How do neighbourhoods pay tribute to local heroes and celebrities? The Palmerston Area Residents Association (PARA) chose a lane-naming celebration, which was held on June 23, to honour former residents of the Toronto neighbourhood, an area located west of Bathurst Street and sandwiched between Harbord and College streets.
Many of the honourees had attended Clinton Street Public School on Manning Avenue, the starting point of the festivities. A procession of about 75 people moved from laneway to laneway, accompanied by the music of trumpeter Maddy Ertel and trombonist Karl Silveira.
Of the eight residents and families that were honoured, four were Jewish: journalist Morley Safer; civil liberties activist Alan Borovoy; philanthropist Beatrice Minden; and the comedy duo Wayne and Shuster. The Jewish Folk Choir was a fifth Jewish honouree.
Fernanda Pisani, a PARA laneway committee member, said it took about two and a half years for the city to approve the names.
Many of the people honoured have bios in Robert Vipond’s Making a Global City: How One Toronto School Embraced Diversity, a book about Clinton Street Public School.
A lane at the south end of the school was named for Safer, the broadcast journalist best known for his many years as a correspondent on 60 Minutes, a weekly news show on CBS.
His brother, Leon Safer, spoke about his brother’s dedication to truth-telling and his award-winning reporting on the war in Vietnam.
Alan Borovoy Lane is off of Jersey Avenue, a block east of Grace Street, where Borovoy, a leading Canadian human and civil rights activist, spent his formative years.
Jordy Merkur, a family friend, spoke about Borovoy’s encounter with the anti-Semitic Christie Pitts gang. “Those gangs helped fuel Alan’s passion for social and civil justice,” said Merkur.
Borovoy served as general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association for 40 years. He died in 2015.
Philanthropist Beatrice Minden, who was born Rifka Spiegel in 1910, grew up on Manning Avenue and attended Clinton Street Public School. She took the name Beatrice to fit in with the dominant culture, her daughter, Jo-Ann Minden, explained.
Beatrice Minden – her laneway is at Harbord Street and Jersey Avenue – made a generous donations to the school on its 100th anniversary and, on her 90th birthday, she created an arts education endowment.
Comedian Johnny Wayne (née Louis Weingarten) grew up at 351 Palmerston Blvd. and also attended the school. He teamed up with Frank Shuster at a comedy-writing club at Harbord Collegiate.
They continued their partnership through university, where they developed their comedy routines. They had several radio shows in the 1940s and, in the early ’50s, they made their television debut on CBC.
Jamie Wayne, one of Wayne’s three sons, said the duo’s 1958 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, the iconic TV variety hour, was front-page news. “They were on Ed Sullivan more than any other comedians. They appeared a record 67 times,” he said.
The Wayne and Shuster Hour on CBC was a weekly show that morphed into a series of seasonal specials. Michael Wayne, the oldest son, said these shows continued until his father’s death in 1990. Shuster died in 2002.
The laneway procession continued down Jewish Folk Choir Lane, at Ulster Street and Euclid Avenue, where eight representatives of the choir performed three songs in Yiddish and English.
Ester Reiter, an author and long-time member of United Jewish People Order (UJPO), said the original choir – which was made up of factory workers who lived in the area – began in 1925. It was part of the Labour League until the founding of the UJPO in 1945.
The choir flourished in the ’40s and ’50s under Emil Gartner, a classically trained musician who arrived in Canada as a refugee in 1938. The famed American singer, Paul Robson, performed with the choir several times at Massey Hall.
The laneway procession ended with a party at a private residence.
Other laneway honourees included the Higgins family, the first black family in the community, and Joe Bertucci, who was a caring neighbour. Via Dei Giardini Lane was named for the wonderful gardens maintained by the Vellone, Decaria, Rizzuto, D’Addetta and Soldano families.