420 COLLEGE STREET
Gary’s Groceries was founded by a man whose entrepreneurial career embodied the spirit of Jewish immigrants at the turn of the last century. Joseph Gary fled violence and antisemitism in 1917 when, at the age of 17, he boarded a ship to Canada from Opatów, (Apt) Poland to seek his fortune.
Upon arriving in Toronto, he settled in an area known as St. John’s Ward, the centre of the Jewish community for refugees from Eastern Europe and Russia. There, he established a life and career, opening one of the first “appetizer” shops in Toronto on Elizabeth Street, selling items such as bread, eggs and cheese. In July 1921, he married Goldie Lawrence and they began to build their life together.
Shortly after his arrival in Canada, he joined with other fellow “landsman” from the Apt area to found the Apter Synagogue in the Ward. He remained a dedicated lifelong Apter member, helping to fulfill the many needs of immigrants as they struggled to build lives in a new country.
Joe’s entrepreneurial character led him to dabble in residential construction, responsible for building houses on Cardinal Place and Duplex Ave. in Lawrence Park. However, poor business conditions – including the stock market crash in 1929 – wiped out his building company.
In the early 1930s, Joe relocated his family to 420 College Street, where he opened Gary's Groceries, offering a wide variety of canned items and fresh produce. Throughout this period, Joe and Goldie raised three children – Shirley, Ethel and Leslie – in a modest apartment above the store. Goldie worked alongside Joe tending the store and the children helped in the business as well. In 1946, during an after-school shift in the store, Ethel spotted her husband to-be as he walked past the store on his way home from work.
Joe was a generous man who never forgot his roots, often providing day-old bread and damaged produce to fellow immigrants facing hard times during the Depression and the Second World War. A small third-storey apartment above the grocery store was also provided to family members who needed a place to live.
Joe sold his grocery business in the early 1950s and like many other Jewish families, moved further north in Toronto, eventually relocating to North York. True to his helpful and caring nature, Joe continued to be active in the Jewish immigrant community until his passing in 1972.