The Spirit of Ed Mirvish will live on forever in our City
Anyone driving down Bloor Street over the past sixty-eight years always had to remind themselves, as they approached the corner of Bathurst, that they were not in Las Vegas but rather approaching the palace of Canada’s most famous discount retailer of all times, Ed Mirvish, who oversaw every detail of the operations of the store from the time he opened it back in 1948 until he died in 2007. Now this palace is closing, and people from all over the City will remind themselves for generations to come of the free turkey giveaways at Thanksgiving and Christmas, of the crazy signs that always made us groan (with a big smile on our faces, to be sure), and most of all of the remarkable man who was part of Toronto’s coming of age. It will now be replaced by a rental housing, retail and restaurant development that will spread throughout 55 buildings and range in height from 2.5 storeys to a 29-story micro-tower. Developer Westbank, selected by Ed Mirvish’s very accomplished son David, will no doubt do a fine job in making this a people place with lots of arts and culture, but most Torontonians of a certain age will nevertheless feel a certain twinge of nostalgia for what was for decades a truly special establishment. The store sign alone used 23,000 light bulbs and seemed to brighten up even the dullest of days, and could have used Petula Clark’s greatest hit, Downtown, as its theme…” When you’re alone and life is making you lonely you can always go…downtown”. Yes, Honest Ed’s was the epitome of downtown, where the legendary proprietor threw gigantic birthdays for himself and always had a reason to give away cakes, meals, hotdogs and candy. Every Toronto child and all those who were young at heart wanted to be there, to walk through the emporium where, as the famous sign said, “Only the floors are crooked!”
Ed Mirvish spoke twice at the Empire Club, and although both times he related how the Mirvish empire had spread out to beautiful theatres, including a very famous one in London, England, his heart was still in retail. In his second address to the Empire Club, which in true Ed Mirvish fashion he entitled “How I became an overnight success in seventy-five years”, he ended his speech with a few thoughts on how he would like to be remembered, and this of course centered around the iconic store:
“An interviewer once asked me what 1 would like on my tombstone and how I would like to be remembered. I replied that I was not that interested in tombstones and cemeteries altogether. I said I would like to erect a huge throne in the centre of Honest Ed’s retail store. I would then like my body cremated and the ashes put in an hour glass. I would then like someone sitting on the throne to keep turning the hour glass up and down, up and down, and the employees would point to the hour glass and say, “There’s Ed. He’s still running!” That’s the way I would like to be remembered.
I would like to thank my wife, Anne, and son, David, our family, and our over 1,000 employees who always help to make me look good. In the final analysis we are all just caretakers and custodians. We cannot take anything with us. If sometimes the things we have done give some enjoyment to others it makes everything worthwhile.”
His very successful son David, who has also spoken at the Club, won’t of course be able to respect that particular wish, but he has done an admirable job in keeping his father’s legacy alive. And now, as the store will very soon be nothing but a memory for us all, we should all take a moment and reflect on how Honest Ed helped to fashion this great City of ours into what it has become today. He put theatre and excitement into shopping, making the move to theatre for he and his son a natural progression, but he also gave us just enough magic that we all knew that going into Honest Ed’s, passing by the sign that proclaimed “Come in and get lost”, was leaving the humdrum outside world behind and emerging on a stage where every bargain imaginable was there to be discovered and taken advantage of. He was more than a retailer and deep in his heart he knew it. Ed Mirvish was a dream merchant, and his dreams became our dreams as we rolled by the corner of Bloor and Bathurst so many times in our lives and saw what a magic city Toronto had become, with a cityscape that his son continues to contribute to as he remembers the legacy of his very gifted father.