(In January of 2012, the North York Historical Society (NYHS) had the privilege of doing an interview with Mickey Katz as part of the Oral History Project of the NYHS. Mickey was selected for the interview for a number of reasons. He was a long-time resident of North York and a prominent member of the Willowdale Group of Artists. We were told that he had been an organizer for the art shows of the Willowdale Group of Artists for many years, as well as many other activities with that organization. We were told that he would make an excellent person to interview. And finally, we were very interested in including an interview with a member of the Group of Artists, because the NYHS holds that organization in high regard for the excellent cultural work it does.
Mickey Katz passed away in February of 2021 at the age of 97. The following is the interview, done by Bill Aird and Anne McIlroy of the NYHS Oral History project. To improve the flow of the interview the questions we asked have been omitted as far as possible. Mickey was a very good narrator, and his story is quite interesting. Enjoy!)
I was born in 1923 in New York City. I went to Public Number 2 in the Bronx and after that I went to a Junior High School in the Bronx and then I graduated junior high, and I had to take a general course and I went to Morris High School which was also in the Bronx and by the way that was the school that the Secretary of State of the United States, he was a General and he went to that school too; but not at my time. But at any rate I couldn’t take the general course because of the math and the algebra, geometry, trigonometry. It wasn’t my bag. I loved art so I transferred to an art school. I actually forged my mother’s name on the transfer papers, and I was only fourteen and I transferred to an art school in downtown New York around 7th Avenue, Broadway area and it was called the New York School of Industrial Arts. I wanted to be a commercial artist because I loved cartooning and illustration and I wanted to be a commercial artist. I went there. I graduated in 1939.
Just around that time the war started in Europe and the United States didn’t go in for quite a while, but I got a job. I couldn’t get a job in the art field, quite frankly. It was a closed shop, and it was who you knew. I had a beautiful portfolio. When you go to get a job at an art agency you have to show your work. I had a beautiful portfolio, but I didn’t have a chance. It was during the depression years too.
My family were practically on welfare all my young childhood days. My father was always sick. He was in the hospital all the time, he had bronchitis, he had pneumonia, he had a mastoid operation and they botched him up. I got little odd jobs. I made little signs for a fruit market, five cents a pound, things like that. Those days are gone now. I did a lot of that. I worked at a laundry, carried wet wash for people. In those days people would wash your stuff, but they delivered to you wet and you did you own ironing, and I was lugging these bundles of wet wash in the apartment buildings. I did that for a while. I was only a young kid I must have weighed eighty pounds.
I have one sister and she is younger than me. The two of us really struggled through the Depression. I know in those days you didn’t have refrigerators. We didn’t anyhow. We had ice boxes and my sister and I, we took her little doll carriage about eleven or twelve at night and went down to the milk company. It was Borden’s Milk, and, in those days, they had those big milk cans, filled them up and they had ice in the truck, and they would sweep out the chunks of ice from the truck and we collected the ice and put it in her doll carriage, and we walked all the way home and put it in our ice box. We waited in a lot of bread lines. But that was my experience as a young man just before the war started.
It was very difficult, but you know it wasn’t an isolated thing. Everybody around you was in the same boat and we all helped each other. But the funny thing is in those days a woman never went out to work, it was an embarrassment. A woman never went to work. I never heard of any or we never saw any women go to work and they stayed home took care of their family and cooked whatever they could.
During the war that was a different story of course women went to work, and men were off to war. I also worked during the war before we went, in an Italian American grocery store and they couldn’t get any olive oil and this guy Harry had his basement stocked full of olive oil and he warned me. He said, do not sell any olive oil to anyone who isn’t a customer. Make sure they are customers and if they ask for olive oil you can sell it to them. You couldn’t get olive oil it was imported from Italy and Italy was in the war.
It was an interesting boyhood. I did so many different things, played and had different buddies the school was good and when I went to art school I graduated with some very famous people. Did you ever hear of that ventriloquist Paul Winchell? He had the dummy – Jerry Mahoney. I graduated with him and that dummy that he had on television in the early days of television, he made that at that school, and he took up ventriloquism. They used to sell courses for fifty cents in the back of these comic magazines you could take singing lesions, piano lessons; yes, fifty cents a lesson and they sent it to you over the mail. So, he took lessons in ventriloquism and at lunchtime in the lunchroom he had this dummy that he built in the school, and we had a good time. It was fun. Until I got home and then there wasn’t that much to eat, but it teaches you when you get older, and you grow up and you have your own family, and it teaches you values. And you learn to appreciate what you have got. I still think of those days. Families are very close every weekend whole family would get together: cousins, aunts, uncles, and we sat around in the living room and listen to the radio, Jack Benny.
