Former childhood home turned into ‘the first office skyscraper in the area,’ writes Susan Godenberg
Lester Bowles Pearson, Canada’s 14th prime minister (1963-1968) as well as a Nobel Peace Prize winner (1957), was born April 23, 1897, in the Newton Brook Wesleyan Methodist Church manse, 5642 Yonge St.
Newton Brook, named after the church, was the northernmost part of North York, stretching up to Steeles from around Cummer/Drewry Avenue. Lester’s father, Edwin Arthur Pearson, was minister in Newton Brook in the 1890s. As a circuit minister, he also had miles-apart congregations in the North York neighbourhoods of Downsview to the west and Oriole to the east, travelling to them by horse and buggy.
Born the year of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, Lester “Mike” Pearson was the second of three sons of Edwin and Annie Sarah Bowles. Methodist preaching ran in the family. Lester’s paternal grandfather, Marmaduke Louis, was a well-known Methodist minister. His mother’s cousin, the Rev. Richard Pinch Bowles, later the chancellor of Victoria University in Toronto, officiated at the marriage of Annie and Edwin.
The Newton Brook manse was quite large and after services Edwin often invited members of his congregations home by horse-drawn sleigh for coffee and rounds of crokinole, a board game. On one memorable occasion, the horses raced out of control, overturning the sleigh and dumping its occupants into a snowbank.
Athletic and easygoing, Edwin was a popular pastor and much in demand. Lester was still a young boy when the family moved to Edwin’s next parish, Aurora.
The manse was demolished in 1951, replaced with a car showroom.
Pearson’s birthplace is now part of the site of the North American Life Centre on Yonge between Finch and Hendon. Erected between 1984 and 1986, the $200 million, two-tower project was the first office skyscraper in the area. Uniquely, it also featured a fitness complex with a swimming pool and squash courts.
“The Centre is at the heart of Metropolitan Toronto’s new uptown central business district,” the promotional literature said.
Written by Susan Goldenberg.
Originally published on May 30, 2019, on toronto.com.