Skip to content

Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

An honest bench in the Annex

Read more articles by

On the edge of the sidewalk on Brunswick Avenue between Harbord and Bloor streets sits a loveseat-sized wooden bench with a small plaque on the back support, facing the street. Two blue tin cans hang off the arms, with "Butts" scrawled on them in white paint. It's clear the bench has weathered many winters outdoors, but what is even more evident is how well-used it is. The plaque on the back is recent and reads, "Shalom/We honour the memory of 'Honest' Edwin Mirvish/He will be remembered/All are welcome to rest on this bench."

Sibyl Fine and her husband, Morris, put this bench in front of their house originally because the homeless man who spent the night on an older bench in their front garden asked for a larger seat to sleep on. They bought him one and put it against the sidewalk.

Sibyl has been in Toronto for 40 years and had nothing with her when she first arrived, making Honest Ed's one of her first stop when she reached the city. There she bought her first set of pots and pans, plus a knife and fork. She also bought their bench there a while later. Over the years, she and her husband came to know Ed Mirvish and watched as he transformed parts of Toronto. Sibyl decided to hang a plaque on their bench in his honour when he died in 2007.

"Many children have probably been conceived on that bench," Sibyl tells me as she recounts all that she's seen happen in her front yard over the years. Artists come to paint her garden, writers come to jot down notes, and many just come to sit, she says. She tells me she put out tin cans for the various smokers and although she tried for a long time to keep a dish of water out for any dogs that walked by, it just kept disappearing. Sibyl shrugs and says, "Someone must have needed it for something else."

A bench in the Annex seems an apt tribute to a person who made such a range of impressions both large and small in his own community, ranging from Mirvish Village just a few blocks away to the memories of those whom we knew in his own neighbourhood. However small the contribution, Sibyl Fine is giving something back to those in her community, just like Ed Mirvish once did.