It was scary but you know at the same time it was good for families to be together. You needed each other and actually we helped each other because my mother had four sisters and when one of them came to visit us after she left, she’d take out two dollars and give to my mother and say take it and my mother, she didn’t want it but two dollars at that time. We paid sixteen dollars a month in rent and two dollars–
Just past eighteen, I was drafted. It wasn’t long after I got my notice from the President, greetings. We used to see each other on the streets, the guys, and say, did you get your greetings yet? No, I didn’t get my greetings yet. I still have all the letters and applications and reports for physicals. I’ve still got it at home. I have interesting souvenirs at home from the war and things like that, not ammunition or guns, I know a lot of boys brought home German rifles and lugers and you could have got those things for a package of cigarettes.
I was in the army the artillery outfit. I was in the anti-tank, anti-aircraft – we took our basic training down in Georgia and then from Georgia we shifted around to different camps for advanced training but we ended up going to England and we went across on the Queen Mary and I remember we all took the train from Fort Devens Massachusetts to New York at the harbour and there was this big massive ship and it was in the middle of the night and we couldn’t see the ship and we boarded and you are on the Queen Mary and they gave us a meal card and they gave us our deck card where we were supposed to sleep and they had five thousand men on that ship with equipment, with all our supplies, and you know I still have the meal card and the deck card at home. Every time you had a meal and you lined up, they would punch the card so you wouldn’t come back and get seconds and I want to tell you that the stuff they served you, you didn’t even want firsts let alone seconds. Corned beef with cream it was terrible stuff.
We supplied the food on the ship. It was an American leased ship for American troops. We went across by ourselves we didn’t have an escort. The Queen Mary was a fast ship. It did a zig zag course. The submarines couldn’t catch up with it. We ended up at the Firth of Forth off Scotland and we started to unload, and I think it was three o’clock, they blew a whistle of some kind, and everybody stopped and what was going on was teatime. They had to have their tea. We were strictly coffee drinkers. Not only did we not drink tea but they all drink tea with cream in it, we drink tea straight. After unloading the ship most of the supplies went on barges up the Clyde where all the ship building yards were. It was amazing we just sat there, and all these huge ships and all the noise and the steel going and the riveting. We ended up in Glasgow and were billeted and of course they had blackouts. Once we got there, they assigned us barracks and it wasn’t really barracks it was old garages, and they gave us a bunch of straw and you billeted here, and you billeted there, and they just put straw down with some kind of cloth over it.
You know most of us were city boys and we didn’t even know how to start a fire. As a matter of fact, when we went from Fort Dicks which was our induction center, they sent us right down to Georgia and Georgia at night at that time, this was in February, was pretty cold and the Sergeant says, ok now I need a volunteer to go out and chop some wood to start a fire in your barracks because they had wood stoves, and no one raised their hand because we didn’t know who chopped wood. We were from New Jersey, New York some of the boys were from Massachusetts and Boston and that was it. And he said OK I need a couple of volunteers to chop some wood. Ok you, you, you come on. That was another nice experience. You know you are with someone for three years and they gave us half of a pup tent two people shared one pup tent and when we dug into the ground, we butted the pup tents together and we shared that hole, and you are with the same person for three years and if anything happened to him you are stuck with half of a pup tent.
