The Clear Grit

Major General Robert Rennie, M.V.O.
3rd (Toronto Regiment) BattalionRennie

As a candidate, I seek election not on my personal record so much, but on that of those who were associated with me in the great war. I am now more a civilian than a soldier, but—and please let there be no frills about this—if war should threaten again, I am ready to offer my services.

I stand on a Liberal platform because I am a Liberal and always have been. I believe in the great principles of Liberalism…

(Rennie’s speech, Toronto Globe, 21 Nov 1921, 1)

Robert Rennie was a Toronto seed merchant and thirty-four year member of the Queen’s Own Rifles. He joined as a rifleman in 1880 and rose to become lieutenant colonel by 1914. Born on 15 December 1862 in Markham, Canada West, Rennie was an expert marksman, respected businessman and prominent sportsman, with a specialty in curling.

In September 1914, Rennie was selected to head the 3rd Battalion, while the QOR commanding officer, Malcolm Mercer, took charge of the 1st Infantry Brigade. In recognition of his leadership during the fighting on the Ypres Salient in spring 1915, Rennie was promoted to brigadier general on 7 November 1915. Command of the 3rd Battalion passed to Captain William D. Allan. Rennie led the 4th Infantry Brigade, composed of the 8th, 19th, 20th and 21st Battalions, from the Somme through Vimy Ridge to Hill 70.

Rennie, RFollowing a four-month absence after a fall from his horse in September 1917, Rennie resumed command of the 4th Brigade in January 1918. Rennie remained in command during the battles of Amiens and Arras until Brigadier General G. E. McCuaig succeeded him on 12 September 1918.

Rennie, who had technically become the QOR commanding officer after the death of General Mercer in June 1916, remained active in the militia regiment after the war. He was promoted to major general in 1921.

In the 1921 federal election, the Liberal Party nominated Rennie to be their candidate in Toronto North in opposition to the Conservative Tommy Church, the wartime mayor of Toronto. Many former soldiers called on Church to step aside in favour of the soldier-candidate. In a campaign speech, one Conservative ex-serviceman endorsed the Liberal candidate: “Major-General Rennie fought with us, and is essentially one of us. We regard him not as a politician, but rather as a Soldier advocate.”

In accepting the nomination, Rennie promised to make his first priority to ensure fair and just treatment for disabled soldiers and the families of the fallen. The Globe enthusiastically endorsed the general:

His military record is brilliant, and his personal record is untarnished. His claims on the electorate are those of a gallant soldier, a patriot, a man of high character and sound common-sense, experienced in practical affairs.

It is easy for North Toronto to make its personal choice on Tuesday.

Although Prime Minister Meighen and the Conservatives lost 104 seats on the 6 December election, Church managed to retain Toronto North for his party. The Toronto mayor received 12,412 votes to Rennie’s 8,452.

Rennie died on 17 December 1949, two days after his eighty-seventh birthday.

Further Reading:
Photo: Courtesy of John Stephens, Curator, The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada Regimental Museum


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