Canada's Walk of Fame
Home > History

A Year of Firsts

2005 was a year of growth for Canada's Walk of Fame, building our identity and solidifying our brand at home in Canada and on the world stage. While it has been said each year since the beginning in 1998, it has never been more evident than in this year's success. Canada's Walk Of Fame has learned, we've changed, we've grown and we've come of age - nationally and internationally.

And yet, the most important thing we do - our mission, has remained the same. Canada's Walk of Fame continues to build on our strong tradition of recognizing and paying tribute to some of the world's greatest talents, who also happen to be Canadian. A small tribute dinner, where we honored four Canadians who took a chance on us in 1998, has grown to a galaxy of stars who will number 100 by the end of 2006. We've come a long way, together. But we aren't done yet!

Several new exciting programs have been launched in the past few months.
This year we hosted the first Rock the Walk, a benefit concert at the Mod Club. The monies raised will go to benefit two outstanding organizations who support young Canadian talent in the arts - MusiCan and The Canadian Film Centre.

We also wanted to extend the celebration - both in terms of time and to the audience we could reach. This year we expanded the free NBC Movies n' Music Festival presented by Cineplex Odeon Cinemas to four days, an initiative made possible by our generous sponsors. If you passed by Yonge-Dundas Square in the past few days you were able to experience some of the best, hot, new Canadian musical talent on the horizon. After the incredible concert, we screened outstanding films highlighting the gifts of our own Walk of Fame inductees.

This year, Canada's Walk of Fame honoured and paid tribute to actress, Fay Wray. As a part of that tribute, a three-minute 'short film' on Miss Wray's life was developed and produced by a young Canadian filmmaker, Eoin Harris. Eoin Harris was the winner of the first annual Mary Pickford Young Filmmakers Competition. This new program is co-sponsored by Canada's Walk of Fame and the Mary Pickford Institute.

The Mary Pickford Institute for Film Education (MPI) is the newest initiative of the Mary Pickford Foundation, and represents their commitment to the expansion of the Foundation's goals to educate and instruct young people who might not otherwise have the chance, about filmmaking and film history. MPI believes that to build a brighter world, every voice must have an opportunity to be heard. The Institute was created to serve the public and to increase awareness of Mary Pickford's legacy of creativity and charity. Her belief in artistic independence and in the need to provide opportunities for talent, regardless of race, gender or ethnicity is an important part of the legacy.

Finally, our initiative involving the 'walk' itself. A jury on behalf of Canada's Walk of Fame is currently reviewing submissions from designers, architects and artists interested in creating an innovative and visually arresting platform to honour Walk of Fame inductees. The design for the 'streetscape' is to recognize Canada's Walk of Fame as a fluid, original and distinctly Canadian destination. We believe the winning design will set Canada's Walk of Fame apart from any other by establishing a new standard and leading the way in honouring Canadian achievement."

It has been a very good year for Canada's Walk of Fame. We don't do this alone, as you well know. It takes a team of dedicated professionals, committed volunteers, an incredibly involved Board of Directors, generous sponsors, and some truly amazing Canadian stars to make this happen. One thing has truly become evident this year; we have a lot to look forward to.

Concrete Reality

Never mind getting it "off the ground." The challenge was to get it "in the ground." Canada's Walk of Fame was established in 1998, and today its future is secure – firmly cemented into the sidewalks of Toronto's entertainment district.

But it wasn't always so.

Dianne Schwalm remembers when the Walk was but a flight of fantasy she shared with friends Peter Soumalias and Bill Ballard. "We believed that Canada was ready to celebrate its talented and accomplished people ... that we had come of age and could be proud of our own."

Breakfast at Bregman's

Over early morning breakfasts at Bregman's and after work at the Bamboo, they plotted how they might turn what seemed like an impossible notion into concrete reality.

Others had tried and failed in the past. And city council at the time was less than enthusiastic about the idea.

Then came amalgamation and the election of Mel Lastman. Soumalias had co-chaired Lastman's campaign, and now there was someone at the top who would at least consider the proposal. "A lot of this was timing ... timing and luck," Soumalias acknowledges. The team was also able to convince both the provincial and federal governments to help fund the project.

Canada's Highest Tribute

The biggest challenge was to build the reputation of the Walk. It had to be recognised both by the public and by those in the sports, arts, and entertainment fields as the highest tribute paid to Canadian achievers. "We knew that we had to get out of the gate fast or we'd lose the momentum," says Ballard.

Putting bravery before reason, they announced the names of the first 14 Canadians to be honoured with a star on the Walk without consulting the inductees first.

Their big break came when Jacques Villeneuve, racing in the Grand Prix in Montréal, agreed to come to Toronto to attend the unveiling of his star. In less than 24 hours, the stylised maple leaf was set in the sidewalk, the street event was planned, and the ceremony was carried out.

Villeneuve Onboard

"Getting Jacques Villeneuve onboard really put us on top. Suddenly people were returning phone calls. It really gave the Walk the impetus that it needed," Soumalias notes.

Today there are 52 stars on the Walk. The city has designated the sidewalks along 13 blocks of the entertainment district as the pied–à–terre – literally, foot to the ground – for Canada's Walk of Fame.

Public interest and participation has been growing quickly – with Canadians across the country sending in more than 30,000 ballots for the millennial selections.

In addition to the three founders, many other volunteer Board members donate their time and energy to the project. "We're thrilled to have these people on the Board. They bring a wealth of talent, and they give us strong