Bred in Leaside

The Amazing Randi
The Amazing Randi

This is the first in a series of occasional articles about famous people raised in Leaside who now live elsewhere.

The Amazing Randi is known around the world, but probably more for what he’s done than by his name.

He first came to world attention in 1972, after a career as a magician, when he debunked the claims of psychic/spoonbender Uri Geller, who sued him in 1991 for $15 million and lost.

He then became what he calls an investigator to disprove claims of the paranormal, occult and supernatural, which he called woo-woo. His educational foundation  offers $1 million for anyone who can demonstrate a supernatural ability under agreed conditions. No one has gotten past preliminary tests.

Randall James Hamilton Zwinge, now 84, lived at 27 Rumsey. He broke his back when he was hit by a car in his teen years and spent the next year in a body cast studying magic. After high school he joined the circus. He performed around the world and was often a guest on TV shows, then retired as a magician at 60. In 1986 he was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Genius award.

‘Yes, Leaside was good to me’

by The Amazing Randi

One big feature of my teen life at 27 Rumsey Rd. was the hill that ran down to Millwood.

I’d trot out my bike, climb aboard, and make that descent at great velocity, passing the Trudeau house, the Wilkinsons, Edgar Fenwick’s home, and sliding to a gravelly stop in the British-American gas station at the end.

Mr. Nelson’s candy store was just across the street, and there was always a free sample to be handed out if your approach was subtle enough.

Going back up that hill was quite another matter, and I developed great leg muscles as a result.

Visiting back there for a documentary film two years ago (Ed. Note: Google An Honest Liar), I was astonished to find that the spindly tree on what was once my front lawn is now a magnificently-developed shade tree.

At 84, I still remember the names I’ve quoted here, which also astonishes me.

27 Rumsey Rd. today
27 Rumsey Rd. today.

The Peter Grant family lived next door, the Clappertons lived a few houses south of me, and my friend the ever-popular Bill Clapperton always had samples of tarts from his dad’s bakery.

Rolph Road school – which I attended – was a few blocks away, and I performed quite a few astronomical and sensory-perception tests there in the schoolyard.

Later, I had to commute to Oakwood Collegiate in Toronto to finish high school, but Leaside was home.

I easily learned the entire ice-cream sundae menu at Purdy’s Drug Store on Bayview – 20 cents got me a huge two-flavour sundae, I recall.

I even worked at the Bayview Theatre changing the outdoor marquee once a week, complaining about the perpetual lack of letters needed to compose the words.

We kids would attend the matinee every Saturday to see the Dick Tracy or the Flash Gordon serials with Buster Crabbe. Those smoky space-ships were just dreadful, and we kids laughed at them, and at Ming the Merciless.

At 27 Rumsey I set up a chemical lab in the basement, from which some pretty exotic odours wafted to the rest of the house.

I even cooked up some capsules of nitrogen trioxide – NO3 – a story that need not be explored here.

I also wired up my lab to a neighbour’s house to talk to a kid there, but gave it up when the folks next door complained that our signal got through to their loudspeaker system.

Out beyond Rolph Road school were marvelous fields full of bobo-links and meadow larks that I explored at every opportunity.

Across the railroad tracks was an abandoned brick factory and a quarry filled with water and was available for skinny-dipping.

Even more marvelous was a bed of slate there in which I found fossils of ancient sea-life.

I boxed up many of these and delivered them to the Royal Ontario Museum; I never found out whether they ever used them, but my name back then was Randall Zwinge, and one or more might have gotten tagged and displayed.

Yes, Leaside was good to me.

The Royal Ontario Museum has not answered an email query.