The Canadian journalist and author, Robert Fulford once called Ed Mirvish “the most imaginative town planner of his Toronto generation,” stating that Mirvish “did more to humanize and animate Toronto than any other entrepreneur of his time.” The Mirvish Village concept recalls this legacy, reimagining it in every detail of the redevelopment.
The Mirvish Village history is steeped in the intangible legacy of Ed, Anne and David Mirvish, whose entrepreneurship, civic engagement and investment in the arts have left a lasting impact on the neighbourhood and the city.
Growing little by little since the 1940’s, Honest Ed’s has evolved into a Toronto landmark and Mirvish Village into a unique enclave for arts, culture, food and entertainment. The history of this animated and eclectic community will inspire the design of public art and shared spaces in the new Mirvish Village. We are committed to shaping blocks even more lively and inclusive than the current combination of Honest Ed’s and Markham Street.
The project is deeply rooted in the history of the site and is informed by its heritage. Heritage conservation will go beyond restoring buildings so that the development truly becomes the next evolution of Mirvish Village. Mirvish Village’s heritage conservation strategy will further retain the tangible and intangible history of the site. Through architecture and innovative public programming, the redevelopment will renew and extend the site’s legacy as a diverse and vital urban space serving the needs of both neighbourhood residents and visitors alike. The conservation of the site’s history will honour and extend the stories of Bloor and Bathurst, Honest Ed’s and Mirvish Village through the celebration of their intangible heritage. 24 of the 27 listed properties on the heritage registry will be retained, including buildings at the corner of Bathurst and Lennox as well as Bloor and Markham.
Honest Ed’s Store History
The Honest Ed’s Store had multiple incarnations, spanning over 60 years in business at the same location, and became a fixture in the community. The store grew incrementally from the corner of Bloor and Markham, as “Honest” Ed Mirvish gradually annexed the buildings to the east to Bathurst and south to fill most of a city block. The store became a Toronto icon that has made appearances in pop culture including comics and film.
The physical growth of the store was accompanied by increasingly baroque events that reflected Ed’s larger-than-life personality. These events were a savvy combination of philanthropy and publicity that eventually became the catalyst for the creation of Mirvish Village.
One particularly boisterous and well-attended 72-hour dance marathon generated so much traffic by participants seeking parking near the store that the City suggested Ed buy the homes along the east side of Markham, from Bloor to Lennox, in order to build a parking lot. Following the City’s request, Mirvish went ahead and purchased the remaining Markham Street properties on the east side of the street down to Lennox, but by the time he acquired the houses, the City had reversed its recommendation. In 1962, a compromise was reached where the houses would be preserved with a parking lot built behind them. Mirvish was now in possession of a row of residential properties without a plan for their use.
The Markham Street houses provided an enclave for artists and the creation of the Markham Street Art Colony. By 1962, Anne Mirvish, a sculptor and painter, was looking for a studio and intended to find space in Gerrard Village. But that artists’ enclave was under threat by the construction of a parking lot for Toronto General Hospital. The Markham street houses offered a solution, not only for Anne, but also for artists and gallerists from Gerrard Village.
Anne set up shop in 581 Markham Street, now the Victory Cafe. By 1963, several artists, including Jack Pollock, the most well-known of Gerrard Village’s exiles, moved in. Others followed and the area became known by various names, including the Markham Street Art Colony. It was not until Ed’s 70th birthday that the street was named an official tourist attraction by the City and designated Mirvish Village.
Between 1963 and 1964, Markham’s east side houses were transformed and the verandas not in keeping with the houses were stripped off. At Anne’s suggestion the facades were painted pastel colours. Mirvish Village came to assume Gerrard Village’s former identity. By the end of 1964, Ed purchased the houses on the west side of Markham Street with the exception of 586 Markham, which remained privately owned. These houses became boutiques and galleries. The street, now host to pedestrians, shoppers, as well as large public events, was embraced as a fixture of the City.
Over the years, Honest Ed’s and Mirvish Village have slowly lost some of their vitality.
The cultural relevance and demand for a store like Honest Ed’s has declined over the years and the sense of community engendered by the active presence of numerous artists, writers and other creative types living and sharing the products of their labor in Mirvish Village has slowly dispersed. What remains is a cultural landmark marked by the now iconic signage and eclectic storefronts, a sense of place that remains alive in the memories and stories of the myriad of people who have passed through it.
The site has experienced a continuous evolution through the influence of Ed, Anne and David Mirvish and the shifting urban context. Its richly layered history is to be honoured and respected. Finding the right balance between the physical conservation of historical buildings and the reinterpretation of cultural memories through programming and public art is critical in recalling the history of the site. Recapturing the spirit of this unique place will help ensure the success of Mirvish Village and honour its legacy.