Philip “Phil” Gerald Givens, QC, (1922–1995) was a Canadian politician, judge, police commissioner, and active Jewish communal leader. He served as the mayor of Toronto from 1963 to 1966.
Givens was born in Toronto, the only son of Hyman and Mary Gevertz (Gewercz). As a youth, he attended Harbord Collegiate and graduated from the University of Toronto in political science and economics in 1945. In 1947, he married the former Minnie “Min” Rubin. They had two children together: Eleanor and Michael.
Givens graduated as a lawyer from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1949; however, shortly thereafter, he decided to enter politics, running as a municipal school board trustee in 1950. Givens was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1962. Following the sudden death of Mayor David Summerville in 1963, Givens was appointed by City Council as the mayor of Toronto and was officially elected to the position in 1964, winning a close race against Allan Lamport.
Givens was publicly seen as an affable and populist mayor, but his tenure was not without controversy. His support for the construction of the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts and his decision to acquire Henry Moore’s bronze sculpture The Archer for the new Nathan Phillips Square were both highly controversial during his term in office. In particular, the Moore sculpture sparked intense controversy and public debate amongst council members and citizens alike, because traditional and representational public art pieces were the norm in Toronto at the time, and The Archer sculpture was considered expensive, bold, and unrelatable. Ultimately, the sculpture was purchased with privately solicited donations and has become one of Toronto’s beloved and recognized landmarks.
In the following decade, he had been running under the Liberal banner and won his seats in several national and provincial elections. In 1977, Givens retired from politics. In addition to his political career, Givens also worked briefly as a current affairs commentator for local radio broadcaster CHUM 1050 AM.
Givens was an ardent Zionist and a prominent leader of several Jewish communal organizations. He was the founder and first president of the Upper Canada Lodge of B’nai Brith and sat on the executives of the Canadian Jewish Congress, the United Jewish Welfare Fund, the Talmud Torah Eitz Chaim, the Zionist Organization of Canada, the Toronto Zionist Council, Jewish National Fund, State of Israel Bonds, and the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care. He was chair of the United Israel Appeal-Israel Emergency Fund in 1967 and the United Jewish Appeal-Israel Special Fund in 1968. From 1973 to 1985, he served as the national president of the Canadian Zionist Federation.
Givens was the honouree of the Jewish National Fund’s Negev Dinner in 1968. He received the Human Relations Award from the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews in 1969 and the Award of Honour from the Toronto Regional Council of B’nai Brith in 1972.
Givens was also known to be a passionate sailor and was a member of both the Royal Canadian and the Island Yacht Clubs in Toronto.
Phil Givens is largely remembered as the fifty-fourth mayor of Toronto. Undoubtedly, he was a very influential figure in Toronto, and even in Canadian politics, in the mid- to late-twentieth century. The Phil Givens collection at the OJA is a multi-media collection, which includes 1.5 meters of textual records, approximately 1500 photographs, as well as audiovisual material and artifacts. It provides us with insight into not only his political and legal career but also his Jewish communal activities and personal life. Among all the records in this collection, two flags are of note—a Canadian flag and an Israeli flag. The Canadian flag flew over the Canadian Parliament buildings, while the Israeli flag was raised in the Knesset. Both flags were requested by Givens and were draped on his casket at his funeral.