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International Women's Month Profile: Gladys Rolling

On International Women’s Day, we like to acknowledge the trailblazing women who came before us. As such, we feel that we should highlight a local woman who needs to be recognized as an icon in her own right, since she was the first female mayor of East Gwillimbury.

Fig. 1: Photo of Gladys Rolling, from October 15, 1969, in the Newmarket Era.

She was born Gladys Margaret Clement on February 28, 1918. She was born and raised in Churchill, which a small town near Innisfil, in Simcoe County. It seems as though she was the youngest child of Robert Clement and Maggie Clement (nee Ross), having an older sister and two older brothers. They lived on a farm on Concession 1, lot 17, likely picking up their mail at the Fennel post office. She was married on Wednesday, January 18, 1939 to Frederick Bruce Rolling, who was the only son of Mrs. Rolling and the late Herbert Rolling. It was reported by both the Barrie Examiner and the Newmarket Era the following week that that the bride was “charmingly gowned in Windsor rose sheer over taffeta, with navy sheer jacket and navy accessories”.[1]

After their honeymoon, they moved a house on Mill Street in Mount Albert. The following year, the Barrie Examiner reported that on June 12, 1940, a daughter was born to Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Rolling of Mount Albert.[2] At first, Bruce Rolling listed his occupation as a carpenter, but then later on he seems to have ‘sawyer’ listed as his occupation on voter lists. He owned and operated a sawmill somewhere on Highway 48. For many years, Gladys was active in the community life in Mount Albert, coaching the girl’s baseball team, the Mount Albert Mounties, participating in her local branch of the Women’s Institute, and hosting parties at the Rolling cottage up near Glen Sibbald Beach in Keswick.

Entering her career in politics in 1961, she was elected as the representative for Mount Albert. She served as a councillor until 1965, after which she was elected as the deputy reeve for East Gwillimbury from 1966 until 1969. The following year, she became the mayor of the township by acclamation (meaning that she assumed the post without an election). When the York Regional Council was formed as a group of all the mayors from York Region, she was the only female member present there. She served as mayor of East Gwillimbury from 1970 to 1976.

Fig. 2: Gladys Rolling presenting a gift to the Hon. John Yaremko. From the Newmarket Era, December 1970.

In addition to all these accomplishments, she was also a very charming and engaging person, with a love of local history. She even found time to write a volume entitled East Gwillimbury in the 19th Century: A Centennial History of the Township of East Gwillimbury, published by Ryerson Press in 1967. We have several copies of this book in both branches of our library, and give some fascinating insights about the early history of the towns that make up the township of East Gwillimbury. She was also one of the first members of the library board when the East Gwillimbury Public Library was formed by Town by-law in 1975.

In 1979, she was still active in political life, as the provincial representative on the Regional Police Commission and chairman of the negotiating committee for the police board.[3] Another of her major accomplishments was establishing the Royal Oak senior housing complex in Mount Albert. She died suddenly at the York County hospital on May 11, 1993. Her obituary noted that she was “known as a feisty politician with a reputation for persistence”.[4] She is buried next to her husband, Bruce Rolling, in the Mount Albert Cemetery.

Do you have any memories of Gladys Rolling? Please share it with us in the comments section below!

[1] Anon. (26 Jan 1939). “Mount Albert – Rolling-Clement Nuptials Solemnized”. Newmarket Era. Page 8. Retrieved from [2] Anon (20 June 1940). “Born”. Retrieved from [3] Anon (11 July 1979). “Police win 6.59% pay increase”. Newmarket Era. Page 19. Retrieved from [4] Anon. (May 1993). “Rolling was York’s first female mayor”. East Gwillimbury Anchor. Page not found.

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