About the Author

Leonard Wise

Leonard Wise has been a lawyer since his call to the bar in 1968, with a parallel career as television performer, food critic for the Toronto Star, screenwriter with Thomas Michael of You're Killing Me, a screenplay slated for production in 2018, and author of seven books, including the best-selling Toronto Street Names. He lives in Toronto.

Books by this Author
Charles Pachter

Charles Pachter

Canada's Artist
by Leonard Wise
foreword by Tom Smart
introduction by Margaret Atwood
also available: Hardcover
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Charles Stuart Pachter was born prematurely at Toronto General Hospital on the night of December 30, 1942, during the Second World War. Charles has an older sister, Maida, born on April 13, 1941; a younger sister, Karen, born on November 20, 1946; as well as a younger brother, David, born on August 20, 1948.
Charles’s name was an anglicized version of both of his deceased grandfathers’ names. One reason his parents may have decided on an English name was in honour of Bonnie Prince Charlie; another was because they thought Hitler might make it to Toronto. It was, after all, 1942, the year Jews were being deported to Auschwitz. Whatever the reason, the name stuck. The family has always referred to him, and continues to refer to him, as Charles; although, most of his friends have called him Charlie since high school.
Both of his grandfathers died in their fifties before he was born, but Charles was told that his maternal grandfather was scholarly, rebellious, and determinedly anti-religious — traits that Charles cherishes.
His grandmothers were feisty characters — hardworking, funny, and the source of much mirth with their broken English, picturesque phrases, and old country sensibilities. One winter, for example, his maternal grandmother, Eva, announced matter-of-factly, that the unseasonably warm weather was due to “a general toe.” After some linguistic sleuthing, the family determined what she meant was “a January thaw.” Another time, she came home from selling her wares in Port Credit and asked her kids what a “bleddehyoo” was. Wondering what she meant, they asked her to explain. She told them she had sold a black half-slip to a woman whose husband had come home drunk, and called her “a bloody whore.”
Charles’s parents, Sara and Harry Pachter, were both Canadian-born and grew up in Toronto during the Depression.
When one of Sara’s brothers died of tuberculosis in 1922, the family moved from Edmonton, where they had been living, to Toronto where a cousin had a shoe repair shop on Queen Street East. Sara’s father opened a cobbler’s shop at 768 Yonge Street, which later became the Loew’s Uptown Theatre, now long gone. Her mother, widowed at thirty-five with four children, became a door-to-door peddler of dry goods that she bought wholesale on Spadina Avenue and sold in Port Credit.
Harry was born on March 11, 1914, on Peter Street in downtown Toronto, just north of the present-day Rogers Centre. He attended Sir Charles G.D. Fraser School.
A cousin introduced Sara and Harry at a party in Toronto in 1936. They were married in January 1937. After their marriage they eventually moved to a flat at 499 Palmerston Boulevard, where Charles was born.
His parents weren’t particularly religious, and the house where he grew up, at 84 Chudleigh Avenue in north Toronto, was in a neighbourhood inhabited mostly by middle-class Anglicans. His childhood playmates were well-brought-up little WASP and Catholic boys and girls, with names like Johnny, Gail, Betty, and Jeannie.
Johnny Macfarlane, who would grow up to be John Macfarlane — the respected magazine and book publisher — was Charles’s next-door neighbour. Macfarlane lived there with his divorced mom and his grandmother, who, thinking she was a coloratura soprano, spent humid summer afternoons at her piano practising operatic scales. Johnny and Charles, both four at the time, used to stand outside under her window howling like little coyotes whenever she sang a scale, then they would collapse laughing until she poured a bucket of water over their heads to shoo them away.
“Charles was my favourite of all the kids I knew then,” recalled John.

Charles didn’t really grasp what being Jewish meant until he turned six, according to his long-time friend, Margaret Atwood. When he was four, his babysitter, Mrs. Rupert, a Baptist holy roller, taught him to pray and roll at the same time while chanting, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Not your typical Jewish prayer!
On Sunday evenings, after supper of peanut-butter-and-bacon sandwiches on brown bread at Johnny’s house next door, the two of them usually went to the basement of the local Catholic church to watch flickering black-and-white “Prince of Peace” movies, starring Jesus, dressed in a long white nightie with rope belt and sandals, his stringy hair parted down the middle, his aquiline nose highlighted by makeup. The kids would also sneak into the church where there were niches with statues of the Virgin Mary and the Annunciation. On the floor of the basement were little blue and red plastic chips, which they collected. For years Charles thought bingo was a Catholic ritual.
To this day he can still remember being bullied by a bunch of bigger kids when he was four and locked under Lawrence Park Collegiate stadium where concrete bleachers were being built. He will never forget the smell of the curing concrete, straw and mud, and the echo of dripping water in the pitch-black as he waited, terrified, to be rescued. Another time when he bragged to the other kids that Jesus was Jewish, he got beaten up and called “a dirty Jew.” He asked another babysitter, Mrs. Decker, if he was “a dirty Jew,” and she replied in her thick Scottish accent, “I wouldn’t know, dear, I’m not Jooweesh.”
One day he came home and asked his parents, “Why don’t we have a picture of the Baby Jesus in our house like all the other kids?” Another time he came home with a Gideon Bible he had signed in school, confessing that he was “a sinner in the eyes of Jesus Christ, our Lord.” On each occasion Sara looked at her husband and said, “Harry, say something!”
Feeling they should help their kids discover their Jewish identity, Harry and Sara decided to enrol five-year-old Charles and his older sister Maida in religious school at the Holy Blossom Temple because, as his father later admitted, theirs was the cheapest membership fee of the new synagogues being built in the then-suburbs around Eglinton and Bathurst. After being “consecrated,” Charles came home with drawings he had done of Jonah and the whale and Elijah riding a flaming chariot. In fact, Charles’s artistic inclinations were evident from the time he was a baby. One night when his parents returned home from a movie, they found his distraught babysitter cleaning the wall beside his crib. Charles had gleefully used the contents of his diaper to create his first mural.

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Toronto Street Names

Toronto Street Names

An Illustrated Guide to Their Origins
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