I was in the artillery – Automatic weapons battalion it was called. In Britain they had us guarding an airfield, the Ninth Air Force and the Eighth Air Force came later. That was a bombing unit, the ninth air force was a fighter. When the first buzz bombs, the V1s, started to come over we didn’t know what they were. We were there with our gun, and we heard this sound like a motorboat, and it had a big pipe at the end with flames shooting out of it and we said what is that and so we raised our gun and over the field radio there is an object +t out there. We commence firing and we fired anyhow, and we never hit the thing but after a while it wasn’t any use using anti-aircraft and they sent actual fighter planes to knock them down, but these buzz bombs were something. The Germans sent them over. They were loaded with explosives, and they said it was like a rocket actually and when the fuel wore off it would fall, and it exploded. It was headed for London but if the fuel was used up wherever it was used up it landed and blew up. Of course, so many thousands of people were killed because of that. So, one of our gun crews, one of the A batteries, was the first gun crew to shoot down one of those flying bombs. They called them the buzz bombs. Then after that the British found a way to shoot them down before they did too much damage and they shot them down over the fields, you know farmland, before they hit London but, later on, the German’s got the rockets where you couldn’t even hear it and you didn’t know that it was there. I think it was the V2 and they were silent, and they were so destructive in London it was unbelievable. They destroyed a lot of homes. I remember the Charing Cross Railroad Station was blown up, the Red Cross hotel was blown up and a lot of American GI’s were there. That was something. We used to go to London on pass because we were stationed in Leeds, and we went to London on a pass and took the subway if we wanted to go somewhere and there were people sleeping in the subway stations and lined up in all the stations. It was wonderful, the people themselves, the courage. Hi Yank, hi Yank. The kids were there on mattresses, the subway trains were coming. It is where they stayed. Their homes were destroyed, and they used them as bomb shelters, air raid shelters.
From England we went across about thirty days after the invasion and we landed in France and from there we just continued. Our main purpose was to protect the air bases. A lot of the troops went in first and the Germans were retreating. We didn’t actually go in at the same time we went in afterward. We would establish a base put in the artillery or anti-tank anti-aircraft guns in different locations. You had to dig the gun in. We were busy digging in guns with sandbags all around. My job was the loader and firer, they called it a cannoneer, and I was the only one that was above ground because the gun had a platform and you stood up on the platform and you had two or three guns down below where the ammunition was– the shells– and they would hand the shells and you were up there and putting them in the breach. Basically, you were the only one above ground. It was something.
We used to go into towns, two or three guys. The streets were empty we could have been killed by a sniper or anything, but you know when you are eighteen nineteen– We are having fun. We had some wine you know; you never think of that. We used to take our clothes after we went into a German town, or a French town and we want our laundry done somebody had to wash your clothes and we would offer them a couple packages of cigarettes or a carton of cigarettes or some bars of candy or bread and they would do your laundry. But you know in Germany we weren’t allowed to associate with anybody, and we took a chance we went into some bombed out buildings and there were some people living there and we asked them if they would do some laundry for us, and they said yes can you give us some bread or something. But you weren’t supposed to.
(Question: I didn’t realize that they didn’t have some sort of a set up for your clothing to give you clean clothes and that.) No, you are on your own. Once you go into a town you are on your own, but they didn’t want you to associate with any enemy, they were still the enemy. You know when we had our mess hall, our tent. They would set up a tent and feed us, throw out the garbage in big garbage bins. You know the guys would finish eating and empty the mess kits and put them in boiling water to make sure they were sterilized. You know there were people by the hundreds waiting outside that area so we would take those garbage bins and we would put them in a jeep and take it to a dump where we had dug a big dump were we could dump the garbage and we would cover it with more dirt and there were hundreds of people waiting for us, for those jeeps to come out of that area with the garbage cans in them and they would pile on top of it and dig in there and everything. It was something to see.
That was in Germany not so much in France but mostly in Germany. In France they were allies so they got old food. Of course, there was a lot of black market going on. Like I could have got a Nikon camera, which was the camera at the time, for a carton of cigarettes and a carton of cigarettes cost us ten cents a pack or eleven cents a pack at that time. I know my mother had sent me a pound of coffee; you couldn’t get coffee because everything was powdered. That is what we used powered coffee, powdered eggs, powdered milk, it was good too. Spam of course– it was still around. I loved it. But my mother sent me a package. Other guys got salami and stuff like that, so the guy says: you got some coffee let’s go into town to see what we could get for it. I said, no way. We are going to have the coffee right here and we had a set-up tent. We had five guys in a tent and had fresh and had a candy, you know large cans of fruit cocktail. Well, we had empty cans like that and put water in there and measure it out spoons of coffee. We had fresh coffee. And you know what some of them did? They took the grounds that were already used put them back in the bag and went into town and sold it and got something for it.
