Elm Street

Elm Street has lingered in my mind for as long as I can remember. I can’t recall when it got planted there. After having it in my thoughts for years, rekindled every so often by my mother’s interjections “they’re from Elm Street” about Italians whose origins she knew of, I recently learned that Elm Street riding West from Yonge Street to University Avenue was part of a ghetto-like district known as the Ward where various groups of immigrants had settled since the Victorian era. Till I learned of the Ward I knew only my mother’s reminders without which I don’t think I’d ever have known there was an Elm Street, an Italian immigrant locale other than my father’s Grace and Dundas little Italy, I’d simply have known that Barbarian’s Steak house was off Yonge Street somewhere between Gerard and Dundas, maybe near the Gerard Street village where I used to wander from the old Yorkville village when I’d begun playing drums on “the strip”. In time, through recollections like frames in an old film played backwards, I’ve begun to recall events that were linked by Elm Street which had for years been simply isolated incidents separately memorable but with nothing in common. Now I know that they all touched Elm Street.

My first memory is of a time when I was still young enough to be driven around by my father who once drove to a Victorian style building still standing wrapped in a kind of semicircle round the south-west corner of Elm and Bay, just up from the bus depot. I sat in the car and waited until he returned from meeting his brother-in-law, my uncle Tony; eventually proprietor of a show club, in that building that probably functioned as a restaurant. Then there was the time years after when Mr. Dave Cooper owner of the Zanzibar insisted on showing me his brand new bar Davy C’s wrapped around the south-east corner of Elm and Bay, now a chicken product eatery opposite that other corner building my father visited years ago. Then of course there was Lou Miles clothing store where everyone including Ronnie Hawkins and even Chubby Checker had their suits made on the west side of Yonge round the corner from Elm Street. I just now realize that my uncle’s name Tony Mille, visited by my father at the corner of Bay and Elm, had a surname that resembles Miles. Both names originated in Italy and I think that my uncle may have been born there. And recently I’ve concluded that Frank and Sandy’s barbershop then on the east side of Yonge just up from the Zanzibar not far from Elm and Yonge was likely a kind of Elm Street outgrowth that offered hair cuts and big photographs of actor and athlete celebrities getting their hair cut: by Sandro, Cosimo or Ignatio; whenever they visited the Yonge Street strip.

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