My Life on Markham St. / Trips to Honest Ed’s
My name is Mike and I work with CCLCS on their website and blog. Writing about the Annex and Honest Ed’s / Mirvish Village is a trip down beautiful memory lane, though it’s twinged with bittersweet nostalgia. I have to give thanks to Tim Cloutis for inspiring and contributing to this post (and editing!).
This article is about the Mirvish Village and the Annex neighbourhood in west Toronto (home to CCLCS) but the old-time star is Honest Ed’s, the bargain centre that was demolished for development but remains the “anchor tenant” of this article. It was kind of like the glue which represented an eclectic funky Bloor St. West, the one that predated current gentrification.
Markham Street is both the home to CCLCS and the wonderful lane of art shops, pubs and eclectic businesses known as Mirvish Village. It’s still called Mirvish Village though only some of the original houses turned shops remain at the south end of the street.
Let’s trip down that memory lane. First off, I did get lost a few times in Honest Ed’s giant discount department store (there was a sign that implored one to “Come in and get lost”). They sold everything. I bought sundries and groceries there. I even bought a classic Polaroid camera there one time, the one that spat out the square format cards that revealed the image after a minute or two.
Honest Ed’s stood for six decades and Ed Mirvish, the business man who founded the iconic store, became well known and loved by newcomers and residents alike. Stories abound of people relating how their first purchases of household items or winter jackets came from Honest Ed’s. Famously, every year Ed gave away turkeys at Christmas time. People lined up around the block.
Honest Ed Mirvish was one of the city’s most famous immigrants. Given the birth name Yehuda Edwin Mirvish, he was born on July 24, 1914 in Colonial Beach, Virginia, United States. Ed was the son of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania.
Ed arrived in Canada as a teen in the 1920s. He managed a family-owned grocery store on Dundas St. His first name was the Hebrew name, Yehuda, but of course he was known as Ed, and after he developed the discount department store he became known as “Honest Ed.”
The Cranes Have Come and The Neighbourhood Evolves
The Annex neighborhood is a vital and artistic part of the downtown west of Toronto. CCLCS sits adjacent to the action at Bloor and Bathurst, perhaps the centre of this cosmos. Across the street, the booming development of the “new Mirvish Village” – apartment buildings racing to the sky under the twin construction cranes dominating the skyline.
One of the last times I strolled by, about a year ago, there was a construction fence and a pit. I didn’t bother peeking through the little holes for curious passersby. Now the project is well underway and the block where Honesty Ed’s stood is buzzing with trucks, workers, and a new mini metropolis.
Earlier than that, on a cool spring day in March, 2016, I walked Markham street and photographed many buildings which were surrounded by fencing. Look at this photo. The signs are still there but look closely and Honest Ed’s was covered in graffiti. However, a woman walked by wearing a retro vintage outfit and it felt like an amazing document to a bygone era.
It’s a curious process to take the shots and then review them. The process offers insight into history, culture and the everyday life of the area in which you shoot. It’s akin to urban archeology, and an exploration of not only what passed through the frame but your reaction to it, and your deeper memories of the place. Meaning is constructed through many layers.
Ethnicity and Character of the Annex Neighbourhood
Many parts of Toronto are an interesting multicultural mix. According to the Annex neighbourhood profile report, based on 2016 census data, this part of west downtown is 25% newcomer, as opposed to 50% across the city. However, there are large groups of immigrants making this vibrant area home. CCLCS’ location is amid a group of people with European, Asian, Latin American and Caribbean roots. This means is that among the people with roots from the UK, United States or those who simply call themselves “Canadians,” there are those whose ethnicity or language is called Indian, Arab, Filipino, Russian, Italian and Jamaican. Of course, there are dozens more, and the world of the CCLCS classrooms and staff-rooms represents that diversity too. The world is found in our school and in the Annex neighbourhood.
According to the City of Toronto report, The Annex is a residential area bordered by Avenue, Bloor, Christie and Dupont. It’s a central west area of the city populated by small business, low and mid-rise residential buildings and has a thriving art and student/school mix. (Interestingly the Wikipedia article describes the western border of the neighborhood as Bathurst St).