When the war was over, Japan was still at war with the United States, and we were demobilized they sent us down to Marseille and turned in all our equipment got everything ready and we got on Liberty ships to come home, but we were destined to go over to Japanese theater but by the time all that transpired the Japanese surrendered and we didn’t go over there. Coming back to New York, it was during December, and it was close to Christmas time, and it took us about ten days on that ship to cross the Atlantic and it was one of the worst crossings that I ever had. It was during the winter; the seas were rough, and the Liberty ship itself– these were small little ships. The guys on the ship when we first started were playing crap games and cards and using up our money whatever we had, but once the ship started going out on those seas everybody was just laying around and just wanted to die and we finally got to the New York harbor and as we were coming in as I told you we all went up on deck we all wanted to see New York and we came up on deck and there was the Statue of Liberty going by. No one said a word just looked at it. I never thought I would see it again. And from there we went to a camp Fort Dicks it became a fort then. Fort Dicks untangled us from army life. They examined us, took our equipment, checked us out and they gave us some money to get transportation, gave us our discharge papers and I got on the train with a couple of my buddies that were the same outfit and said our final goodbyes. We had one reunion after we got home at a hotel in downtown New York, and everybody got drunk and by that time I was married because the reunion took place quite a while after I got home from the army. My wife came and we had a really nice sloshy time. Never saw anybody again. We lived in New York at that time. Eventually after that we came to Canada.
I loved Toronto. I knew nobody. My wife’s family was from here. She was born here; she went to Harbord Collegiate. I had met her in New York at a wedding she was a maid of honor for her cousin who lived in New York. It is funny how we met because I did a lot of caricatures cartooning when I worked in a clothing factory. You know we made a lot of outfits for big bands during the swing era. Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, a lot of entertainers, show people and I used to do caricatures. When I did caricatures, we hung them up on the wall in this clothing place and my wife used to come in for visits she was fourteen, fifteen. She would come in to visit her cousin whose father was the owner of the business, and they would come up to the place and look around and say who is that guy that is making all those cartoons. And they’d say Mickey over there. So that is how she knew about me, but I didn’t know about her. All I knew is that I saw this beautiful young girl and I says wow look at that. They used to always come up and her friend would always ask her father, who was the boss, for money for shopping and that is why they came up. Any rate, it was a year later that this girl her cousin got married and they invited me, and my wife was maid of honor. I came to the wedding the boss had invited his help too and when I saw her there, I said holly smokes she is gorgeous is that the same girl that used to come up when she was fourteen or fifteen? Yes, she looked beautiful. She had long white gloves and she was the maid of honor. She had a beautiful gown. Her mother made it; she was a very well know dressmaker in Toronto. In those days everybody made everything to measure, no one bought anything ready-made. Her mother made a lot of dresses and gowns for women in Toronto. When I saw her, she was beautiful! Her mother came over to me and I don’t know why, and she said why don’t you go over, my wife’s name is Shirley, to Shirley and just keep her company. I don’t want her to have too many drinks. See there are a lot of guys around there. So, I said OK, and I went over there, and I said let’s talk about where you are from and we were just sitting around talking and then when the evening was over, and her mother came over and asked if you have ever been up to Toronto and I said no, and she said how about you come up to Toronto. I says, well I guess I would, and she says we have a wedding to attend, and we are invited, and would you like to come as an escort for my daughter.
At that time, my wife thought, why doesn’t she mind her own business and not invite somebody we don’t know. You know I didn’t realize that I really didn’t know how old she was I didn’t realize that she was that young because she looked so nice, so mature. She is actually ten years younger than I am now. And you know she is still a beautiful lady just beautiful. You know what we will be married sixty-one years in April (2012). I really did like Toronto, and I wanted to come up here to live. They had a nice thriving clothing business here and I liked the way they made their clothes here. New York already had ready-made stores. In Toronto if you wanted a suit, you had it made. Tip Top Tailors had ready-made stuff but that was about it. I liked it and I wanted to live here. When we decided to get married, I wanted to come and live in Toronto. She wanted to live in New York because New York was a glamorous, fabulous life, all the downtown entertainment but when you are married, and you raise a family it is not the same thing. So, we had a pretty hard time. My first son was born in New York, and we came here when he was two and a half and then we had two other kids up here.
She was only seventeen or close and here she is stuck with a baby. Her mother was up here in Toronto and here she was in New York. This cousin of hers, who she was the maid of honor for, was supposed to be her best friend and she never showed her face, never. And so, we decided to come back to Toronto. She wasn’t happy there and my family, quite frankly, wasn’t that great to her either. My sister was on the outs with her for a while because she stole her brother away you know. Because my sister and I were this close.
