Bob Aaron firstname.lastname@example.org
Toronto’s Laneway Project offers the perfect chance to honour these famous local comedians, suggests Bob Aaron.
The Aarons and the Shusters around 1985. L-R Bob Aaron, Dorothy Aaron, Frank Shuster, Ruth Shuster.
The city of Toronto has about 3,000 laneways running behind rows of houses and stores. Originally created for the delivery of coal and removal of ash, the laneways are now used to access rear-yard parking spaces and to serve as playgrounds and walkways.
Since only 10 per cent of them are named, the city of Toronto has put together an initiative called the Laneway Project, in which residents are encouraged to suggest names for our laneways commemorating a noteworthy person, place, event or thing in the history of Toronto, or even the world.
I learned about the project when I received an email recently from Ron Kleiman, who is on the board of the Palmerston Area Residents Association (PARA). He was trying to find the addresses of the famous Canadian comedians Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster back in the 1930s when they attended Harbord Collegiate and their families lived in the area.
Kleiman contacted me because he was aware of my connection to the Shuster family. Shortly after Frank Shuster died in January 2002, I wrote a tribute to him in this column. I noted that the place I call home was built for Shuster in 1951 and he lived in it for 19 years during the heyday of his television appearances.
Most of the classic Wayne and Shuster shows were written on a typewriter in the room where these columns are now created electronically.
Since my wife and I bought the house, we have always felt lucky to be surrounded by the magical Shuster aura.
After receiving Kleiman’s email, I jumped on the bandwagon to support naming lanes in the Palmerston area after my two comedy heroes. After all, if we can have a street named after Joe Shuster (Frank’s cousin and creator of Superman), then surely a couple of laneways could be named after Johnny and Frank.
I then set to work to find out the addresses of the Wayne and Shuster families when they lived near Harbord Collegiate.
Within a couple of days, Donna Bernardo-Ceriz of the Ontario Jewish Archives sent me a copy of a page from the 1931 Jewish City Directory showing that Jack Shuster and his family lived at 330 Shaw St.
I contacted my friend Ron Graner, who is the nephew of Johnny Wayne (his mother and Johnny were siblings).
Graner confirmed that the Wayne family lived on Palmerston Blvd. in the home that was previously owned by Mayor Sam McBride, but he wasn’t sure of the address. A little research revealed that McBride (for whom the Toronto ferry boat is named) owned 351 Palmerston.
Graner recalled his mother telling him that, for three years after Charles Weingarten (Wayne’s father) bought the house, the annual True Blue Orange parade would march down the street and salute the house — not knowing that McBride had sold it to a Jewish family. Naturally, the kids in the family loved all the excitement.
Naming a laneway in Toronto is a collaborative process involving input from local residents, ratepayers, city councillors, the community council and various municipal departments such as police, fire and paramedics.
If the name is approved by the community council, the city installs the signage.
Paul MacLean is chair of the Palmerston Area Residents Association. He emailed me saying, “We’re hoping to get all of the undesignated lanes in our neighbourhood properly named in the near future,” and that Wayne and Shuster would be great candidates for a name, or better yet in my opinion, one name each.
To support the proposal, visit palmerstonara.org and click on the “contact us” link.