Presenting: Bruce Bell – Comedian, Actor, Playwright, Renowned Historian and Lover of Toronto
The work on this website continues to allow me to connect with all sorts of interesting people. Some time in September my brother called me from Austria and told me that he had read about this fellow – Bruce Bell – in a German travel magazine. Apparently he gives guided culinary tours of the St. Lawrence Market and my brother felt he was a really interesting individual.
Needless to say, the minute I hung up the phone with my brother I was on the Internet searching for “Bruce Bell”, found his website www.brucebelltours.com, and dialed him up on the phone. Since then I have had a chance to go on Bruce’s St. Lawrence Market tour and I have to say this tour really stirred an interest in Toronto’s history in me. Bruce’s tours are certainly unique and entertaining. I also found out that Bruce is the official historian of many historic buildings in Toronto, truly a recognized authority on Toronto history.
Because I enjoyed his tour so much I suggested to Bruce that we collaborate on a regular basis, which will give me an opportunity to sample his other tours while he has allowed me to republish some of his existing articles about Toronto and its history. Bruce covers some fantastic stuff, including the Distillery District, the Royal York Hotel, St. James Cathedral, the Gooderham Building – a.k.a. the Flatiron Building, Toronto Island and many more. His stories, as his tours, are informative and entertaining at the same time.
Of course I wanted to find out more about Bruce, a person who has carved a very unique niche for himself, essentially combining his expertise in Toronto’s history with his performing arts background. So without further ado, let me introduce you to Bruce Bell…..
Bruce Bell (centre) with Toronto Mayor Miller (left)
and Chicago Mayor Daley (right)
1. Please tell us about your background (I believe you grew up in exciting Sudbury….)
I was born and raised in Sudbury Ont where my dad worked for INCO as a nickel miner. Both he and my mom had a great love of history which I seem to have gotten from them. History was always my favorite subject in school; however at an early age I realized I wanted a career in showbusiness.
2. Please tell us why you decided to move to Toronto and what it was first like when you arrived.
I wanted to be an actor so during the summer of 1972 I took off with a friend to Toronto where I got a small walk on role in the movie CLASS OF ’44. I came back to Sudbury to finish high school but I was bitten by the acting bug so I left school and joined the Sudbury Theatre Centre and my professional stage debut in THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER that winter in 1972 at the age of 17.
The following January I left Sudbury for good and moved back to Toronto.
3. You initially worked in Toronto as a busboy at the Famous Royal York Hotel. While there you also met a lot of celebrities. Please tell us about that time.
I arrived in Toronto in January 1973 and like thousands of people who came before me I hurried out of the cavernous Union Station onto Front Street with the taxi cabs lined up, the people hurrying to catch the 5:15, the vendors, the pigeons, the noise, the rush, the smells and the realization that I wasn’t in Sudbury anymore.
As I stood on the plaza waiting for a cab I also thought about where I should start looking for a job when I found myself staring up at the massive Royal York Hotel rising up from across and thought why not try and get a job there?
There was one job available that I felt I was pretty much suited for, busboy in the famed Imperial Room. During my year spent bussing tables in the opulent dinning room I also happened to ingratiate myself with some of the biggest stars in showbizness as they passed through on the lucrative supper club circuit.
I stood in awe (hidden behind the curtains because busboys weren’t allowed in the room during showtime) as Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennet, Duke Ellington, The Mills Bros, Peggy Lee, Cyd Charise, Count Bassie and the mesmerizing Marlene Dietrich performed in the vastness of the Imperial Room. I felt it was a once in a lifetime education to see these great entertainers in action and it has stayed with me my entire life.
Bruce (right) with Chicago Mayor Daley
in the St. Lawrence Market