Coming to Toronto was the best thing that I ever did. If there was any decision that I could say that was the best decision in my life it was coming here. And you know you can go to a place, but you still need support from other people like my mother-in-law. We moved in with her. And we had a young boy, and my mother-in-law had her other daughter living with her in the house and a husband and two kids and she wanted us to come here. She liked the idea. That’s why we stayed with her. She gave up her bedroom for my wife and I and they slept downstairs in the living room with her husband. Her mother and father slept in the living room downstairs. We were there for about three years. Her sister moved out about six seven months after we came in because her sister had bought a house up in Downsview, so we were more or less by ourselves with her mother, but my wife did her share of the work in the house cleaning shopping and cooking.
I had a hard time the first month or so because I was supposed to get this job and the union refused to let me work there so I was walking around. I was so desperate that I figured I would go back to New York that is how bad it was for us and finally I went in Sammy Taft’s store, and he never called me Mickey, he called me New Yorker. Sammy loved New Yorkers. His store was full of celebrity pictures with him, and his hats and he had a lot of people in New York that he knew, and he would send them hats at Christmas time. Like Rudy Vallee was his best friend in New York and I once went for a trip back to New York and he gave me a hat for Rudy Vallee. He lived on Riverside Drive, a high-class penthouse and I delivered the hat to Rudy Vallee from Sammy Taft. But Sammy saw me and saw how dejected I was, and he said, what is the matter New Yorker? I says I had this job, and they won’t let me work and I don’t know what I am going to do now, and he says come on and he took me to the back of the store, and he had a big space about half this size, and it was a storeroom, and he says, can you put in a cutting table in here have you got enough room? And I said, sure plenty of room, why? And he says how would you like to be in business, and I say well what do you mean in business? And he says if you come into my store, you can use the back for a cutting table, I can get you all the customers that you will need I will get you customers, all the hockey players and entertainers. He says you don’t have to work for those guys you can come in here, put in a cutting table make your own patterns and you are in business I will get clothing houses to give you samples.
Yes. I said, well I don’t know about rent. He says I don’t want any rent; he says I just want company and he liked New Yorkers. So, he says, what do you say? And I say I’ve got nothing to lose. Tomorrow we are going to find someone to build you a cutting table you know a big table where you lay out the cloth and you spread the cloth and you put your patterns on it and the next day, I came over I found, I don’t know if he was a homeless guy or whatever. Spadina Avenue around Dundas they had a big lumber yard at the corner of Dundas and Spadina and he said to this guy, do you know how to make a cutting table, do you know how to use a saw? And he said I used to be a carpenter. He says, come on. We went to the lumber yard, and we ordered wood and the next day I had a cutting table and Sammy called up several woolen houses: Monarch Woolens, Jack Cooper Woolens, and they brought me books of samples, you know sample cloth, and Sammy had a nice table and we put the cloth over it, put the samples on it and I ordered patterns from New York, this famous, very well-known German pattern maker. Men’s designs, although I knew too, but I didn’t have the paper and the cutting equipment to cut the paper and he made me a complete set of men’s patterns: overcoats, pants, vests, jackets, and I went to the customs and went to pick them up two weeks or three weeks later. Meantime I am taking orders for clothes.
A guy comes in and Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, he was a hockey player for Detroit, and he had Bobby Baun, a young kid and I can’t remember names and I didn’t know anything about hockey, and I had about six orders already and I didn’t have the patterns yet. So, there are two people in my life that are responsible for everything that I have today. Number one was my mother-in-law, because without her where was I going to stay. She took us in. She was the foundation of where I came out of you know, where I worked from and Sammy Taft, who gave me my start and if it wasn’t for him what would I do.
And it was just, I can’t believe it, I didn’t have a car and when my wife got pregnant with my daughter Sammy said, you know what, she had a reservation for Women’s College Hospital. In those days women went to Women’s College Hospital and we lived right near there near Kensington Market, Bellevue Avenue. That is where my mother-in-law lived. And Sammy lived up at Wilson and Bathurst, so he used to drive down and he had a Ford Fairlane. I remember the car it was a blue one and Sammy said, Mickey, I want you to take the car home every night. I’ll get a lift home, but I want you to take the car home in case your wife gives birth and if you have to go to the hospital, you have got the car. That was him. You know, later on the hat business got you know– People stopped wearing hats. I left the store, and I went into my own business cutting and designing on Spadina, but I always went in to see him. He used to sit outside in front of the store, and it was sad. He didn’t even have the lights on in the store. If anybody wanted something he would come in and put the lights on and little by little he deteriorated, and I never knew that he had passed away. I don’t know where we were. If we went somewhere and came back and maybe about two or three weeks later someone said, did you know that Sammy Taft died? So, I never even had a chance to attend his funeral.
