With 14 years between them, Shavey Tishler (nee Green) and Al Green were the bookends of a family of six children.
Some of Tishler’s most powerful memories of her brother, who she describes as “the sweetest, gentlest man,” go back to when Al was a teenager in the Canadian military and she was a child back in Toronto.
For her fifth birthday, Al, who served in Holland during World War II, sent her a pair of tiny Dutch clogs that she came to cherish, one of which she brought to Al’s funeral. The other was found during the shivah by two of Al’s grandchildren.
“My brother wanted me to have both of the wooden, yellow-flowered clogs,” Tishler said.
Al Green, who died Jan. 22 at 92, left behind an wide and varied legacy in Toronto.
An illustrious real estate developer, sculptor and philanthropist, Green and his partners in Greenwin Construction, co-founded in the 1940s by Al’s father Lipa Green and family friend Arthur Weinstock, hugely influenced Toronto’s urban landscape, pioneering residential development in Don Mills and, in the 1950s, building thousands of the city’s high-rise residential buildings and single-family homes, as well as some commercial buildings.
“They provided affordable rental housing that promoted the growth of Toronto, particularly where the downtown area is concerned,” said David Green, the eldest of Al’s five children.
In his 50s, Green, who had always pursued artistic projects in his spare time – Tishler recalled the darkroom he fashioned as a teen in the cellar of the family’s Major Street home – started a second career as a self-taught sculptor, becoming the mentee of well-known sculptors Sorel Etrog and Maryon Kantaroff. Green’s works are displayed throughout the city, many in buildings developed by the family business and its offshoots, as well as in the Al Green Sculpture Garden in Davisville Village.
Green also founded the non-profit Al Green Sculpture Studio and School in 2000 and the now-dormant Al Green Gallery, on Merton Street, which showcased both his work and that of fellow artists.
A notable backer of the arts and Jewish causes, Green supported the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, which named its theatre after him. He was also an active board member of organizations such as the Art Gallery of Ontario and founder of Jewish Addiction Community Services (JACS).
“He had great sympathy for people who needed help overcoming personal struggles,” David said.
Born in Toronto to immigrant parents from Poland and Russia, Green grew up in what David called the “Jewish ghetto” near Spadina Avenue and College Street and received just a Grade 8 education before joining his father and two brothers in the initial family business doing small-time contracting.
“They were doing things like repairing the brick ovens of Jewish bakeries, chimney repairs, etc.,” David said.
Green’s father Lipa then formed a partnership with Weinstock, who owned a tailoring factory on Spadina, and Weinstock’s son-in-law Albert Latner, with whom Green and his brother Harold became active operators of the business.
“The three had wonderful chemistry. Albert’s specialty was finance and politics, my father was the developer and planner, and Harold was in charge of construction. They absolutely trusted and loved each other until their deaths,” David said.
After the war, Green married his childhood sweetheart, Goldie. They had five children. His second wife, Malka, died last summer.
As a father, he was extremely loving.
“My father always looked after not just us, but his extended family… We must’ve moved around five times when I was a kid as he became more successful, and he would bring my grandfather and many of his siblings. We often lived just a few blocks from extended family… Later, his grandchildren were the light of his life,” David said.
Green is survived by five children, two stepchildren and 11 grandchildren.