Jane Creba, and Giftland: a Small World in Journalism

What, you ask, does the murder of a 15-year old innocent bystander in downtown Toronto on Boxing Day 2005 have to do with Giftland?

Until this week, there was no connection. But now, here's a story of just how small a world this is.

In late November, I attended Superior Court in Toronto to cover the murder trial of a man known only as J.S.R. -- he can't be named because he was a youth when the Creba murder took place outside the Eaton's Centre.

While at the trial, I marveled at the cool hi-tech digital TV screens, white boards, and the use of laptops, overhead document cameras and other digital technology in the courtroom. I hadn't seen these things used in a trial before, and I resolved that when the trial was over, I would do a story for CBC Radio News about how technology is now making a difference in Ontario courts.

This week, I interviewed J.S.R.'s defence lawyer, Gary Grill, about those technological changes he experienced through during the Creba trial. 

At his Little Italy office, on Toronto's College Street, Grill had his framed law school and undergraduate degrees on his back wall, and I asked him about going to McGill University in Montreal. He said he did his undergrad there, because he  grew up in Montreal. I said I was from Montreal, too.  He said he was from St. Laurent (a suburb west of Decarie Boulevard).

I said I was from St. Laurent, too.

He's a few years younger then me, but I figured it was such a small place, I might have known someone he knew.

"Have you ever heard of Giftland?" he asked.

That's when the penny dropped! 

Giftland was an institution in our neighbourhood. Growing up in St. Laurent in the 1960s and '70s, the store was the go-to place in the St. Louis Shopping Centre for gifts, toys, school supplies. And the man who ran it, Allan Grill, was as famous to us kids and our parents, as the late actor Al Waxman was for Torontonians in the TV show "The King of Kensington".  He even looked like him, if you get my drift.

Then the penny dropped! Gary Grill was Allan Grill's son, and I must have seen him a million times working at Giftland when he was a little boy (and I wasn't much older!)

So we reminisced about the old neighbourhood, Steinbergs (it's now a Provigo, I think), the park across the street from the shopping centre where my folks wouldn't let me hang out because they thought bad kids played basketball there, and even Place Vertu, the big enclosed shopping plaza a couple of bus rides away (the #118 and perhaps another one or two down Cote Vertu) which Grill said is still a hole!

Giftland closed a long time ago, although my mother tells me there is another giftware store in its place, but Gary's colourful father Allan, who used to wear his pants as low riders long before it became fashionable-- is not running it. And Gary didn't go into the family business-- he's a lawyer defending one of the men convicted of being in a gun fight that killed Jane Creba in a crime that shocked the city of Toronto.
One more thing in the Small World Department: As I was researching this high tech court story for the Creba trial before Christmas, at CBC Radio News in Toronto, someone made a point to introduce himself to me.

It was Neil Herland, a reporter just back from New York City now working for National Radio News. He told me he was also from Montreal, and that his mother worked as a kindergarten teacher in St. Laurent many years ago. 

Turns out, she was MY kindergarden teacher at Talmud Torah Elementary School, the same school which was firebombed by anti-Israel suspects a few years ago.