When Belle Walked along Spadina

Whenever Belle walked along Spadina, the shopkeepers would leap from the comfort of their worn stools to offer her the juiciest orange or the most luscious square of strawberry cheesecake. Schwartz, who owned the lady’s apparel store, would attempt to lure her into his premises by showing off his most glamorous red frock. With her tight black curls and her smooth olive skin, crimson suited Belle.

“Bellele,” he’d shout, yanking the stub of the cigar from his stained lips. “Give a fella a chance to make a shayne maidele happy.”

Usually Belle played along with Schwartz’s game. “Sure, Mr. Schwartz, if you don’t mind the neighbours telling your missus all about us.”

Belle never actually minded when the shopkeeper would hold the sample up to her chin and press the bodice against her chest. Schwartz was harmless, unlike foreman Mandelbaum, the giant with forearms the size of the sailor Popeye’s in the funnies. At the garment factory, Belle sewed buttons onto the jackets of the servicemen who were cleaning up the mess the Nazis had made of Europe.

On the shop floor, the foreman’s word was law, and Mandelbaum had convinced himself that he was entitled to cop a feel at least twice a day.

Published in TOK: Writing the New Toronto, Book 6. Purchase the book to read the full piece.

Toronto locations referenced in this piece

“As Belle rushed from the coat factory and onto Spadina Avenue that spring night in Toronto in 1946, she didn’t even smile as old man Schwartz raised high a stylish crimson dress for her approval . . . ” —Spadina Avenue