Wexford’s 40th brings a 1st

George Kerr plays Voyageur (and sets a record!)

I grew up in Don Mills and went to VicPark Secondary. That was on the west side of Victoria Park Avenue. Some of my friends went to Wexford Collegiate. That was on the east side of Victoria Park Avenue. Between the school and the retro-futuristic Parkway Plaza (recently awarded heritage status and the Cedarbrae Cinemas and a bunch of places you can read about in Paul Quarrington's final book, Cigar Box Banjo, Wexford felt like part of my neighbourhood and an important neighbourhood in the development of Toronto - especially in more recent years which have brought huge changes to that part of the city.

Growing along with those changes since 1978 as a fixture and hub for the community has been the Wexford Senior's Residence. To celebrate the institution's 40th anniversary, CEO Sandy Bassett and her team kicked off a fundraising drive with this sparkling gala to make sure the Wexford remains a community hub for the next 40 years: a new capital program for a new site, new building, new services, increased capacity and more. Saturday's gala was a chance to invite some local leaders to help support that vision and I was thrilled to be asked to be part of the proceedings.

Photographer Doug Nicholson and I set up our portrait station in the lobby in front of Hall B while a sumptuous Indian wedding was going on in Hall A.  I wished we might have been ready to get some portraits with some of the spectacularly clad guests but their reception party was already underway behind closed doors by that time.

Former Ontario Health Minister Dennis Timbrell served as emcee for the evening - only occasionally having to pause for a drum break coming from behind the wall between the two ballrooms. The presentation went very well and I confess I am always profoundly touched and amazed by the audience response to the Six String Nation story - especially when we get to the part about the Golden Spruce.

For our "performance pocket" player, Sandy and co. had enlisted Wexford resident George Kerr to do a few tunes. We sat with George for dinner before the presentation and got to hear a little bit about his time growing up in Scotland, his experience during the war and his many roles (usually as the villain, apparently) in a string of amateur musical productions over the years. Sure enough, the medley of songs he played from memory with Voyageur in hand included a number of familiar Rogers & Hammerstein  tunes, all ending with a rendition of "Danny Boy" - sung in a rich Scottish burr with plenty of power and range still behind it.  At 97 years young, George officially the oldest person to play Voyageur for an audience!

Thanks to Sandy Bassett, Bree Grant and all the staff and volunteers who made the evening such a success. Thanks also to our portrait station volunteers Sandeep Sharma, Joli Kadier, and Bijaya Singh for keeping the line moving smoothly. Thanks also to all the guests who came out to support this important cause and to lend their lovely mugs to our ongoing portrait project. Keep your eye on our Facebook page for when the portraits are posted online.

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