Oh, I could go on and on about Sammy Taft and Sam Shopsy, the big fat guy, they were buddies. Shopsy ’s had a deli on Spadina Avenue. That is where he started because that became a big chain. Well, he sold out. He didn’t have anything to do with them anymore. As a matter of fact, I remember one summer when the Exhibition was on and I got slow, Sammy asked me how would you like to work at the Exhibition? I say, doing what? And he says Sam Shopsy needs a cashier at his deli stand. It was right outside of the Coliseum. He had a big, corned beef stand and he was partners with the guy that owned the hockey team, Harold Ballard. Harold Ballard started out by renting sewing machines and slicing machines. Of course, if you wanted to go out in the business, those machines cost a fortune, but you could rent them, and Harold Ballard had that kind of business. So, he and Shopsy were partners in that corned beef stand. Now they needed a cashier. They had four but they needed another cashier so Sammy asked Sam Shopsy, how about taking Mickey in, he would be a cashier for the time of the Exhibition. Okay you are hired. So, I stood up there on the top. The kids sold the corned beef sandwich, brought me the money, I put it in the cash register and gave them the change. I had a good time with it. That was what Sammy was like. Every night Harold Ballard and Sam Shopsy would come around and check the cash registers. Every night they each had a pad. Four cash registers they checked.
Once I got here, I became very well known as I had a cutting service and a designing service and I had dozens and dozens of clothiers, stores, you know, even as far away as Hamilton and St. Catharines. They would bring their stuff to me to cut. So, it was Nat Freedman, Fox Cloths, I got so many. Harry Goodman Cloths on Yonge Street, and then I had some of the wholesale Fine Arts Clothing. The guy who made sports jackets, I forget his name. I still have those records at home as a matter of fact, in a box. But I had so many customers I hired two more people to work with me. I was pretty well known in Toronto.
At that time, we were living downtown. We were living downtown for three years after we came here and managed to save enough money to put a down payment on a house up around Keele and Wilson. So, we bought our first house at Keele and Wilson. I think it was eighteen thousand dollars. (1957) We used to take Keele Street and Keele Street had ditches on either side. They didn’t have regular paved roads yet. As a matter of fact, it took us a while to get a telephone. Of course, the telephone service wasn’t installed yet. I’ve lived in North York since 1957.
When I retired of course I gave up the clothing business and I went in partners with my brother-in-law, father-in-law in the tomato business and that was another career. I think it was 1974 and we were in that business for quite a while. Our customers were like Miracle Mart, Knob Hill Farms. We supplied most of Toronto with tomatoes. I stayed there until we sold the business in 1989 so I was there for quite a while.
When I stopped working in the clothing business that was the time when the clothing business was getting very slow. It was getting slow, and a lot of people were buying stuff ready-made and a lot of stuff was coming in from Europe, not from China, but a lot of stuff was coming in from Europe cheaply made. Montreal was making a beautiful ready-made garment and they still do and so a lot of the made to measure places in Toronto really were going out and so my business was slowing up although I had plenty of work and so I ended up selling it the patterns the table, the whole schmear, to one of the guys who was working for me. He was a Japanese fellow and he bought it and he continued on for a while. I understand that he had passed away. He had pneumonia, he was a young man, he was a very young man. He was younger than me. He passed away. He had a lovely wife. Wally Kiyama his name was, and that was very sad but at that time I decided it was time to get out. My father-in-law was begging me for years to come into his business so finally I decided, ok I am going to give it a shot and it worked out very well.
