Contributed by Joanna Brady Schmida – When I was approached by Peter Lovering recently about an addendum to the article he was planning to write for the Parliament Street News, I was delighted. For younger people, Tony Brady is just a name. A plaque in the park; the namesake of a tiny laneway in Cabbagetown. But for me he was so much more.
Born in 1934, Tony was never diagnosed with dyslexia because it hadn’t been ‘invented’ yet. He was a bright kid who did poorly in school, but never let that defeat him. As he watched his siblings go through college he took jobs at whatever he could find. Tony was an inveterate traveler, leaving his home in Quebec to work in the U.K., the U.S., and South Africa.
Back in Toronto, he took jobs as an actor, a hairdresser, a fortune teller, and he overcame his learning disability to write weekly stories for children in the Toronto Star. He was entrepreneurial, and had his own beauty salon for kids and moms for several years in Yorkville. As ‘Bridget the Clown’, he’d visit children’s hospitals and hospices, entertaining patients with balloon animals. And Tony never met a dog, a cat or a bird he didn’t like.
Most of all, Tony was an outgoing, friendly guy with a strong sense of community. When he bought his home on Wellesley Street E., steps from Wellesley Park, he became a friendly neighbour, a creative and productive resident, a generous and sweet uncle to his four nephews and niece, and a good friend to everyone.
Tony sometimes organized group walks through Cabbagetown neighborhoods, and he managed to get them covered by the media, doing much to publicize the charm of the area.
It was on one of these walks that he spotted some golden boughs of forsythia glowing through the tired barrenness of early spring. It gave him a lift, and he had the idea of turning Cabbagetown into an oasis of forsythia. He acquired some forsythia shrubs and went door to door to convince his neighbours to add them to their gardens. But he didn’t stop there. He convinced the city to plant them everywhere in his beloved park. It took a couple of seasons, but eventually the coverage in the spring was like a field of gold.
That led to the idea of a Forsythia Festival, a neighbourhood event to celebrate the rites of spring. A fun time at the end of winter to bring joy to all Cabbagetown residents and their friends, with events for kids and dogs, parents and grandparents. I remember those events with pride and nostalgia. Our brother Terry and his wife Sue and their children still reminisce about that time. As do my husband Walter and I, and our two sons, who were very young then.
Our families have scattered to British Columbia and the Florida Keys. But Tony lives on in our hearts and memories. He was one of a kind. A visionary. A dear brother and friend. I can’t tell you how proud I am of what he accomplished. I’m only sorry he didn’t live to see how his Forsythia Festival has thrived, and how fondly he is remembered.
Joanna Brady Schmida is a writer living in Key West, FL. She is author of two novels, The Woman at the Light (pub. St. Martin’s Press), and Night Witch in Berlin.