A Toronto artist has painted a mural to honour a barber, musician and community leader in Little Jamaica.
The mural, by Adrian Hayles, is of Ronald “Jimmy” Ashford Wisdom, a prominent figure in Toronto’s Caribbean community. Wisdom, a familiar face in Little Jamaica, died on Nov. 28, 2019 at the age of 72.
Hayles told CBC Toronto that the mural is located on a west-end Toronto street that will be renamed after Wisdom and around the corner from where Wisdom had a barbershop. Locksley Avenue, between Eglinton Avenue West and Hopewell Avenue, will officially be renamed Jimmy Wisdom Way on Nov. 16.
“Everybody loved him,” Hayles said. “He championed a lot of things in the community, a lot of changes that came about on his behalf. He’s definitely been recognized, enough so that we are now able to paint this mural of him.”
Coun. Mike Colle, who represents Ward 8, Eglinton-Lawrence, commissioned the mural, which is about 12 metres wide by 4.5 metres tall. The mural features a large portrait of Wisdom and depictions of him as a young man in his native Jamaica and as a barber cutting hair.
On Oct. 7, North York Community Council unanimously passed a motion by Colle to rename the street.
Mural follows motion to rename west-end street
The council said in an Oct. 7 news release that the renaming is one of many steps in the creation of an Eglinton West “Little Jamaica” Heritage Hub, which was approved by Toronto city council on Sept. 30.
Jimmy Wisdom Way will be located near his barber shop.
“In renaming this street “Jimmy Wisdom Way” next to where he worked, mentored, and inspired in his barber shop for over 35 years, we honour a man who devoted his whole life to celebrating and respecting his Jamaican roots and culture and weaving this into Toronto’s fabric,” Colle said.
Colle said there will be a physically distanced ceremony to rename the street officially at 12 noon on Nov. 16.
“I run across people every day who say they had their hair cut by him. But you didn’t just go to him for a haircut. You went when you needed advice. He would counsel people,” Colle said.
WATCH | CBC interviews Toronto artist Adrian Hayles about his mural of Jimmy Wisdom:
Ninfa Wisdom, one of his children, said in the release that the family is pleased with the renaming of the street.
“The Wisdom family is honoured and overjoyed by this decision. We are grateful to Councillor Colle for his recognition and leadership to honour our father, affectionately known as Jimmy Wisdom,” Ninfa Wisdom said.
Jimmy Wisdom ‘brought people together,’ city says
According to the city in a condolence motion last December, Jimmy Wisdom was an outstanding musician and an active community leader who gave back to his community and helped newcomers to Canada from his barber’s chair on Eglinton Avenue West
“Jimmy Wisdom was a giant in Toronto’s Jamaican community who brought people together and helped people of all walks of life through difficult and challenging times,” the city said.
“He devoted his life to listening to people and mentoring those who called on him in times of trouble. Jimmy Wisdom was a true builder of the multicultural tapestry of our City, always positive and generous to a fault.”
According to the condolence motion, Wisdom was part of a duo with Bob Williams that performed with such musicians as Bob Marley, Fats Domino, Jimmy Ruffin, Otis Redding and Solomon Burke. The duo also performed for former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
On Dec. 17, 2019, city council observed a moment of silence and remembered Wisdom.
Wisdom worked for some 50 years as a barber and created a business on Eglinton West called “Wisdom’s Barber Shop and Beauty Salon” with his wife of 37 years, Merva.
“Countless newcomers to Canada found Jimmy’s barbershop as their home away from home and a place to share stories, give and take advice and nurture lifelong relationships, serving second and third generations of customers,” the city said.
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