Michael Goldlist jokes that his people “came from chicken stock.” The Toronto writer grew up in the borough of North York, but as a kid, he’d often visit his dad at the Toronto Western Hospital, where he worked.
The two would go for lunch in the nearby Kensington Market, where his father would make a point of going by Tom’s Place, a men’s suit retailer on Baldwin Street, so he could remind his son that, “From 1948 to ’68, this was Goldlist Poultry.”
Because of the store, which Goldlist’s late grandfather – a Holocaust survivor from Poland – co-owned with his cousin, Goldlist the younger has long felt a deep sense of kinship with the market.
It’s fitting, then, that the 34-year-old is the man behind a brand new Heritage Minute commercial, released Oct. 25, about Kensington Market’s history.
The one-minute commercial, the 88th to be produced by Historica Canada, is its first ever animated spot. It seems, also, to be the first to touch on contributions to the country made by the Canadian Jewish community – though that isn’t the commercial’s sole focus.
The Heritage Minute starts with a scene of Kensington Market, back when it was known as the “Jewish Market.” Snatches of Yiddish can be heard in the background, as bearded, vaguely Hasidic-looking men stroll the sidewalk.
The shot zeroes in on a kosher poultry store, where a squawking chicken held upside down by a butcher breaks free, before the store morphs into a 1950s-era Portuguese fish shop. The same store then becomes a Chinese produce stand, then a record shop selling hippie-style ponchos, then a Middle Eastern falafel place.
“The idea was to track Canadian immigration through (the lens of) one store,” said Goldlist, who collaborated on the script with his creative partner, Daniel Rosenberg.
The point was not to tell the literal story of a particular store, but to use the concept as a way to portray the shifting cultural landscape of the market, and of Toronto, over recent decades.
The animated format allowed for a lot of creative freedom, Goldlist explained: “Animation lets you do magical things, to get from one place to another so quickly.”
The Heritage Minute will play in both English and French on television stations across Canada and online, on YouTube and Historica Canada’s website.
While most Heritage Minute commercials are narrated by professional actors, this one is voiced by Tom Mihalik, the owner of Tom’s Place, whose family came to Toronto in the 1950s, following the Hungarian Revolution.
Mihalik’s voice, as well as Goldlist’s personal connection to the subject matter, adds a unique “authenticity” to the commercial, said Anthony Wilson-Smith, president and CEO of Historica Canada.
He noted that, “Almost every major city in Canada has a Kensington Market – a place that’s the motor of the engine, the spirit of the community, where people, cultures, who may not normally have been drawn together … come together.”
The old world ethos of the market gives it a timeless feel, Goldlist remarked, one that cuts across a lot of different immigrant cultures.
“There’s a lot of chatting, bargaining,” he said. “I think Tom (Mihalik) has that attitude. He says things like, ‘For you, a special discount.’ He makes friends with everyone who comes into his store. That’s exactly what my grandfather would do – it’s an old-fashioned sales ethic.”
As for what his grandfather would have made of the commercial, Goldlist mused: “I think he would love it. He worked really hard.… Mondays, he’d get up at 2:30 in the morning to drive to the country to pick up chickens. But he loved it. He used to say that every day, he thanked his lucky stars he was in Canada.… He was really proud of his roots, and he loved the market.”