The infamous Boyd Gang had a blast in Leaside

Post Second World War Leaside was a “small town in Toronto” (to quote a former prime minister who grew up here around that time), a mature community, with good jobs, and modest but well cared for homes.

But did you know that Leaside was also the location of the most important scene in a live action thriller movie that played out over a three-year period in Toronto? Leaside hosted what was at the time (1951) the biggest bank robbery in the history of Toronto – the work of the infamous Boyd Gang.

Between 1949 and 1952, Edwin Alonzo Boyd committed at least 11 bank robberies and escaped from the Don Jail twice, sparking a media frenzy and the largest manhunt in Canadian history. Boyd robbed a Toronto branch of the Bank of Montreal with a German Luger on September 9, 1949 while drunk and escaped with US$3,000 (equivalent of $31,600 in 2018).

City of Toronto Archives.
Evidence of the Boyd Gang in Leaside. City of Toronto Archives.

With others, he committed six more robberies before he was caught and imprisoned in the Don Jail. There he met Willie Jackson and Lennie Jackson (no relation) and together they broke out of jail with a hacksaw concealed in Lennie’s artificial leg. After their escape, they were joined by Valent Lesso (a.k.a. Steve Suchan) and committed four more robberies in four months for US$75,000 (equivalent of $780,000 in 2018). In one of those they made off with US$46,000 from the Royal Bank’s Leaside branch – a large haul because it was the payroll for a nearby CNR operation and the Frigidaire plant in nearby Scarborough.

Boyd was arrested, and although he escaped the noose, he was sentenced to eight life terms plus 27 years concurrently. Boyd was released in 1962, but returned to prison for four more years after parole violations. He then moved to Canada’s west coast where he lived out his years under an assumed name, to die in 2002 at the age of 88.

City of Toronto Archives.
The site of the 1951 bank robbery. City of Toronto Archives.

The three years of live action enthralled people across Toronto. Toronto Mayor Allan Lamport was clear that his major concern at the time was for the protection of the police: “The most obvious protection they (the police) are entitled to is the elimination of opportunities for profitable crime. When men can walk into a bank, speak a few words to the staff, and walk out with forty-six thousand dollars in cash – as Boyd and a handful of henchmen did at the Royal Bank of Canada branch in Leaside, a Toronto suburb, on Nov. 30, 1951 – then, believe me, there will always be those willing to work for five minutes for that kind of money. They will be willing even though this work might involve carrying a loaded pistol and maybe having to shoot a policeman, a bank clerk or an innocent bystander.”

Photo by Geoff Kettel.
What the site looks like now. Photo by Geoff Kettel.

So where is this Royal Bank of Canada in Leaside? You’re no doubt thinking – yes, it’s on the west side of Bayview at Belsize. Well, actually no, it was on the east side of Laird Drive at Commercial Road. No longer a bank, the current address, 143 Laird, hosts the X-Copper, who fights traffic tickets and criminal charges. It now stands by itself – the former truck body business, Diesel Equipment Ltd (DEL), moved, its building was demolished last fall, and it will likely be replaced by a new home for the MAZDA dealership, which is expected to move across the road.

With acknowledgements and thanks to Robert Shirlow, retired Metro Toronto Police officer.

About Geoff Kettel 113 Articles
Geoff Kettel is a community connector and advocate for “making places better”. He is currently Co-President of the Leaside Property Owners’ Association, Co-Chair of the Federation of North Toronto Residents‘ Associations (FoNTRA), and Chair of the North York Community Preservation Panel. He writes a monthly column on heritage and planning in Leaside Life.