Deus Ed’s


Rather like the rusted hulk of a great and venerable steamship, Honest Ed’s is now being dismantled, and there is much talk of some sort of museum to commemorate this very particular Toronto landmark.

The sign may perhaps seem to those from afar just a tad garish – this is not at all so – it was grotesquely and always right over the top garish! The place screamed it’s tacky huckster-voice shamelessly in big bold letters, all around the store, in hand-painted signs that themselves have become a local design symbol for cheap and cute (If Warhol had been a TO guy…)

The thing about Ed’s is that it really was always cheap, and yet also had virtually everything that a department store of high-quality carried. Pretty much everyone I know went there when they first moved out, first got married, first had kids, just to get themselves kitted-up for their new life, without having to spend the next month’s food money in advance!

The place to go when you need one of everything for a kitchen, for sure!

Also, has to be said, Ed himself was a real mensch – personally gave out thousands of Christmas turkeys every year, rescued many theatres from ruin and invested in their rebirth (not just in Toronto, but also London’s west end) and the Mirvish village community around this store was an exquisite pocket of culture and counterculture at the edge of the Annex for a half a century.

A place that was prized and relied upon by the lowest of the low – and also treasured by the coolest of the cool. We shall not see it’s like again.

I do accept that increased urban density is a necessary environmental efficiency – and further, that there are a lot of much worse urban scenarios playing-out elsewhere – but can somebody please explain to me again why we can’t knock down all the ugly non beloved crap (of which there is plenty) instead? Some of it least? I’m tired of losing treasures, even tacky ones.

Me? I like the quirky stuff best of all. Designated historical or not.

The especially wonderful thing about cheap and tacky ‘Honest Ed’s’ is that around it grew a lovely diverse and vital cluster of culture-spots, high and low. This strip evolved to be pretty much straight art-galleries – and was across the street from several other galleries, cool restaurants, and one of the finest comic temples in the city (the beguiling) which along with a fantastic array of comics and graphic novels also displayed framed original art from luminaries ranging all the way from Jay Stephens, to Winsor McKay! (Talk about cool!)

But though the beguiling goes back decades, and has been marvellous throughout, I can’t help recalling the long gone (1967-1992) Memory Lane – which along with a truly amazing collection of vintage Hollywood posters, also had a room full of glossy photographs that theatres used to use, just next to the official poster itself – stills from the show, as it were – all alphabetized and very findable – plenty of awesome old-time musician photos too. I even found a Maury Coles promo shot there once (rare beyond belief).

They also had a truly wonderful array of comic books and a vast collection of diverse 1920s -1950s magazines and memorabilia – the proprietor even published his own tiny magazine called “Captain George’s Whizzbang” – which was filled with arcane comic and pop culture references – a stand-out early voice for comics as an art medium.

Also – one of Toronto’s earliest fan-fairs happened on Markham because of Henderson in 1968, just in front of his store – Stan Lee gave a talk, Reg Hartt showed silent movies, there was a Tarzan exhibit – and there was even a super-hero costume ball! (Great music, I’d bet)

Stands as a dusty Aladdin’s cave without equal in memory, up there with the also legendary Old Favourites bookshop (once Adelaide – now Green River)

Personally? As a broke but very curious young boy, I stumbled into a copy of Iron Man number seven there (from the year I was born), for a dollar seventy-five (super-dangerous fortune – much like winning at the races the very first time, and becoming emotionally convinced that it’ll always be easy like that).

Maybe Hannibal’s first name should have been Caveat.

A bit closer-in, in the upper window we see the man himself – Honest Ed Mirvish – still a smiling showman, even sun-faded and decades gone – nobody hates capitalist jerks like I do, nor adores this guy more – one of those rule-proving exceptional guys, to be sure!

Also in this shot and culturally significant – one of the early ventures by his son who has done that most remarkable thing of being both respectful to his pater’s memory and also genuinely philanthropic in his own right – heavy into art – but not at all miserly – his stuff gets seen in the public galleries all the time.

The modern door to the right was originally David Mirvish Books on Art and was a huge store which featured no commercial crap whatsoever (which alone says a lot about the quality of the collection). Tons of european import books of prints – really great modern stuff, including hard to find periodicals.

And, also memorably, a sale table where I found a copy of Henry Miller’s “Under the rooftops of Paris” at the age of fourteen. Like I say – most-memorable.

Thanks Dave – Ed too – for the whole damned run.
This magical zone will be forever missed.

Okay now, not to be pushy Dave, but can you get us that Gehry landmark you promised? (The guy is a Torontonian after all – WE should host his palace!)

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