TORONTO — Some 70 years plus have passed and youth clubs established at the YMHA (now the JCC) in Toronto in the late 1930s still exist today.
“That is more than friendship. I call it brotherhood,” says Ken Borden, a member of one of the clubs, Club Kenton.
Borden, who heads an advertising agency and is a born leader, says it is an unbelievable closeness. “It is a comfort zone, second to none.”
Back then, the clubs had Saturday socials and Sunday meetings, put on musical shows, raised money for charity and had interclub sports.
Borden told The CJN that when the members of Club Kenton get together now, usually monthly and for each birthday, they often look back at the past and see how things develop and grow.
They plan social events and attend each other’s family events – bar mitzvahs, weddings, brit milahs and funerals – and they visit each other in hospitals and attend family shivahs.
“The closeness is still there, only now it’s very much love, a caring and wanting to stay together.
“Here we are, all seniors-plus, and still having and sharing fun together with the kids we grew up with. Whatever we had, whatever we did, it worked, and still does.”
There was a joint all-clubs reunion in 2002. “And it only took us about 65 years to put it together. We were rivals when we were kids, in sports, socials, school and dating.
“We now do sports, spectators now, and socials, but no more dating, as we are a little tired.
“Our get-togethers are a blast. There’s lots of hugging, lots of hand shaking, lots of laughs and above all, the real definition of brotherhood.”
Looking back, Borden says when he was growing up in the 1930s and ’40s, the war years, Jewish Toronto was a small world, St. Clair Avenue to the north, Lake Ontario to the south, Yonge Street to the east and Dovercourt Road to the west.
“We rarely strayed outside these boundaries. Outside was very uncomfortable. Anti-Semitism was big and visible, and we kept to our own little world where we felt safe.”
He explains that in 1944, he and some friends went to hear a Stan Kenton concert at Crystal Beach. “The sound was amazing, so our club changed its name to Club Kenton.”
They followed the Stan Kenton concerts and wore their Kenton sweaters, white with a red K, which brought them an introduction to Kenton.
With gratitude, Borden spoke of the benefits and the protection of the YMHA, which was located on Brunswick Avenue at College Street. “It was our home away from home and our shelter from the outside stormy blast of our adversaries.”
It is amazing that those clubs are still alive and thriving in Toronto, he says “Many of the members had nicknames, Spider, the Mole, Itch, Wild Bill, Clutch, Jiggs, Shnoz, Racco and many more, and we still joke about those names today.”
Borden calls it “a mysterious magnet” that still draws them together.
“It is the richest part of my social life and I wouldn’t trade that for all the electronic programs today that separate people.”