Leslieville Lives; Stories from the ‘Ville – Jimmy Gorzsas
Meet Jimmy. A familiar face to many, Jimmy has been walking dogs in the hood for years now. It’s hard to miss him. His flamboyant style and tanned buff physique in Summer are part of Leslieville’s landscape. He’s the quintessential ‘happy guy’ and the Pied Piper of the dog world. I’ve been bumping into Jimmy regularly since 2009. I know my 3 loved him. Every morning at Maple Leaf Park we were always greeted with, ‘Good Morning Ladies’. And when I had George, ‘Good Morning Ladies, and Gentleman.’
For someone who exudes happiness and positivity, it wasn’t always that way for Jimmy. Hailing from the small village of Biharnagybajom (try and pronounce that!), Hungary, population: 4,000, he is the younger of 2 boys. Jimmy grew up on a farm where they had everything: horses, goats, pigs, chickens, turkeys, veggies and of course dogs. “I was always bringing strays back to the house, much to my mother’s annoyance, but we always kept them. Even though I was bitten by a dog as a young boy, I was, and am, still dog-crazy!” he laughs, then shows me the 40 year old scar. Not a working farm, Jimmy’s family lived off the spoils. He worked hard from a young age; after school, before school and when he finished school to contribute to the family farm. He worked with his brother on geothermic jobs (looking for oil and gas he explains), helping his cousin’s brother in a dog breeding business, setting up new spaces for the dogs to live/breed and in an Italian clothing factory making buttonholes on clothes, all at the same time. His industriousness and energy is something you don’t see in many people. Being busy seems to be his M.O.
When I ask about his family life, he said it was good but as a young gay man in a small village in Hungary, people gossiped. “I had many girl friends and was a bit wild. I was what you call the black sheep. You know; the long hair, curly, black, different colours sometimes.” He never came out while he lived in Hungary. Instead, he decided to leave the small confines of the village and head here to Canada at the age of 25. A friend of an aunt who lived here was enough for he and his aunt to apply. “I knew no one, didn’t speak a word of English but knew I had to leave.” They landed on Aug 5th, 2000. Both applied for refugee status. “Apparently (then, maybe now too) you could apply if you were a gyspy or gay. I had discovered that we are descendants of gypsies, so my chances were doubled,” he laughs.
It’s no surprise there’s gypsy blood in his veins. Jimmy didn’t stay put too long in any one place once he came to Canada. He and his aunt were first put up in St. Catherine’s, where they stayed for a few months, going to English school, and learning the ways of Canadians. He separated from his aunt to move to Toronto. Again, not knowing anyone but the friend of a relative, he stayed/rented an apartment in their house. “I began work at the Parmalat factory. You know the yoghurt right?” Yes, I did. “There were many Hungarians working there. Twenty-four women, 2 men to be exact. I befriended the manager who persuaded me to learn English by putting me in a department of only English speaking people!” he laughs.
He worked at Parmalat for two years, where his English afforded him better jobs and then moved on to other factory work, from a stainless steel factory, then as a mixer at an industrial bakery. Long hours and hard work. His supervisor at the bakery took a liking to him and he began working directly for him vs through an agency. “My wage doubled but it was still hard to get by. I was sending money home to my family and started taking on odd jobs. One of the more interesting ones was being a ‘drug research specimen’. $1500 for 4 days work. I also did some modelling work. I was pretty hot at 29!” He laughs that crazy laugh and then blushes. “So, did you keep in touch with your family back home?” I ask. “Yes, and I finally told my mother I was gay. Actually my aunt told her which made me furious, but she was fine. I just couldn’t live there anymore. ”
He made many moves during the next few years. From the Dufferin/Eglinton area to St. Clair/Caledonia, to Queen & Lansdowne, then Wellesley & Sherbourne, to Bayview Ave, to Pembroke St., then to Dundonald St. Dizzying. I asked him about all the moves. If it wasn’t love gone wrong, or being ripped off by roommates, it was landlords selling. At Dundonald St. he began working at a Spa in the gay village, cleaning. It was then he started volunteering at the Toronto Humane Society as a dog walker. “I loved doing that. That’s where I got my first dog, Ritchie. I left the Spa to start work at the Hair of the Dog restaurant/bar in the village. I could walk the dogs by day and work at night.”
At the same time, he was also volunteering at the Food Bank and an HIV clinic in the area. The next move, from Dundonald to Marjory St. at Pape/Gerrard proved to be a life changer for him. One day the Immigration police showed up on his doorstep. “I had moved so many times I didn’t get the notice for my refugee status hearing! They literally arrested me – on the spot – and took me to the Immigration Holding Centre in Rexdale. I was crying about the dogs. I left them with a friend but what a shock for them. I wasn’t thinking of me.”
Jimmy stayed in the holding centre for 6 months in late 2008/’09. “My lawyer at the time did nothing and lucky for me, a new lawyer was assigned to my case – in the nick of time. As they were about to drive me to the airport and deport me, a call came. They had to let me go. My deportation papers were cancelled and conditions to my release were set out. Three people had to put up a bond for my release. I survived on short-term disability while I was in there. The bonds and letters from my previous work and volunteering efforts – HIV Clinics, Food Bank, The Humane Society – saved me. My good work history and character references won me my freedom,” he sighs, looking to the heavens.
In 2009, he moved to Leslieville. After his release, the first thing he did was adopt another dog, Cinnamon. He began walking Ritchie and Cinnamon and engaging, as he does, everyone in the area. He started taking neighbour’s dogs and other friends’ dogs for walks. In 2012 he received his Landed Immigrant Status and celebrated in true Jimmy fashion. Par-tay! He lived above Queen Pita, which he loved, which then morphed into The Hummingbird, then AAA. He lived there for 8 years before moving downtown this past February. “With 3 big dogs of my own now and often caring for others, I needed a bigger space.” Jimmy comes back often to Leslieville to walk his pups and visit all of us. If you don’t know him, pass through Maple Leaf park on any given day and you’re likely to see him with his Dobies Bonnie, Baby and Armani, if not more dogs, chatting up the locals, spoiling all the dogs and generally brightening everyone’s day.