Past the red-sweatered Ken Bones, and however many groups of 'kids from Stranger Things,' the title of Toronto's most memorable Halloween sight might just belong to Bathurst Station's belated turn as Honest Ed's. Decked out over Halloween night and into the morning, the first day of November saw the walls of the station transformed into a loving and lighthearted homage to the iconic retailer.
Unveiled today, the tribute will last as long as the store itself, remaining in place until Honest Ed's serves its last customer on December 31st of this year. In 2017, the store will make way for Westbank's celebrated and lambasted redevelopment, while the station will eventually reveal a more modestly scaled permanent installation remembering the one-of-a-kind store.
Across the station, windows, walls, and wayfinding signs are kitted out in the store's endearingly outdated fonts. Paying tribute to the work of long-serving sign painters Doug Kerr and Wayne Reuben, the signs—which are vnyl scans of painted lettering—offer transit-themed themed adaptations of Ed Mirvish's wordplay. "OUR TRAINS ARE SMART: THEY'VE BEEN TO COLLEGE AND UNIVERSITY," a sign reads. "OUR PRICES AREN'T JUST GOOD, THEY'RE FARE."
Joining past and present Honest Ed's Employees in celebrating the tribute, Mayor John Tory took to the customized podium along with David Mirvish, and the TTC's Josh Colle and Chris Upfold. Hailing Honest Ed's as a landmark that has long "epitomized Toronto's spirit of inclusivity," Tory remarked that the store offers "something for everyone," including recent migrants and the Mayor himself. "When I needed a green jacket for the St. Patrick's Day parade... I knew just where to go," Tory told the audience, later adding an $11 red/green shirt and tie set—this time for the Santa Claus parade—to his list of finds.
As Tory spoke, David Mirvish stood to the side behind him. From where I stood, Ed Mirvish's cardboard cutout smiled behind him, putting two generations of prominent Torontonians in view. It was Ed who built the store and buttressed Toronto's 20th century cultural landscape. It's son David who sold the 1.8-hecatre property to Westbank in 2013, opting to support a redevelopment plan that will replace Honest Ed's with an ambitiously eclectic and fine-grained mixed-use community.
"Honest Ed's is not only a store, but an opportunity," Mirvish told the audience. Like Tory, Mirvish extolled the store—and its many charitable functions—as a welcoming first port of call for generations of Toronto immigrants, with waves of migrants including "Ugandans, Vietnamese boat people, and now, Syrian refugees." Mirvish also lauded the store's history, celebrating the "suppliers that we've had for over 58 years... and employees we've had for 50."
Yet, with the store's closing two months away, that comforting sense of continuity is now close to extinguished. For the former and current employees—and devoted shoppers—in attendance, the celebratory occasion carried more than an undercurrent of nostalgia and elegy. Before the day's ceremonies got underway upstairs, the station's signs and slogans invited photographs and conversation. "Are you an Honest Ed's fan?" a fellow onlooker asked as I stopped to take pictures of the installations.
"Not really," I admitted, having never been a frequent shopper, though I halfway regretted the words as soon as they left my mouth. "I'm coming to appreciate it much more though," I added, "as the years go by." It's a part of Toronto history, we agreed, and it'll be sad to see it go. "I'm a big fan," he told me. "What do you think of the redevelopment plan?" I asked in return.
"It's terrible," he answered, lamenting the loss of a historical icon, and an irreplaceable part of the city's cultural heritage. Notwithstanding its intangible—yet nonetheless significant—cultural value, Honest Ed's has also remained an bastion of affordability in an increasingly expensive and unequal city. So to the man next to me, it seemed "absolutely ridiculous that they're tearing it down."
I didn't fully admit it to him, but I've been looking forward to the redevelopment. Combining much-needed rental units with a new park and a public market, it seems a much better and more dynamic use of valuable urban space than a tacky 20th century discount store. What's more, I think the inclusion of non-profit programming and fine-grained retail—shaped by an uncommonly thorough community consultation process, and nourished by a typologically varied design—makes the the pedestrian-oriented community one of the strongest proposals in Toronto.
As the event unfolded, those questions floated somewhere in the background. How do we balance the protection of existing heritage with progressive city-building? Is it worth it to sacrifice a 20th century cultural symbol—and an uncommonly affordable retailer—for the 21st century's density? But today's celebrations weren't about answering those questions, not that we'd all end up agreeing either way. Instead, we were there to acknowledge that we should enjoy Honest Ed's—and it's aptly fun-loving tribute—while it lasts, and that we should remember it much longer. "THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE THIS PLACE, ANYPLACE!" one of the store's Bloor Street banners exclaims. And there probably never will be.
We will keep you updated as Bathurst Station's permanent tribute to Honest Ed's is announced. In the meantime, the installation—and the store—remain in place until the end of the year, while the November Metropass also bears the store's image. Our associated dataBase file, linked below, also features more information about the proposed redevelopment. Want to share your thoughts? Leave a comment in the space below this page, or join in one of the conversations in our Forum.
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