Our source in the tomato business was Florida, California, Mexico, so if one place was frozen out, we always used another source if we could. That controlled the price of tomatoes. Like recently there was a freeze in Florida so the price of tomatoes went way up and so you had to go and find other sources and sometimes we would fly in tomatoes from Portugal, from South America if you couldn’t get them. It was rough you never knew from one day to the next what was going to happen. They are starting to do a lot of it here in Ontario which is good. Because first of all the tomatoes taste better, and it is better than the imported stuff because the imported stuff was green because of the travelling time. You couldn’t import ripe tomatoes because by the time you’d get them they would be sauce, so you had to import stuff on the green side. And you had to grow them for transportation. So, it is a different kind of tomato. A Florida tomato is tasteless but if you drop it on the ground then it won’t crack. Then it came a time when it was enough. For years and years, I was getting up at four o’clock in the morning and you had to deal with workers and a lot of theft. We had a packaging plant and we packaged tomatoes in the little cello packages. Remember four to a package. We packaged that stuff, and the machines were always breaking down we had a mechanic on stand-by twenty-four seven and you know at twenty thirty dollars an hour to come and repair it. It was no fun. As time went on, we were getting older, and we couldn’t control the missing inventory because guys would come in and take a case of tomatoes home or a case of oranges and you know you couldn’t keep an eye on everything, so we decided it is time to get out and we sold it. I was in my sixties, and I was collecting pension. My father-in-law had retired by then a long time and my brother-in-law was also retired. We had an offer we couldn’t refuse so we sold it. And the guy we sold it to, he drove the business into the ground.
Once I retired, I didn’t know what I was going to do so my wonderful wife decided to volunteer, so whatever they said– something about volunteers needed, so the first place she volunteered me for was the Art Galley of Ontario. They needed volunteers and I went down there, and I volunteered. They put me in the kid’s Sunday Studio showing them how to paint every Sunday. They had a studio for kids, and I loved it. I was there for eleven years every Sunday. And it was terrific what these kids could do, their imagination their use of color. I set up the paints I set up the paper and the kids had little smocks and they lined up on the floor we put it on the floor, and they all sat on the floor with their brushes and painted. So that is what I did for eleven years there. Then she volunteered me for the Canadian Diabetes Association. I have diabetes so little by little I became a volunteer on the executive committee to arrange programming for meetings and then she volunteered for the Willowdale Group of Artists. You didn’t have to volunteer for that, but she wanted me to join. So, we went to a meeting, and it was really nice they didn’t have very many men there, mostly women and since I liked to paint, and I wanted to join an art group, so she said this is where you are going to join. I said, well it could be cliquey in these groups. You feel like an outsider. Anyhow I came in and I said I wouldn’t mind joining the Willowdale Group of Artists and one lady there, I didn’t get her name, she was a barrel of fun and grabbed a hold of me and she pulled me into the room because it was outside of the room and she pulled me in and she said, heh we have got a man.
We had a few guys in there and after a few meetings it was more than a few but after a little while they had demonstrations and had painting set-ups, and after a little while someone came over to me, the president, and said, Mickey how would you like to be in charge of the show, putting up shows, how would you like to be the chairman of the hospital shows. And I said what do you do? And she said, well the present chairman, the chairlady, she will show you what to do. She will give you all the paraphernalia; she will give you the addresses; she will give you all the names of people to contact. I says, ok I will try it. So, they put me in charge of York Central Branson Hospital. There was another hospital, I forget the name, and I was to be in charge of the shows at those hospitals. So, I contacted the people. We had one show at Branson Hospital, and I arranged for the paintings to go, and they put the paintings along the corridors of the emergency department at Branson and one rainy day I was there to check on the paintings and see these people come with a bunch of kids and umbrellas and the kids hitting the paintings with the umbrellas and I thought that is it for Branson Hospital. And York Central stopped answering my requests and so that was the end of those hospitals. Then I graduated and then they gave me Central Library upstairs. They have a room upstairs in the library and they gave me the park, Edwards Gardens. We exhibited at Edwards Gardens in the Link Gallery, and they gave me something else and then little by little I graduated to the Annual Spring Show. You are supposed to have that for two years I think I have had it for nine so far. I have got some paraphernalia I can show you. This one here what we used to do at the Spring Show. This was at the 58th Annual Spring Show; this was in 2005 and this is a brief history of some of our shows and here it showed you our executive, and you see here Spring Show chair Mickey Katz and I had already been doing it for five years before this, so you figure out how many years I have been doing it. And this is a brief history of the Willowdale Group.
I printed them out we also do a student funding from our treasury scholarship at York University and here is a history of York University student funding and we have thousands of dollars. This is one of my bios. I should update it. That picture there is Front and Spadina the railroad yards.
