Who would think that businesses in the Leaside Business Area would be expressing connections to a world after this one? Read on, to see what I found out when I went exploring east of Laird Dr.
A parking lot full of Jaguars of various ages, but mostly black ones, and the name on the sign above the door is Safe Passage Canada. What springs to mind? Yes, a funeral escort service. Ian Johnson, who has lived on Laird Dr. since 1981, owns Safe Passage Canada. His wife’s mother dreamed up both the concept and the name of the company for this man who has owned and loved Jags for years.
His funeral escort business ended with changes in legislation in Ontario in the funeral business a few years ago, but with Ian’s great knowledge of Jags and ability to fix them well known to Jaguar dealers and owners, he continues in business with repairs and consultation, but hasn’t bothered to put up a new sign on his property.
Ian’s road to this business was not straight. He’s from Stratford, New Zealand, and trained there as a teacher. From there, he went to England and then arrived in Toronto, teaching at Earlscourt P.S. in downtown Toronto in the early 1970s. “The magic word is ‘fun’” says Johnson, and that led him into his entrepreneurial life being involved with Jaguars. Now 71, he continues to work at his business on Esandar Dr., saying, “I’ve never heard of the word retirement.”
Esandar Dr. – what kind of a name for a street is that? If you’ve lived in Leaside for a long time, then you already know the answer. For the newcomers, the original factory on the new Leaside Village site on Laird was E.S. & A. Robinson, and if you play games with that name, you get Esandar.
Another similar street name is Canvarco, named for the Canada Varnish Company, founded by R.E. Edwards, whose other legacy to Toronto place names is Edwards Gardens.
Wicksteed Ave. is named for Henry K. Wicksteed, Chief Engineer of Surveys for the Canadian Northern Railway.
Tucked away at the far end of Wicksteed Ave. is Divine Furniture Rental. Michael Devine, one of the owners, enjoys the play on his surname, saying, “I’m doing the work of the Lord every day.” The truth is, he is being careful, “I would never put my family’s name at risk by putting my name on a business,” so Divine is as close as he gets.
The 42,000 sq. ft. warehouse, and seven trailers are filled with items needed for rentals at trade shows, corporate events, bar/bat mitzvahs and other large scale events. About 70% of the items he rents he has made in Canada, and imports the rest from India, China and the USA. The business has only been here since November of 2010, but Michael’s family credentials are all over the rental business. He was part of the family-owned Exclusive Affair Rentals until he left amicably in 2010 to start Divine.
His Leaside connections? He owned the Wexford Raiders hockey team, and one of his coaches for 10 years was Kevin Burkett, who lives on Sutherland Dr.