Honest Ed’s and the other side of the street
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.