Leslieville Lives; Special Edition – Kelly Rae Manis
Meet Kelly. I first met Kelly probably 10 years ago at Cherry Beach. She was a dog walker, I was just walkin’ my dog. It wasn’t until one day at Greenwood Park I noticed her being bossy with a few dogs, including mine. But funny. I’ll always forgive bossy if there’s a laugh involved. Since then, we’ve enjoyed a friend and business relationship. No, she wouldn’t walk my barky dog George, but I was her realtor for two deals together. You might also know her from her clever and funny occasional posts on the I Am A Leslievillian Facebook group.
Kelly hails from Winnipeg, Manitoba. The only child, she was born and raised by a single mom. Her Dad left early on, and back in the 60s, women raising a child alone was not the norm. They moved a lot. Kelly changed schools constantly. And often mid-year. ‘I was painfully shy then. I was a fat kid and making friends mid-year at that age was really tough. I had debilitating migraines and stress headaches as well.’
When she turned twelve, she’d had enough. She decided to model herself after a friend, Kelly Smith, who lived in a motel, which her parents owned. She loved the idea of that and changed her name. One day she said to her Mom, ‘If anyone calls for Kelly, that’s me.’ From that day forward she was Kelly. And with the name change, came a personality change. She became outgoing, funny and social.
‘I’m lucky I had the wherewithall to realize at 12 that I could be who I wanted to be. Immediately the headaches disappeared. Some kids don’t have that realization and end up with unhappy, sad lives.’
At 14, Kelly moved to Ottawa, with her mom and stepdad. An animal lover who spent a lot of time on her grandparents farm, she desperately wanted a horse. Her stepdad said, ‘If you can get one A, I’ll get you a horse’. ‘I got an A in art’, she laughs. ‘And the horse’.
In grade 10, Kelly had to present a book report. Instead of reading from the pages, she just began speaking and found she had an audience. They were engaged, and she liked the attention. This would later play a part in the ‘stand-up comedy’ chapter of her life.
At 16, she up and moved to Toronto with a friend and worked at Orientique. Anyone remember that cool store on the Yonge St. strip? Not long after that, the disco scene arrived in town. It was the year of partying dangerously. She burned out, returned to school in Ottawa, but left after a year. Toronto was calling – again. She stayed with her Mom and finished Grade 13 at West Hill Collegiate. She met Jim that year, and four months later they moved in together. They lived together for five years and were married for 10. They bought a house, had two kids, Jess and Jake, and lived a fairly suburban middle class life in West Hill.
‘I eventually felt trapped out there. I loved Toronto/city life and everywhere I went had to drive from West Hill. It was okay when the kids were small, but after years of that life, I got cabin fever.’
One day she picked up a Learning Annex magazine and saw an ad for a course in stand up comedy. That resulted in doing amateur nights at the Old Yuk Yuks on Bay St. and other comedy clubs around the Toronto.
In 1994 she left Jim and walked away from the house. She moved into a house on Chester Ave. with the kids. ‘When Jim caught wind of me entering the dating scene he demanded the kids.’ He was living with his girlfriend in the Beach, Kelly having access only every second weekend. Eventually he moved to BC with the kids in tow. ‘We agreed on bi-yearly visits back here. I was such a young mom and needed to get my own life on track after being completely dependent on Jim for support, so I agreed. That’s when I got into the restaurant biz, working at Joe Badali’s by day and doing stand up at night.’
The same year she left Jim, she met Paul, another comic. They moved to a small apartment on Broadview and not long after, the kids returned from BC. With the four of them in a tiny apartment it was time for bigger digs. In 2002, they bought a house on Donlands and thus began her family life again. She quit stand up comedy and worked more hours at Joe Badali’s to support the kids.
In 2004, sick of the restaurant biz, she decided she wanted to work with animals. ‘It’s an only child thing. That’s why I wanted a second child. I knew I was going to leave Jim and wanted Jess to have an ally. I even told her, ‘Jake is for you’. Plus, I’ve always related to Ellie May on the Beverly Hillbillies’, she laughs.
Kelly took a first aid course, did a mentorship and joined the Dog Walker’s Association before she even had one client. ‘So, how did you start?’ I asked. ‘I got Jess to dress up in a dog suit and we went down to the first Woofstock in the Distillery and started handing out treats & flyers. My slogan was pretty catchy – ‘Call Kelly, she rubs my belly’. She pegged Leslieville. ‘It was just starting to come alive and I postered the neighbourhood with my flyers.’
In 2013, Kelly began mapping out her future. ‘I decided to take advantage of the crazy Toronto housing market and cash in my condo, buy an RV and travel around the country with Booboo. We’re taking our talents on the road and offering pet and house sitting along the way under our new venture Airbnbeast. I’ll write about the people, places and things I encounter along the way. It could take a few months or several years. Whatever happens, happens! This will be my retirement.’
In the 6 years leading up to her departure (a few days from now) she’s not only walked dogs, she’s created Gypsy Canine, a blog about dogs/dog walking/neighbourhood goings on, began to promote her soon-to-be ‘Airbnbeast’, and ran the Smiling Blue Skies Canine Cancer Fundraiser Walk for five years running at Kew Beach with friend and dog walker, Lorrie Holmes. Together, with a host of friends and dog lovers, raised over $170,000 for the cause in those 5 years. She was also an active co-ordinator in the annual Clean Up Cherry Beach every Spring. And was on the committee to fundraise for a new Off-Leash surface at Greenwood Park, hosting an event in 2016 at the The Duke as stand up comic & MC.
On top of all this, she did a series of stories, not unlike this blog, about the memorial benches at Cherry Beach, where she walked her dogs every day for 14 years. It’s a fascinating insight into the lives of the names we see there most days.
Now a grandmother, Kelly approaches 60 with a new lease on life. ‘I’m fairly fatalistic. Everything is going to plan. Booboo (Emma, her beloved dog) and I can’t wait to get on the road. Our first job is already booked – a month looking after a hobby farm on Salt Spring Island in BC. Life is good.’
Fun fact. Kelly actually gave me the name of this blog. When I was trying to come up with names for it, she nailed it the first time. So, I finally get to thank her publicly for ‘Leslieville Lives’.
To keep up with Kelly’s travels across Canada in her campervan, follow her on Instagram @gypsycanine.