O Canada ! There are Stars on King

Cover September 11, 2010

By Sandy Graham

The concept for a Walk of Fame in Toronto, to honour famous Torontonians was first conceived in 1996, by founder and current President, Peter Soumalias. The Board of the Toronto Entertainment District Association was not keen on the idea, so Soumalias went on to create and establish The Walk of Fame for Canadians in partnership with Bill Ballard, Dusty Cohl and Gary Slaight. In spite of a lack of funds, research and no media plan, they managed to succeed and the first class of inductees was inducted in 1998. The Walk of Fame has since become a popular tourist attraction in Toronto and has been named the number one Canadian recognition event.

I had the insightful opportunity to talk to Peter Soumalias about Canada’s Walk of Fame. As the founding member, Soumalias explained the inspiration behind what is now considered a major tourist attraction in Toronto. “ In 1996, we wanted to put a ‘Star’ on King Street West in honour of the consummate promoter, Honest Ed Mirvish. We invited original cast members, artists, performers to take part in this and the turn-out was amazing. Some were Canadian, some not, but they included the likes of Hal Linden, Tony Bennett, the original cast of Hair to name a few. We thought of creating a place where famous Torontonians could be saluted for their efforts, but this idea did not reach fruitition. It is a well-known fact What began in 1996 took 18 months of research and in 1998 Canada’s Walk of Fame became a reality.”

The induction process seemed quite daunting and when I asked Soumalias how a person was chosen for this tremendous honour he explained “In the beginning it was a matter of the members sitting at Bill Ballard’s cottage and trying to come up with all the names of famous Canadians who had left their mark or were presently creating star status for their achievements.In 2000, prior to the introduction of the online voting system, over 30,000 nominations were received via letters, fax and e-mail. It was an overwhelming reaction. It all added up over the years from exposure in the Globe and Mail to Celine Dion showing up in a SARS scared city to accept her award. People (magazine) covered us as well, and that basically put us on the international map.”

When asked how we compare to Hollywood and their star induction system, Soumalias was proud to say “In Hollywood, the film company or record label has to front the cost of the induction for the artist. Here in Canada, the artist does not pay for this induction honour. We are totally funded by charitable and private donations and receive no government funding. In other words, no taxpayer’s money has to pay for the system to work.”

Soumalias also added “Our Induction Ceremony has grown into a major event. It has become major production with a red carpet of over 22,000 square feet and has a great environment combing the media while remaining public friendly. The LA Times said if you can imagine all the award shows combined (the Emmys, Grammys and all the events at the Kennedy Center) that is Canada’s Walk of Fame.”

This year the host for the event is Canada’s own sweetheart, Anne Murray. “Anne was honoured as one of our early inductees and it is with great pleasure that we have her back again to be with us now that we have grown to such a success story. No matter where you are, the voice and name of Anne Murray is distinct and Canadian.  Canadians have a pent-up pride of their country and before the Walk of Fame there was no release valve. This event embraces all the significance of our home and native land – Canada.

I asked what the future holds for Peter Soumalias and Canada’s Walk of Fame. “We appreciate that Canada’s Walk of Fame has become a tourist attraction and would like to see it be displayed somewhere where it could be enjoyed 24-7 and throughout all seasons of weather. In the works is a project named “Canada’s Plaza” which would house the stars as well as have chips embedded that could be accessed thru electronic devices (ie iphones, cellphones etc.) It would be a combination of a permanent home for the “stars” and a public park for all to enjoy. We have tremendous stories to tell of these trailblazers and this could become the #1 tourist attraction in Toronto in the years to come. We, as an organization, hope to harness that energy and that storytelling and inspire the next generation of young Canadians and emerging talents." ”

Peter Soumalias is a unique blend of humble thoughts of himself yet a driving force behind branding Canada’s Walk of Fame. The combination of that and the tremendous Board behind this truly prestigious event has made it what it is today. It makes it great to be Canadian.

To view a list of past CWOF inductees click here

CANADA’S WALK OF FAME INDUCTEES FOR 2009

Blue Rodeo                      Musician(s)                      Toronto, Ontario
Chantal Petitclerc            Athlete                            Quebec City, Quebec
Dan & Dan Caten             Fashion Designers           Willowdale, Ontario
Howie Mandel                  Comedian                        Toronto, Ontario
Kim Cattrall                     Actress                            Courtenay, British Columbia
Raymond Burr                  Actor                               New Westminster, British Columbia
Robert Munsch                 Author                             St. Catherine’s, Ontario
Tom Cochrane                  Singer/Songwriter            Toronto, Ontario