Aside from main thoroughfares like Bloor or Bathurst, the streets are lined with tall trees and large Victorian and Edwardian houses, dating from about 1880 to the early 1900s. The 1950s and 1960s saw the replacement of some houses with mid-rise apartment buildings in the International style. There are few high-rise buildings but the area near St. George has some tall buildings, including apartments and hotels.
Around 500 buildings in the Annex are protected by the Toronto Historical Board, a body which often protects older historically important buildings. This does not mean there is no development – as the massive teardown of Honest Ed’s demonstrates. Though Ed’s was completely wiped out, not every building in the two blocks under redevelopment was destroyed. Some properties remain at the south end of the property (Lennox S.) and a park will be built south of Bloor.
The Mirvish Village redevelopment has been a major feature of the Bloor / Bathurst neighbourhood for quite a few years. From the announcement that Honest Ed’s was sold back in 2013, to shuttering the famous bargain centre on December 31, 2016, to the removal of the famous sign on May 23, 2017, to the high rises soaring up in 2021, the block has been utterly transformed.
A CBC article notes: “At this point, 23 of the 27 listed heritage buildings on the site, which is bordered by Bathurst Street, Markham Street, Bloor Street and Lennox Street and also includes some parts of the west side of Markham Street, will be saved. The park is set to be 1,150 square metres.”
If you, like me, are curious about the meaning of this radical transformation and want to view a fascinating documentary called “There’s No Place Like This Place, Anyplace.”
A quirky movie, that documents the process from the point of view of a local resident turned filmmaker, the film is a look at how personally affecting this kind of city building can be. It doesn’t try to put a positive spin, but all those involved demonstrate a feeling of attempting to come to terms with and take away positives from the removal of Honest Ed’s, the storefronts and residences from the neighbourhood. I think it will take decades before everyone gets used to the new face of this part of the hood. Watch at CBC.
The Annex / Thoughts from Tim
I exchanged memories with Tim of the Annex neighbourhood, which we both explored in the 80s and 90s, before we encountered CCLCS.
My memories include going to Lee’s Palace and the Dance Cave for concerts or nights out dancing or afternoons with coffee or pint or meal at the stalwart Future Bakery.
Before joining CCLCS, even before CCLCS, I was living in the Annex area in the years just after university. In those days, my life in the Annex consisted of the Brunswick House (now a Rexall), Hungarian restaurants (the so-called Goulash Archipelago; almost all gone), the Bloor Cinema (still there by some miracle) and of course the anchor store — Honest Ed’s (now a condo).
I do remember entering the second floor above a small market to check out the Bata shoe outlet and another time to browse through a book sale that had rented the space. Who would have thought that the space would become CCLCS just a few years later, or that I would be working there a few years after that!
But don’t get me wrong — I don’t regret the changes. The neighbourhood still has a funky style and charm and it’ll provide memories for another generation of twenty-somethings (some of whom might decide to come to CCLCS!). And, of course, I can still find a good bowl of goulash!Tim
Like Tim I have a memory of a friend taking me for a phenomenal deli sandwich at a little Hungarian delicatessen. Food is central to the memories of this area.
The Bloor Cinema has been a place I enjoyed visiting, catching art and underground films. There’s Gazale for falafels – but don’t get onions if you have to return to class!
What Became of the Honest Ed’s Sign? What Will Become of the Annex?
So, here we are. We may accept the evolution in the neighbourhood with mixed feelings. But some practical concerns remain. What other developments will arrive on this stretch of Bloor west of Bathurst? What will become of Korea town and the low-rise retail stretch between CCLCS’ Markham Street school and Christie?
And what has happened to that famous sign? Apparently, it is going to be moved to the Ed Mirvish theatre on Yonge St. Theatre impresario David Mirvish, the brother of Honest Ed Mirvish, explained in the CBC article: “It is fitting that a sign from the original store that made it possible for my father to become involved in theatre will now grace the venue that is named for him.”
What are your thoughts on the changing neighbourhood? Let us know! We welcome your comments, memories and stories!
Follow us: Twitter, Facebook and our new page on Instagram
Credits: Written by Mike Simpson with a contribution by Tim Cloutis / Edited by Tim Cloutis / Photos are credited to their respective creators / Honest Ed photos from Toronto archives and development image by Westbank Corp.