Hon­est Ed’s and the other side of the street

The Canadian Jewish News (Toronto) - - Comment - Michael Taube

Ev­ery­one loves a story. Some are based on fact, some on fic­tion (à la Baron Mun­chausen and Paul Bun­yan), and oth­ers blend to­gether as time marches on.

I’ve also got an amus­ing yarn. This anec­dote, about the “orig­i­nal” lo­ca­tion of a his­toric Toronto land­mark, was told to me when I was grow­ing up. I have no idea whether it’s true, or noth­ing more than a tall tale. Let’s be­gin. Hon­est Ed’s, the mam­moth dis­count store at 581 Bloor St. W. (at Bathurst Street) in Toronto, closed its doors per­ma­nently on Dec. 31, 2016. Started by Ed Mirvish in 1948, it con­tained bar­gain base­ment mer­chan­dise, hand-painted signs and enough wild slogans to drive you to the loony bin!

The founder was a unique in­di­vid­ual. As the Globe and Mail’s Eric An­drew-gee wrote, Mirvish “had no ide­ol­ogy to speak of, but an in­stinc­tive – not to say self-in­ter­ested – be­lief in free mar­kets made him a mi­nor cul­ture war­rior at a time when the city was run by stuffed-shirt Angli­cans and stiff-necked Pres­by­te­ri­ans with a dis­taste for the mad dash of un­reg­u­lated com­merce.”

For many Cana­di­ans, es­pe­cially new im­mi­grant fam­i­lies, Hon­est Ed’s was an im­por­tant first des­ti­na­tion. It en­abled them to get house­hold ne­ces­si­ties (plates, glasses, cut­lery), along with in­ex­pen­sive cloth­ing, toi­letries, chil­dren’s toys and food items, on a tight bud­get.

Hence, it per­formed a real ser­vice for the peo­ple of this city. That’s to Mirvish’s credit.

But here’s a fas­ci­nat­ing story you’ve likely never heard be­fore. Ed Mirvish’s en­ter­prise could have po­ten­tially ended up on the other side of the street, if it wasn’t for Louis Taube.

My late grand­fa­ther, one of Toronto’s first Jewish lawyers, had his of­fice at 793 Bathurst St. It was rather dis­tinc­tive be­cause he never mod­ern­ized it. With only a few sub­tle ad­just­ments, it main­tained the same ar­chaic ap­pear­ance from when he first opened it around 1944 to its clos­ing when he passed away in 2001.

His for­mer law of­fice is now oc­cu­pied by Trove, a bou­tique store. I’ve walked in a few times. They did a nice job, and kept the orig­i­nal floors. Brings back many fond me­mories.

Mirvish was ap­par­ently in­ter­ested in set­ting up his dis­count store on the east side of Bathurst. Some peo­ple were will­ing to sell their lo­ca­tions. My grand­fa­ther, who owned his build­ing and the one to the south of it, wasn’t in­trigued. He liked the area, was com­fort­able in his sur­round­ings, and money wasn’t wildly im­por­tant to him.

Taube sup­pos­edly turned down Mirvish’s of­fer. Hon­est Ed’s was built on the southeast cor­ner of Bloor and Markham, and be­came a great fi­nan­cial suc­cess. The two men would see each other ev­ery so of­ten, and these two Jewish pi­o­neers re­mained on good terms.

Imag­ine how dif­fer­ent how Toronto would look to­day if Hon­est Ed’s had been built on a dif­fer­ent cor­ner. One won­ders if there would have been a Mirvish Vil­lage, too. Is this anec­dote true? Alas, both men have passed away (along with their spouses). I have no idea if David Mirvish has ever heard this story in­volv­ing his fa­ther, ei­ther.

So, I asked my fa­ther, Stan­ley Taube, a semi-re­tired lawyer. He put it to me this way, “It’s an in­ter­est­ing story, but the re­al­ity is lost in the fog of time.”

As he cor­rectly pointed out, the old St. Do­minic Savio Catholic School was to the south of my grand­fa­ther’s sec­ond build­ing. Other es­tab­lished lo­ca­tions, in­clud­ing Cooper’s Del­i­catessen just to the north of his law of­fice, could have eas­ily re­jected Mirvish’s of­fer.

The main stum­bling block would likely have been the Do­min­ion Bank of Canada branch, which later merged with the Bank of Toronto in 1955, at the southeast cor­ner. Where was it go­ing to go?

Yes, the (tall?) tale of Hon­est Ed’s and the other side of the street seems in­com­plete. That’s un­for­tu­nate, but maybe it’s for the best.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.