The only city council candidate in Toronto in October to win election over an incumbent, in our Ward 26, Jon Burnside’s policies are well known by now. What may not be so well known are facts about Burnside the man and his upbringing in Leaside.
The new councillor, 48, was raised along with his older siblings, Peter and Jane, in a house on Airdrie Rd. His father passed away in 2003. His mother Jean, 88, a former shift nurse at Sick Kids Hospital, who originally hailed from England, continues to reside in the family home.
Displaying the determined work ethic that has served him well, Burnside stocked shelves at Loblaws at Moore and Bayview. He delivered the Globe and Mail throughout the neighbourhood while attending Rolph Road School, and Leaside High, where he transferred after a brief stint at well-known boy’s preparatory school, St. George’s.
“I loved Leaside High, especially the social aspect of it,” says Burnside, who admits to being an introvert in extrovert’s clothing. “I guess I learned early on that I like to steer my own ship.”
In Burnside’s opinion, politics allows both aspects of a personality to thrive. “It’s really the best of both worlds. One can work with others but can also shape the agenda,” he says.
In his teens he played baseball at Trace Manes and street hockey with teammates who would become lifelong friends. On Sunday nights he attended a youth group named SET (Sunday Evenings Together) at Leaside United Church, which featured dances, contests, and retreats.
Renee Jacoby, who ran the group along with her former husband Neil, recalls of Burnside, “Whatever the activity, he stepped up. You never had to convince him to participate because he was always the first to volunteer to help.”
After earning an honours BA in political science from Western university, Burnside emerged asking himself, “What do I do now?”
For a while he sold copiers, but knew he wanted more. “I liked working with the public, so I knew that would be a strong factor,” he says.
Finally he settled on becoming a policeman serving the Flemingdon Park, Bennington Heights and Leaside areas. He served 10 years on the force, the last five in the traffic division in North and South Leaside, where he saw the best and worst in drivers, and reviewed innumerable traffic calming measures.
“I learned early on that no matter what strategies we devise to alleviate traffic problems, they will ultimately have consequences to the overall neighbourhood.”
After leaving the force Burnside launched his successful company, Healthy Heart Meals, that delivers pre-packaged meals to busy people seeking to lose weight, or simply to maintain their good health through nutritionally-balanced food.
Married and divorced from well-known Canadian performer Carla Collins, for the last two years Burnside has been dating Charlene Quesnelle Kew, a project manager with a global health care company.
A key strategist in his campaign, Kew saw up close what she calls the secret to Burnside’s success: “It’s his passion. That’s what it all comes down to. He loves to help people. He’s definitely in the right field.”
Asked if he plans to run for any higher office, say that of mayor, premier, or prime minister in the future, Burnside demurs. “I think I’ll focus on doing a good job here first.”