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Meet a Toronto Mayor: Allan Lamport

A stubborn scrapper who declared, "If anyone’s going to stab me in the back, I want to be there."

Each month in the run-up to the municipal election on October 27, Torontoist will profile one of the 64 people who served as Mayor of Toronto—people who shaped the city, displayed colourful personalities, or managed to do both.

Allan Lamport, possibly receiving victory kisses after winning the mayoral match at the International Plowing Match in Cobourg, October 6, 1953. City of Toronto Archives, Series 1088, File 2.

Allan Austin Lamport frequently spoke before thinking. “Though he was fiery and resourceful in debate,” the Star’s Michael Best observed, “there was a gap between his ideas and expression thereof. It was as if his motor ran too fast to let the speech gears mesh properly.” What tumbled out of his mouth outraged his opponents and endeared him to the public and reporters. Collections of his offbeat utterances and malapropisms are legion. Some examples:

Don’t just do something. Stand there!

If anyone’s going to stab me in the back, I want to be there.

When I use my judgement, I am sold on it. That’s why the people keep returning me to office.

The only thing you’ll catch swimming in Lake Ontario is dead fish.

Toronto is the city of the future—and always will be.

One person who wasn’t amused was taxi driver Thomas A. Ross. When Lamport accused Ross of trafficking in licences in October 1953 after his objections to Ross’s application were disregarded, Ross sued for libel. Ontario Supreme Court Justice James L. McLennan ruled in favour of Ross, as the jury felt Lamport had acted maliciously. Thanks to appeals and hesitancy among city councillors about paying the $40,000 in fines and legal fees, it was five years before the matter was cleared up.

Part of Lamport’s buffoonery derived from his unwillingness to compromise his beliefs. “I don’t put myself in a class with the rest,” he reflected. “I thought the way was so clear. Anything less would only be a bandage job. I never took half-positions to save my face.” That self-confidence served “Lampy” well over his 36-year political career as a city councillor, MPP, mayor, and TTC chairman. He won fights for Sunday sports, affordable housing, and the establishment of the city’s subway network. A modernizing force, he loosened the shackles of “Toronto the Good.”

Allan Lamport with baseball, 1950. City of Toronto Archives, Series 1088, File 1.

Lamport’s fight against “blue” laws began in earnest when he worked with the province to allow large cities to license cocktail bars in 1947. His next battle was against the paternalistic killjoys who outlawed fun on Sundays. Lamport, who had taught Sunday school, thought it was ridiculous that the city came to a standstill due to an excessive sense of morality. “You didn’t mind asking them to die for you on Sunday,” he reflected years later. He noticed that while public parks were closed and playground equipment was chained up, private facilities like golf courses operate on the Lord’s Day. Lamport, then a member of the City’s Board of Control, heard from recent immigrants who were puzzled by the status quo. He often pointed to the city’s renters, once noting 43,000 people were stuck in their rooms on Sunday with nothing to do. Lamport and his allies successfully turned Sunday sports into a ballot issue. Despite strong opposition from local churches and media, both of which saw recreational sports as the trigger for the eventual commercialization of Sundays, voters approved the measure in January 1950. When the baseball Maple Leafs played their first Sunday game that May, Lamport received the game ball.

Lamport used the support he received for Sunday sports to fuel his mayoral ambitions. He lost a close race with incumbent Hiram McCallum in December 1950, but then defeated him the following year. The first Liberal to serve as mayor since Joseph Oliver in 1909, Lamport was not backed by any of the city’s three newspapers, which, to varying degrees, deplored his bulldozer tactics on council. As a Globe and Mail editorial put it, “We do not believe that Toronto has done as well for itself in the day’s vote as it might have.”

Over the course of his three terms (1952-1954), Lamport presided over numerous changes. His administration implemented early planning and zoning bylaws, established the Toronto Parking Authority, supported the formation of Metropolitan Toronto to coordinate services among the city and its suburbs, considered plans for a new City Hall, and pressured higher levels of government to fund more public housing. (A ballot initiative to support Regent Park passed during his tenure.) He loved the spotlight, whether presiding over the opening of the Yonge subway line or personally witnessing the arrest of bank robber Edwin Alonzo Boyd. “I’m pleased to meet you, should I smile?” Boyd asked the mayor. “If I were in your place,” replied Lamport, “I wouldn’t smile.”

Lamport’s stubbornness created problems. One incident involved the installation of parking meters along Spadina Avenue in 1953. Though the City engineer preferred that one make be used uniformly across the city, Lamport demanded a test run of meters manufactured by Toronto-based Red Ball. The mayor went to great lengths to prove that his support was based on product quality, and was unrelated to his friendships with Red Ball officials. During a lengthy council debate, Lamport repeatedly tested a Red Ball in front of colleagues. Council initially rejected the test before reconsidering the matter a month later. They should have stuck to their gut instinct: by 1960, the remaining Red Balls had been sold off, as they couldn’t be rebuilt after breaking down.

