When Ian met Sylvia

Ian and Sylvia’s wedding, 1964. Photo Toronto Public Library.
Ian and Sylvia’s wedding, 1964. Photo Toronto Public Library.

During the heyday of folk music in the early 1960s, the singing duo of Ian and Sylvia ranked among Canada’s musical elite – writing, recording, covering and performing such memorable songs as Four Strong Winds, You Were on My Mind, Someday Soon and Early Morning Rain.

Ian and Sylvia, however, weren’t always Ian and Sylvia. There were just Ian and Sylvia. How they came together is an intriguing story – one in which Leaside played a surprisingly significant role. 

Kenneth M. Smith and his glass company

It started with the Kenneth M. Smith Glass Company on 30 Industrial St. Kenneth Smith was a Leaside entrepreneur and community leader – serving in the late 1940s-early 1960s as president of the Leaside Rotary Club, chair of Leaside Memorial Community Gardens and president of Thorncliffe Park Development.

Born in Nova Scotia in 1898, he came to Toronto where he founded the York Glass Company on Logan Ave. after serving in World War I. In 1939, he moved the company to Leaside, renaming it after himself. For the next three decades he and his business did well, specializing in the production and distribution of kitchenware, tableware, and decorative glassware – and benefiting from the economic boom that followed after World War II.

A new employee arrives

Smith numbered among his employees some interesting people. One was Petra Kruger, an office worker chosen as Miss Leaside 1963 during the town’s 50th anniversary celebration (see Leaside Life, Jan. 2024). Another was Viola McDonald, who worked for the company as a crystal cutter for several decades. A third was a young musician by the name of Ian Tyson.

A recent graduate of the Vancouver School of Art, Ian arrived in Toronto in 1959 seeking fame as a guitarist-singer in the city’s nascent folk music scene. To supplement his income, he took a job at Kenneth Smith’s glass company as a commercial artist and designer.

His boss was company foreman John Miles. According to the book Four Strong Winds: Ian and Sylvia (Toronto: 2011) by John Einarson and confirmed by Petra Kruger, who worked with Ian, Miles told Ian about a “marvelous girl” he knew who happened to be a terrific singer. Her name was Sylvia Fricker, and he encouraged Ian to contact her.

Miles then did the same with Sylvia (her landlady was the foreman’s ex-wife), telling her about a young musician he worked with at the glass company. As Ian Tyson recounted it in Four Strong Winds, his boss – acting as go-between for the couple – “got her [Sylvia] on the phone for me.”

A tumbler from the Kenneth A. Smith Glass Co.
A tumbler from the Kenneth A. Smith Glass Co.

The rest was history

Ian left the glass company soon afterwards and began performing with Sylvia. A few years later, they moved to New York City and married in 1964. Their careers on the rise, they ultimately became Canadian musical icons with at least a dozen albums to their credit. Sadly, they divorced in 1975 but continued to perform and record separately. In 1992, they were inducted as a duo into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. Two years later, they received the Order of Canada. Ian died in December 2022. Sylvia recorded her latest album in November 2023.

It’s not known if Kenneth Smith, who died in 1968, was aware of the role his company had played in bringing Ian and Sylvia together. Nor do we know what happened to John Miles afterwards.

What we do know is that Canada’s most famous folk-singing team might never have existed were it not for the presence of a Leaside-based glass company operating off Laird Drive – and that’s something to sing about.

About Ted DeWelles 38 Articles
Ted DeWelles is a retired public relations professional and community college professor. A Leaside resident for more than 20 years, Ted currently serves on the board of the Leaside Heritage Preservation Society. He loves reading, cycling and researching and writing about Leaside’s history.