Miriam Chinsky, known for her light touch and graceful turns of phrase as a Toronto-based freelance writer for The CJN, died Feb. 14, a few weeks before her 94th birthday.
In dozens of articles, the versatile Chinsky covered local news, speakers, events, seniors issues, the arts and other fare for The CJN from the 1970s to the ‘90s. She also filed travel stories from her many destinations.
In a 1981 article, she took the fly-on-the-wall approach and described three Jewish teenagers unloading their concerns to a counsellor about divorce, sex and drugs – “life in the 1980s,” as the headline stated.
Later, she wrote poignantly about a program that brought young teens from Israel to a summer camp in Ontario. The Israelis had lost their fathers in war, and Chinsky noted they left their new Canadians friends amid hugs and tears.
“Her curiosity allowed her to ask great questions and listen to the answers. She was never intimidated or awestruck,” her daughters eulogized at her funeral.
Editorial staff would recall that even after computers became widely used, Chinsky typed on canary-yellow sheets, stacks of which she would take from The CJN’s office when she visited.
“Miriam’s personal grace and sensitivity shone through every article she wrote. She was a delight to read and to work with,” said Patricia Rucker, editor of The CJN from 1989 to 1994.
Chinsky also freelanced for the Willowdale Mirror and the North York Town Crier. She became a published author at the age of 80, when the Town Crier printed The Tailor’s Daughter: Growing Up in North Toronto, a collection of Chinsky’s Stephen Leacock-like literary sketches about her childhood neighbourhood.
She vividly described her parents’ tailor shop on Yonge Street, and drew colourful portraits of teachers, friends, neighbours, street merchants, politicians and local characters, such as ‘Enry, a former sailor and itinerant labourer:
“A wisp of a man, bent almost double, he was one of that legion who gravitated to Toronto from the failing Prairie farms, from the impoverished East Coast towns and villages, from all across the country, and walked the city’s streets in the depressed ‘30s, looking for work or a handout. ‘Enry didn’t take handouts.”
Chinsky wrote “with simple, sparkling elegance of this patch of urban territory as she knew it in the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, when north Toronto was a distinct and somewhat remote neighbourhood linked to downtown by streetcar,” penned reviewer and CJN contributor Bill Gladstone about the volume. The book was “a pleasing memory album.”
Born Miriam Pearl Bassin in Toronto in 1925, Chinsky was the only child of a socialist father from Russia, Sam Bassin, and a Polish emigrée, Fanny Silverman. Chinsky graduated from the University of Toronto with an English degree, but not without controversy.
Her thesis on Don Quixote was so good that she was accused of plagiarism and forced to sit out a full year before being allowed to graduate, her daughters recalled.
In 1949, she married Joe Chinsky, the office manager and accountant for Kent Steel. He died in 1996.
Her wide-ranging interests led her to take classes in Hebrew, French, Italian, Spanish, art, needle crafts and even square dancing.
Chinsky is survived by her daughters, Anne Belanger and Janet Farkas, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.