One person who has been extremely supportive of my "Celebrate Toronto" project is Provincial Member of Parliament, Michael Prue. He and his staff have connected me with various individuals in the Beach who are good candidates for my first Toronto neighbourhood portrait. Way back in November I was invited to come out to lunch with him and his team and Michael and I even recorded a joint Rogers television show together. He came across as a very open and friendly individual with a bright smile and a boyish charm, and I thought Michael himself might be a good candidate for an interview so people in his riding, "Beaches - East York", could get to know him from a more personal point of view. So we arranged to meet at the Boardwalk Café on Toronto's waterfront, in the Woodbine Beach area. For a few hours I had a chance to pick his brain and ask away while Michael freely opened up to me.
Michael is one of those rare Torontonians whose family tree is anchored for several generations in the Toronto area. Toronto is one of the few cities where the majority of people were born somewhere else (myself included) and immigrated here. Not so with Michael. Both his parents were born in Toronto, six out of eight of his great grandparents were from Toronto. He traces his roots back to Irish / English / Scottish immigrants generations ago and some of his relatives have a bible with Laura Secord's name in it. (Laura Secord warned the British Army of the advancing Americans during the War of 1812.). Another side of his family is related to the Thompson family in Scarbourough - David and Mary Thompson were some of the pioneers who opened up land to the east of today's metropolis. A grandfather on his mother's side was actually from Montreal of Irish and Frdnch background. His paternal great grandfather's name was Proulx and that name was later anglicized to Prue.
Michael was born at Women's College Hospital and grew up in a tenement building on Oak Street. That's where Michael spent the first four years of his life before the tenements were torn down and Regent Park, Toronto's most (in)famous public housing project was built. Families who were living in the area before the housing project was built had first dibs on some of the apartments that were going up in the new housing complex.
Michael Prue's father was born in 1921 and had a very difficult time finding work during the Depression. He quit school in 1936 to work in various odd jobs. In 1939, when World War II started, he was one of the first to volunteer for the Canadian Army and was sent to the battlefields of Europe. His father often talked about his experiences in Europe and the places he had seen: North Africa, Italy (he fought at Montecassino), Germany, Holland, Denmark, and England/Scotland/Wales. Michael recalls his father talking often about the places, but very rarely about the war itself. He still remembers one of the highlights: a story of his father finding a secret stash of wine in Italy.
After the war Michael's father worked on Queen Street at a factory that produced rubber components. His job as a regular factory worker was later followed up by a position as a janitor which he held until retirement. Michael's mother stayed home with her children until Michael was about 12 years old and then started to work as a part-time bookkeeper.
Growing up in a working-class family in Regent Park shaped Michael's outlook on life a great deal. His family was doing better than average in this neighbourhood considering that many families in Regent Park were single-parent low-income households. Once he entered high school, things started to change. Michael attended Jarvis Collegiate which at the time was attended largely by children from Toronto's affluent Rosedale neighbourhood.
Michael was one of the few people who attended an academic high school, most of the boys he grew up with ended up at Central Tech while the girls attended Central Commerce, preparing them for work in the trades or in lower-level administrative jobs. Only 8 or 10 of Michael's colleagues went to Jarvis Collegiate, but Michael said the class differences during his high school years were almost insurmountable. Despite the fact that he was on student council, he never got invited to dances or special events, and that experience of being excluded on the basis of his social class made him feel "a little bitter towards rich people". He admits that he still works on overcoming this feeling to this day.
This is also what attracted him to the ideology of the NDP, a party whose constitution states "we will invite the co-operation of all persons who are dedicated to the extension of freedom, the abolition of poverty and the elimination of exploitation". Of his schoolmates Michael was the only one to go on to postsecondary education, and many people ask him today why he is so determined to fight for underprivileged individuals if he himself has done well. To that he responds that he has seen how so many people have gotten shafted based on their economic (or ethnic or racial) background, and that's why he continues to fight on their behalf to this day.
His university career includes an Honours Bachelors degree in Political Science and Anthropology from the University of Toronto and a Masters degree in Canadian Studies and Political Science/Anthropology from Carlton University in Ottawa. When I asked Michael what "Canadian Studies" is he explained that it encompasses Canadian literature, geography and history. Although he was accepted by various other universities for his masters program he liked Carlton because he wanted a broader education than just political science. At this Ottawa university Michael also had the opportunity to improve his French language skills.