Toronto has birthed some of the world’s most famous performers, thinkers, and humanitarians. Here are a few local icons who never touched super-stardom, but whose individual presences we would, nonetheless, feel lost without.
(Photo by Ian Muttoo via Flickr)
A curbside preacher, misunderstood, evangelizing the word of the Lord, all at the epicenter of Toronto’s pedestrian jungle (Yonge + Dundas), Sarko is an undisputed Toronto icon. Like a character in a Flannery O’Connor story, his solemn presence provides a stark contrast to the city’s fast-moving heathens, too busy to light a candle or say a prayer. Though he doesn’t relegate himself to any one corner of the chaotic intersection, his sermon is guaranteed, delivered in muted reverence, and punctuated by unsettling outbursts that always manages to draw mixed reactions.
The King’s Textiles / Active Surplus Guy
(Photo by Ian Muttoo via Flickr)
The charming and perpetually wind-burned gentleman on the corner of Spadina & Queen may have graduated from his post as human billboard for Active Surplus and King Textiles, but his legacy lives on. With his shock of yellow hair, the gravelly voiced ad-man (whom some sources name as Terry), typically decked out in faded denim, earned a reputation as a west-end mainstay for his approachability and for his clarion call to the budget-conscious to save money on, of all things, fabric and door hinges. SAVE!
(Photo by Shaun Merritt via Flickr)
Though an admitted former drug dealer, user and pimp, Clarke is a perennial mayoral candidate who runs on a platform of social restructuring, emphasizing the need for public education on issues such as homelessness and mental health. Despite seemingly genuine intentions, his character is a polarizing force among city officials. The flamboyantly attired Clarke can often be seen strutting throughout Parkdale in a flashy leather duster, or stationed outside City Hall, demonstrating some form of protest, typically decked out in some Carmen Sandiego-meets-George Clinton getup.
(Photo by David Topping via Flickr)
David Zancai first entered the public consciousness in the early 2000s, dancing around behind the window of Breakfast Television. His local celebrity status erupted after a series of confessional ramblings on Speaker’s Corner and other public appearances prompted him to develop his now-iconic Santa-meets-Chippendales look. An intimidating mixture of energy and excitement, he maintained his physique by performing countless push-ups, often at will, for curious pedestrians.
Folks trying to catch a glimpse of him on today’s streets will be disappointed, as Zanta has been banned—literally—from the entire downtown core, not to mention any and all TTC vehicles, for being, quite simply, a public nuisance.
In addition to being a published author and cayenne pepper enthusiast, Ben Kerr was perhaps best remembered as a sweet-faced street performer and harmonizer, crooning mellifluously from his favoured post at Yonge & Bloor. As commuters trudged their way up from the subterranean subway lines in the 1990s, they were greeted to Kerr—a commanding presence, with a lone speaker and microphone—as he warbled his way through the great American songbook (among other renditions) in his signature Hank Williams-y drawl.
His death in 2005 was felt throughout Toronto, by fans young and older. Copies of his book, The Cayenne Pepper Cocktail Does It All, can still be found circulating the web.