Leslieville Lives: Stories from the ‘Ville – Don McManus
Meet Don McManus. Dog lover, kid lover, neighbourhood people gatherer, master storyteller, wayfarer, artiste. I met Don walking my dog, George, twelve years ago. We would pass his house every day heading to Greenwood Park and if he was out and about we’d stop for chats and treats. We’ve been neighbourhood chums ever since. Don has lived in Leslieville for over 30 years. He made his living singing bass for the Canadian Opera Company for over twenty years, his first season with them (then known as the Toronto Opera Festival) in 1956. He’s worked in most theatres in Toronto either acting or singing, including the original Royal Alex – before Ed Mirvish saved it from its certain demise in 1962 – and has worked as an actor/singer on radio shows all over the country, namely CBC and more recently in TV commercials. You may recognize him from an ad for Bell playing Santa a few years back. A little less hair and a little more deaf than he was in those heady days, 84 year old Don is the most youthful octeganarian I know. He knows everyone on his street and on streets either side of his, in the Greenwood and Queen area.
Don Moved to Leslieville in 1986 after touring Europe working in the theatre and eventually migrating from his hometown of Vancouver for good. Married to another well know actor/singer from the 1950s, Marie Gauley, they later separated, but remained friends. After Don moved to Leslieville, he convinced Marie to stop renting and buy a house. When she said ‘Only if it’s on your street’, he replied, ‘You’re in luck. There’s one for sale right now.’ In 1996 Marie moved two doors down from Don and they remained good friends until her death in 2006.
When he moved to Leslieville in 1986, Don recalls the street he lives on being fairly white and working class where he knew only a few of the other residents. He was used to living in the heart of the Annex where life was more bohemian and diverse. When Leslieville became new territory for young people, artists and families in the late ’90s, he was overjoyed. ‘A breath of fresh air’ he says laughing. Young families, dogs, going out to the theatre, telling stories at every opportunity (fascinating ones at that) and working on his bucket list are what keep him going. Not to mention the yearly summer street party put on for him by his neighbours on his birthday every year. How great is that? I plan to be at the next one – the big 85.