Advertisement, the Globe and Mail, January 2, 1950

Advertisement, the Globe and Mail, January 2, 1950.

The mayor claimed he supported the little guy and that he carefully watched spending at City Hall—yet he spent freely on projects he believed in and to entertain official visitors. In late 1954, stories emerged that Lamport had spent thousands of taxpayer dollars entertaining allies, businessmen, dignitaries, and other city guests at suite 1735 of the Royal York Hotel. He claimed the suite was useful for the high number of daily functions he attended, and that the ensuing furor would put dignitaries off attending future public events.

When the Royal York suite story broke, Lamport had vacated the mayor’s office. He resigned in June 1954 to fill a TTC commissioner vacancy following the death of chairman W.C. O’Brien. He coveted O’Brien’s post, but waited a year while William G. Russell filled the role. As chairman from 1955 to 1959, Lamport styled himself as the voice of transit users by bringing transparency to the secretive practices of TTC management. Despite his support of projects like the Bloor-Danforth line, Lamport’s perceived arrogance made him many enemies within the TTC, such as General Manager W.E.P. Duncan and Metro Toronto Chairman Frederick Gardiner. Rob Ford’s actions during the dismissal of Gary Webster in 2012 were at times reminiscent of Lamport’s battles with Duncan.

Despite runs in 1960 and 1964, Lamport never regained the mayoralty. He was more successful in terms of council, serving alternately as an alderman and control for three more terms. During his later years, he was seen as a reactionary figure, especially when it came to youth. Lamport encouraged police to harass hippies hanging around Yorkville, his goal being to “save them from themselves by harassing them as much as is necessary to drive them out of town.” He called for a “sin brigade” to police under-age sex and a special police station for Yorkville. The cops thought his ideas were excessive.

Cartoon, the Toronto Star, August 4, 1967

Cartoon, the Toronto Star, August 4, 1967.

Lamport attempted to block construction of the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts—feeling it was a waste of money for a city that had enough theatre space—by using ploys such as extending council meetings to reduce the number of project supporters. He called the centre “a carrot in front of a jackass.” Lamport was generally pro-development, to the point of requesting closed meetings for the Eaton Centre to shield the Eaton family from embarrassing questions from council’s progressive wing.

As the 1972 election approached, some constituents in Parkdale began organizing to defeat him due to his inaccessibility and lack of attendance at ratepayer association meetings. A sense his day might have passed combined with the disgust he felt for councillors catering to “kooks” caused him to announce his retirement in November 1972. He offered the following pieces of advice (some perhaps relevant to the current race) in his press statement:

To the ones that may be elected, I hope they will be the sound type—not fickle, egotistical, or hot heads, or believe they must be part of a circus. This process is not a lasting goal in public life, nor does it make for a happy one.

Some others I hope have and will learn that sincere and Godly people don’t go around bluffing their way through and trying to prove themselves through thinking everyone but them is incapable or dishonest, and if they don’t get their own way, throw a tantrum. This way only develops hate and disunity and costly errors for the taxpayers to bear.

He viewed his work as TTC chairman as his greatest accomplishment. “I turned the tide from Toronto being an automobile city to a subway city,” he told the Star. “I looked around and I saw that no modern city was a great city that didn’t have subways.”

Cover of program for Allan Lamport’s 80th birthday dinner, 1983. City of Toronto Archives.

Retirement from City Hall barely slowed Lamport down. He maintained business interests in Florida, Jamaica, and Toronto, and supported charitable causes. His promotion of sports was recognized when Lamport Stadium opened in 1976. Honours many felt were long overdue rolled in: he received a Civic Award of Merit in 1987 and the Order of Canada in 1994. When Mayor June Rowlands was a no-show at the Yonge subway’s 40th anniversary, Lamport gave a speech during which he urged the continued construction of subways, regardless of the nuisance building them would cause.

Lamport died of a stroke in 1999 at the age of 96. “That rollicking bundle of energy called Lampy was humorous, combative and always surprising in the rocket-powered way he made things happen,” Sun columnist Bob MacDonald reflected. “And he was at his rebel best when it seemed just about everyone—fellow politicians, the churches and editorialists—were against him.” The Globe and Mail’s Michael Valpy saw Lamport’s death as “the passing of old Toronto. Old, WASP, tribal, progress-town Toronto. The Toronto for which development was the fix to all problems—build the sewers and the roads and issue the building permits and they’ll come with their money—and where the subtleties of community and cultural diversities and of conflicting social values were bothersome gnats.”

Additional material from the December 4, 1951, September 21, 1967, May 16, 1968, April 26, 1972, July 31, 1982, November 20, 1999, and the November 24, 1999 editions of the Globe and Mail; the March 15, 1952, September 20, 1954, September 28, 1954, December 10, 1954, November 29, 1966, November 18, 1972, April 9, 1978, and March 31, 1994 editions of the Toronto Star; the November 21, 1999 edition of the Toronto Sun; and the September 22, 1953 edition of the Telegram. Material from Allan Lamport’s files at the City of Toronto Archives was also used in this article.

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