We have got two hundred members and we have a waiting list. We don’t exhibit at the YMCA anymore no. We exhibited at the YMCA for about twenty-five years and then suddenly they got a new manager there and he wanted to install a program for young kids and he started to put in a lot of paraphernalia in the main lobby and told us we couldn’t have a show there because it would interfere with them so, desperately I went to the North York City Hall and you know the Civic Centre, the big lobby there, it is beautiful and I wanted to know if I could have a show there, an art show. Well, the rule there is you can have a show if you are basically going to have donations for the United Way. You are not allowed to sell anything privately because it is on city property. So, I came to the executive, and I said let me apply and we will figure out a way that we can sell our artwork without being obvious. So, the rules are this: you have to be sponsored by a councilor to be eligible to exhibit on city property. So, I got John Fillion, he was in my ward at the time, now it is David Shiner. So, I got John Fillion to sponsor us. I sent him an outline of the Willowdale Group of Artists what we do, and he sent an approval to city hall downtown and then I booked a date. This has been going on for five years. They usually give you one week but they made an exception in my case and gave me two weeks and I had a terrific relationship with the manager at the North York Civic Center Erin Heritage, a very wonderful lady, and we had the proper insurance, we had two million in insurance, you have to have insurance and I got the dates that I wanted and that was five years ago the Y kicked us out and we substituted the North York Civic Center.
So now this year I wanted to book again, and I can’t even get an answer from these people. They haven’t replied. I sent them a fax, I sent them a letter telling them the dates I would like and number one they won’t give you more than a week under any conditions, number two, they moved their booking office to a different location, and number three they don’t even answer me. The last time I spoke to somebody I asked, didn’t you get my fax? Did you get my e-mail? And they said, well we’ve got about a thousand here but oh yes, we have it. Well, what do you say, and she says we are not booking yet, but we will let you know, don’t worry we will let you know and that was a month and a half ago and I said, well how will I know? Well, we book people who are inside first, and I said what do you mean by inside? People, she says, people who work for the city get first choice. How do you like them apples? Our show has been in there for five years. People have come and looked and the workers in the building come down and look at the art. It makes the lobby look beautiful and our work is fabulous. I mean it is not little kid’s paintings it is beautiful professional work.
I can’t understand what is going on there at City Hall. So, we have moved. Fortunately, we have already booked Todmorden Mills, that is up off the Bayview extension, that hill that goes up to the Danforth and they have got a gorgeous gallery. The only problem is that they don’t have the passing by. It is cars going back and forth or they have got hikers or bicycle riding there. But it is a really beautiful thing, and it is going to save us a lot of work because they do the labeling of the paintings, they do the hanging, and it all goes on walls. And another thing that we did, we volunteered at Sunnybrook Hospitals request. You know these ceiling tiles; it is exactly that size. It is two by four feet. We did paintings on them, and they put them in the trauma department and the emergency rooms so that people that are lying on their backs can just look up and see these beautiful paintings. So, we have done that for two years in a row now and we have got a lot of our paintings from the Willowdale Group on the ceilings at Sunnybrook.
I’m not bored. You know what the secret is, your help. You can’t do everything yourself and people try to do everything by themselves and that is when they get themselves into trouble. But if you have the proper help, the proper people that you can work with. If you tell somebody, look I’d like to do this, I’d like you take care of refreshments, I’d like you to take care of that, you are going to buy the drinks, you are going to get the paper plates, you know what I mean. Once you do that you have got it made. By the way we once got a two-hundred-and-fifty-dollar parking ticket because it was in a fire route. Well, we paid it. It is part of the expense. We were taking the stuff out of the van and this lady comes by and gives us a parking ticket. I said, can’t you see we are unloading something, and she says, well there is nobody sitting in the driver’s seat. In case there is a fire somebody has to be sitting in the driver’s seat to drive away quick. We have a fabulous hanging committee.
We are always having a show. We have a fall show around October, November, or September. We have a Markham Theater show in November into December at Christmas time, and we have the Sunnybrook Hospital show sometime during the summer. Etobicoke Civic Center that is during the summer for two months and then we have a spring show, so we have a lot of shows going and we also have an exhibit at Unionville at the McKay house, so there is quite a lot. There is a lot to organize and two or three of them, they have a reception which, by the way, my wife is in charge of, which by the way makes you go out and do the shopping for plates and napkins and forks. She volunteers me for that. She tells everybody I couldn’t do it if Mickey didn’t help. And I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t have the help.
Thank you, Mickey!