By: Junisha Dama
Toronto’s first female mayor, June Rowlands, has died at the age of 93.
Rowlands died in her sleep on Thursday night at a long-term care facility in the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood.
Rowlands served as the 60th mayor of Toronto between 1991 to 1994.
She was a woman of a lot of firsts.
In a statement, Mayor John Tory said, “She helped build this city and blazed a trail as the first woman to serve as a TTC commissioner, budget chief, executive committee member, chair of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Commission and Mayor.”
Her term as mayor closed out her political career, which began in 1976 when she was elected to city council.
Mayor Tory added, “June Rowlands served from 1976 to 1994 but her community involvement stretches back to the 1950s.”
Rowland’s campaign for mayor focused on law and order, saving the city’s ravines and green spaces, supporting affordable housing, and preserving the city’s historic neighbourhoods.
What’s a less known fact is that Rowland was also the first mayor to officially proclaim Lesbian and Gay Pride Day in 1991; her successor Barbara Hall became the first mayor to attend a pride parade.
Despite having many firsts, Rowlands is most known for prohibiting popular band The Barenaked Ladies from playing at a City Hall function. The media then reported that Rowlands had imposed a ban on the band because the name was sexist and objectified women. However, it was later reported that Rowlands had nothing to do with it and that it was another City Hall staffer who made the decision.
Though Rowlands spent two decades as a public servant, she never wanted to be in the public eye. This was one of the reasons her political rivals dubbed her as ‘the invisible mayor.’
She was so invested in the ledgers that she missed out on a lot that happened in the city.
Just days before the 1994 vote, a mini-riot broke out on Yonge Street where youths vandalized hot dog stands, smashed windows and caused chaos.
The next day, Rowlands had no idea about it ever occurring and called it a thing of the past.
In a 1994 interview with the Star she said, “I get things done. I’ve had my successes and that’s largely because I like to get in there, roll up my sleeves and get to work. I like to think that’s my hallmark.”
Although being a longtime Liberal, she was often accused of being far-right. In 1989, in a speech to the provincial Race Relations and Policing Task Force, she said, “There is a sector of youth that’s out of control within the Black community, there’s no question about it, and they’re causing a lot of problems.”
Mayor Tory extended his condolences to Rowland’s family and said, “Losing a loved one is never easy, especially at Christmas. They should know that her service to our city is tremendously appreciated and that she will be missed.”
Several councillors and those who remember meeting Rowlands took to Twitter to extend their condolences.
Toronto's first woman mayor, June Rowland, was an incredible city builder and trailblazer. She was kind and very generous with her time. I'm very sorry to learn of her passing and send my condolences to her family and friends. #RIP https://t.co/km1JnFmxNA
— Kristyn Wong-Tam (@kristynwongtam) December 22, 2017
June Rowlands served our city as a city councillor and the first woman elected mayor of Toronto. I am grateful to her and express my sincerest condolences to her family & friends. We will continue to celebrate her legacy at the park in midtown Toronto that is named in her honour.
— Josh Matlow (@JoshMatlow) December 22, 2017
I remember meeting June Rowlands when I was a guest speaker at City Hall @TorontoComms after helping to shut down the Heritage Front. As Toronto's 1st female mayor, she fought a hard battle & will be remembered for her warmth and trailblazing spirit. She was an example to so many pic.twitter.com/SgyQvnAxBQ
— Elisa Hategan 🏳️🌈 (@elisahategan) December 22, 2017
The family plans to have a memorial service in the new year.
Rowlands is survived by her five children and four grandchildren.