The Ward: Our Living History

Saturday, May 20, 2017


Toronto City Hall

Members’ Lounge

The Ward: Our Living History builds on the work and the relationships formed during the creation of the Picturing the Ward exhibition that was commissioned by Infrastructure Ontario (IO) in 2016 on behalf of the Province of Ontario.  As with the exhibition, this event brings together former Ward residents and their descendants to share, exchange and discuss what it was like to live in St. John’s Ward, which was once one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in downtown Toronto. Through storytelling and family photographs uncover aspects of Ward life – experiences that, although rooted in the past, still resonate today. The legacy of this neighbourhood lies not in the buildings that once stood, but lives on in the lives of those who remain to tell their stories.

The Ward

Bound by College Street to the north, Queen Street to the south, University Avenue to the west and Yonge Street to the east, the Ward was where many newcomers to Toronto from the mid 19th century to the mid 20th century first settled. It was a densely populated neighbourhood and at various points home to African-Canadians, refugees from the Irish Potato Famine, African-Americans who escaped slavery through the Underground Railroad, Russian and Eastern European Jews, Italian and Chinese immigrants, and many more. Prior to this, the area was a site of human activity for at least 15,000 years, with the land most recently being the territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit River (Ontario First Nations Maps, 2016). 

Amid protest, residents of the Ward were eventually pushed out of the neighbourhood. Businesses, churches, synagogues, theatres, and shops closed as residents were moved out of the area. Buildings were demolished to make way for hospitals, government buildings, department stores, a bus terminal, new City Hall and Nathan Phillip Square.


Brian Banks is the grandson of John and Mary Colestock.  John Colestock was born in Toronto in 1877 to Robert Colestock, an English immigrant Home Child who landed in Canada in 1869, and Annie Reel, Ontario-born daughter of Irish parents who came to Canada around 1850 to escape the Irish Potato Famine. The eldest of five siblings, John married fellow-Ward resident Mary Hazelton, a daughter of Irish immigrants, in 1907. Brian is a writer and contributed to the book, The Ward: The Life and Loss of Toronto’s First Immigrant Neighbourhood.

Nicole Chodos is the great-great-granddaughter of Joseph Rincover. Joseph Rincover was born in 1856 in Galatz, a large port city in Eastern Romania. Between 1902 and 1903, Joseph, his wife Shifra and their children Sadie and Louis made their way to Toronto via England. When they arrived the family of four settled into an apartment at 114 Terauley Street, just north of the current day intersection of Bay and Queen, living in close quarters with three other renters. Nicole is a mother of three and lives in Oakville.

Mavis Garland is a former Ward resident and the daughter of Ethel Nealon, an immigrant from South Africa, and Henry Chu, who paid the head tax to come to Canada from China. When Mavis was two her family moved to 62 Edward Street in the WardIt was a rooming house. The family rented two rooms on the ground floor with the five other rooms occupied by single Chinese men. Mavis lived in the Ward late into her teenage years. In 1961, she married Fred Garland and has two children, Edward and Michelle.

Anna Marie Kalcevich is the granddaughter of Edward and Donna Pasquale. Edward was born in 1897 in Prezza, Italy. Five years later Donna Bernardo was born in Bolognano, Italy. Donna and her family moved to the Ward in 1904 when she was just two years old. In 1917 the family opened Pasquale Brothers on Elm Street to cater to the growing Mediterranean community in the city. The company would eventually found the Unico brand. A hundred years later, Pasquale Brothers remains a family owned business now operated by the fourth generation of Pasquales.

Patte Rosebank is the great-granddaughter of Katharzyna Mokrzycka, and the great-niece of little Elsie Mokrzycka, who was murdered in the Ward in 1927.  Patte is a writer (who contributed to the book The Ward: The Life and Loss of Toronto’s First Immigrant Neighbourhood), tiara collector, comedy historian, voice artist, raconteur, costumer, and several other things, because she can’t decide which one she likes best.

Rosemary Sadlier has written several books and headed the Ontario Black History Society for many years. She is available for speaking engagements and contracts. Recently she helped to flesh out the nature and significance of the Ward’s historic preservation and interpretation with a committee that was set up by the city.  Her mother was one of the last remaining people to have worshipped at the British Methodist Episcopal Church that was once in the Ward.

Nelson Wong is the son of William C. Wong, who was born in Guangzhou, South China in 1907. After completing a graduate degree at NYU, William was unable to return to China due to the Sino-Japanese War. He moved to Toronto in 1937 after receiving a job offer from the Shing Wah Daily News, a Chinese newspaper located on Hagerman Street. Upon arrival he rented a room at 61 Elm Street in the Ward. Despite his lifelong hope to return to China, he never moved back and spent the rest of his life in Toronto. Throughout his life he fought discrimination and advocated for the rights of Chinese-Canadians.

Full list of contributors to the Picturing the Ward installation:

Brian Banks, Nicole Chodos, Lynda Holm Franklin, Mavis Garland, Ching Yee Ho, Anna Marie Kalcevich, Theodora Pillo, Rose Marie Pillo Scholes, Judy Pocock, Patte Rosebank, Rosemary Sadlier, Chuck Wong and Nelson Wong.

Curatorial Team: Anja Hamilton and Gracia Dyer Jalea

Artists: PA System

Designer: Kellen Hatanaka

Project Management Team: Alexis Kane Speer and Carolyn Rowan


This event has been sponsored by:


Special thanks to Councillor Wong-Tam and Lorraine Hewitt for their guidance and support throughout the planning of this event; to Nelson Wong for his financial contribution; and to Pasquale Brothers Downtown Limited for contributing food to the event.