‘Honest Ed’ Dies

Edwin Mirvish, the theater producer and flamboyant Canadian businessman known as “Honest Ed” because of his popular Toronto discount store, has died at age 92.

Mirvish died Wednesday at St. Michael’s Hospital, his family announced.

Mirvish’s Toronto theater career began in 1963, when he purchased and saved from demolition the stately Royal Alexandra Theatre. He also bought and restored the Old Vic, one of England’s most famous theaters, and with his son, David Mirvish, built the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto in 1993.

Their theater productions introduced Canadian audiences to such musical blockbusters as “The Lion King,” “Mamma Mia!” and “Miss Saigon.”

But before he became a producer, Mirvish was a savvy _ and shrewd _ business man. He opened his discount emporium in 1948 at Bathurst and Bloor _ the heart of Toronto’s immigrant district. His first newspaper ad read: “Our building is a dump! Our service is rotten! . . . But. . .!!! Our prices are the lowest in town!”

He once said he named his store Honest Ed’s because “it was so ridiculous. As soon as you claim to be honest, everybody gets suspicious.”

By the 1950s, the store, which sported 23,000 light bulbs and took up an entire city block, had become so successful that neighbors were complaining about noise and traffic.

In 1962, Mirvish, who acknowledged he knew nothing about theater, bought the Royal Alexandra and spent nearly $475,000 restoring the 1907 theater to its former glory. Twenty years later, he purchased the Old Vic, the legendary London theater where Olivier, Gielgud, Redgrave and Richardson once performed. He sold the property in 1998.

Mirvish was also well-known to Toronto residents for his generosity.

At his annual July 24 birthday bash, to which everyone was welcome, there were free hotdogs, rides and cake. And each Christmas, people would line up overnight outside Honest Ed’s for a free turkey and fruitcake.

Born in 1914 in Colonial Beach, Va., Mirvish came to Toronto in 1923 where he and his family lived above their downtown Dundas Street grocery. He was 15 when his father died and he dropped out of school to support his family.

Over the years, Mirvish picked up honorary degrees and awards, including the Order of Canada and the Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

“It’s wonderful to go from Dundas Street to Buckingham Palace, but what is really wonderful is to be lucky enough to live in a country where this is possible,” Mirvish said in 1989 before he was presented the honor by Queen Elizabeth II.

Besides his son, Mirvish is survived by his wife, Anne, and a sister. A funeral service will be held Friday at Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto.