Published Oct 09, 2020Actually sitting down to watch this documentary took a lot of work on my part. This is because not only do I have a tiny, baby heart that is easily punctured by media, it's also because I didn't personally get to say goodbye to Honest Ed's — the gigantic, independent, bargain-department store that provided affordable clothing, furnishings and groceries for generations of working class Torontonians since it first opened in 1948.
The demolition of Honest Ed's and its surrounding Mirvish Village to make way for a behemoth housing development in the Annex neighbourhood left me, as it left the entire southwest corner of the intersection of Bloor and Bathurst, gutted.
For the uninitiated, There's No Place Like This Place, Anyplace — the title of which is taken from one of Honest Ed Mirvish's many novelty signs, does an expert and heartbreaking job of explaining why so much of Canada's most populated city is torn up over a retail store.
Toronto filmmaker and former Honest Ed's neighbour Lulu Wei brings us through the significance of the city's landmark by leading viewers through the story of its origins, cultural relationships and eventual foreclosure by introducing you to a diverse variety of stakeholders in Honest Ed's. This includes community members in the processes of experiencing displacement, the real estate developers who bought the properties, and local politicians who worked towards salvaging the life of the popular intersection.
Among the commercial residents adjacent to the Honest Ed's properties interviewed for There's No Place is Itah Sadu of A Different Booklist — a bookstore specializing in books focusing on the African Caribbean diaspora and Global South — who operated out of their former location on Bathurst Street for nearly two decades and serves as a living history of Toronto's Black communities. As the documentary takes place throughout the final few months of Honest Ed's legacy, Sadu, like so many others, wonders what their displacement from a space in a rapidly gentrifying city like Toronto means for the cultural life of that place, and, through their interviews, they are not only telling us their personal stories, but also describing to us the histories that truly make cities what they are.
Conversations with the Urban Geography faculty at the University of Toronto paint the sense of urgency, setting the scene by elaborating on the city's housing crisis and its structural failure in defining "affordable apartments," the interviews overlaid with footage of Wei inside Honest Ed's as it is being demolished. Meanwhile, the director's personal relationship to the space is woven throughout as we watch Wei's inevitable move after finding out the apartment had been bought by the development company.
It's a hard watch for a documentary that runs just under 45 minutes, even if you haven't experienced Honest Ed's in terms of this specific geographic location. What resonates so strongly about the title alone is that, well, there wasn't anyplace like this place. The footage of Honest Ed's and Mirvish Village, or a simple Google search of the store's interiors, can fill you in on what a ridiculous, fun use of extremely valuable retail space Honest Ed's was. But beyond that, wherever in the world you are, there likely is a space that provided to you what Honest Ed's provided to so many, a landmark that also served as a refuge — a symbol of combined histories, communities united through a space. This is somewhere that made you feel at home, whether you had just moved to that city, that neighbourhood, that country. If you are still lucky enough to be able to go into yours, then you understand the sentiment behind the title as you consider the very real possibility that you might one day not be able to — sooner than you think.
Like Wei, I miss Honest Ed's. I, too, am worried about the future of every North American city and the lives and histories of the people who call them home. Like Wei, I hope that the art made about these spaces does not serve as simply a story, an archive or an explanation, but rather a lesson on how to move forward in protecting the spaces that have brought us together in this desolate, isolating country that seems to struggle with understanding what it actually has that creates the fabric of culture it has before it's gone. Concise, warm and captivating, There's No Place Like This Place, Anyplace is worth the tears. (CBC)