June Rowlands: Toronto’s first female mayor

Do you know who the first female mayor of Toronto was?

June Rowlands was born in 1925. She started her service in the public specter in the 1950s, serving as president of the Association of Women Electors. In the ’70s she was an original member of the National Council of Welfare.

In 1976, she was elected to city council. While on council, she would become the first female TTC commissioner and budget chief, and worked hard to protect the city’s green space and support social housing. In 1978, she became senior alderman and sat on Metro Council.

After an unsuccessful run in federal politics in 1984, Rowlands left her position on city council to take over as Chair of the Police Commission in 1988—yet again being the first woman to take on this role.

She would return to politics in 1991, successfully running for mayor with a campaign focused on the issues of law and order. At the onset of the race, her main competition consisted of two other women—Susan Fish and Betty Disero—and Jack Layton. By the end, it was down to Rowlands vs. Layton. Rowlands would emerge victorious, being elected by a two-to-one margin and becoming Toronto’s 60th mayor.

While serving as mayor, Rowlands worked hard to reduce property taxes while still offering the services needed to make Toronto a world-class city. Unfortunately, she is likely most remembered for supposedly banning the Barenaked Ladies from performing at City Hall, claiming that their name objectified women. Although the decision was actually made by a staff member (Rowlands was out of town), the event would allow her detractors to portray her to the electorate as ‘out of touch.’ A later incident in which Rowlands seemed uninformed about a youth riot on Yonge Street would only give them further ammunition.

After one term as mayor, Rowlands was defeated by Barbara Hall in the 1994 election. She then officially retired from politics.

A true trailblazer, Rowlands opened many doors for women during her political career. A mother of five, she also exemplifies the modern woman, balancing a stressful career and a home life.

In recognition of her dedication to the City of Toronto, in 2004 Davisville Park was renamed June Rowlands Park, a fitting tribute to a woman who worked tirelessly to promote and maintain our park areas.

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