1891. The Clendenans were in the habit of sleeping in separate rooms, and late one night she saw Daniel coming from Marron’s room; he explained that he’d heard one of their children crying, and was investigating. Then, on the night of October 31, Clara and Marron had agreed to switch rooms for one night (for reasons which were not explained to the court), with Marron also sharing a bed with the Clendenans’ young daughter, May.

(Right: Agnes Youmans. The Toronto World, April 28, 1894.)

That night Clara was awoken by a noise, and upon exploring the house she found Daniel, Marron, and May, all asleep in the same bed; both Daniel and Marron were “undressed.” She woke them, Marron denied that there was anything going on, and Daniel returned to his own room, where he told her that Marron was a “pure girl” and that he had “imposed upon her.”

Clara said she questioned Marron about the episode, and Marron denied even knowing that Daniel had been in the bed until she had been woken up. Reportedly, Clara claimed to have accepted Marron’s version of events until discovering the affectionate note in which Marron referred to Daniel as “Webins.” When asked if Daniel had ever intimidated her, Clara confirmed that rumours began surfacing about Marron in 1892, Daniel had threatened her with a revolver and insisted that she publicly contradict them. Clara refused, and said that it was at this point that she had left for Guelph.

Two of the Clendenan children were then called as witnesses, including the daughter May, who testified only that she had woken up in bed with Marron to see both her parents leaving the room.

When Daniel Clendenan was called to the stand, he claimed not to have known that Marron and his wife had switched rooms on the night in question, and said that he had climbed into bed with Marron believing her to be Clara. He strongly denied any other relationship with Marron, either in Toronto or in Buffalo.

Both lawyers then gave their summations and the jury retired for deliberations, which lasted two hours. The jury foreman announced that they would not be able to arrive at a clear verdict, explaining that “the jury seem to think that it would have been better if the parties had taken your Lordship’s suggestion and settled the matter.” Both sides professed themselves content with this decision, apparently glad they’d each had a chance to say their piece. The newspapers also generally felt this was a satisfactorily diplomatic resolution, with the World writing that “from what can be learned it appears that they decided to disagree as the pleasantest way out of a difficulty. Samuel Weeks, the foreman of the jury, said that the verdict of disagreement seemed to be the only one that the jury could hand in.”

A week later Daniel Clendenan wrote a brief letter to the Globe, asking that the public suspend its judgement of him given the lack of a firm decision from the jury. He also sought to clear up some matters to which he was not permitted to testify during the trial, including a denial of ever having threatened his wife with a revolver.

Clendenan’s time in the Junction, however, was finished. He eventually settled in Nebraska, where he died in 1913. Daniel’s cousin, George Clendenan, also a Junction resident, appeared to have suffered no ill effects from the publicity from the scandal. He served as the town coroner for many years, and eventually become mayor of Toronto Junction himself.


Additional material from: Charlton’s General Street and Business Directory of West Toronto Junction, (1891); The Leader & Recorder’s History of the Junction, Diana Fancher, ed. (Coach House, 2004: Toronto); The Globe (April 27, April 28, April 30, May 4, 1894); The Evening Mail (April 27, April 30, 1894); West Toronto Junction Revisited, Third Edition., Joan Miles, ed. (West Toronto Junction Historical Society, 1992); Barbara Myrvold, The Most Attractive Resort in Town: Public Library Service in West Toronto Junction, 1888-2009: 2nd revised and expanded edition, (Toronto Public Library Board, 2009: Toronto); Toronto News (May 27, 1892; April 26, April 27, April 28, 1894); the Toronto Star (April 26, April 27, April 28, April 30, 1894); the Toronto Telegram (May 26, May 27, May 28, May 31, 1892; April 26, April 27, April 28, April 30, 1894); Toronto World (May 27, May 30, 1892; April 27, April 28, April 30, 1894).


Every Saturday, Historicist looks back at the events, places, and characters that have shaped Toronto into the city we know today.

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