Toronto Woman Honours Memory of Parents in Kiryat Shmona

Renanim School benefits from gift made in name of A & A Records founders.

Published: May 16th 2011
in News » Local

A&A; Book Store
Alice and Mac Kenner

We’ve all heard the incredible stories of those who, when faced with adversity, somehow find the strength and will to not only survive, but to thrive.


Alice and Mac Kenner were such people.


The youngest of seven children, Alice never knew her father who had immigrated to Toronto shortly after her birth and died of influenza. In 1922, Alice, her mother and her sister Rose, joined her siblings, Julius, Nathan, Aaron and Freda in Toronto. Her eldest sister, Chia, stayed behind and died in the Holocaust.


Brothers Julius and Nathan had opened a couple of variety stores, one on Bloor Street, and one on Yonge Street, called Rain Brothers. Alice worked in Julius’s store at 353 Yonge Street. When Julius succumbed to a heart attack in 1944, Alice found herself unemployed for the first time in her life, and with few options.


Fortunately, as often happens in these stories, fate soon intervened, and Alice discovered that a man was selling his bookstore, next door to Rain Brothers, at 355 ½ Yonge Street.


Using her sharp business acumen, Alice rented the store for $60.00 a month, and, for $400.00, she purchased the assets and content.


Within a year, a neighbouring shop at 351 Yonge Street was up for sale and, with brother Aaron’s help, Alice opened A&A Book Store. While her husband Mac, a telegrapher by trade, and a talented musician and raconteur, wanted to also sell records, most companies refused to supply him, so he bought $100 worth on his own and sold-out in the first week. And with that, an iconic Toronto – and Canadian – business was born, A&A Records.


“My parents, Alice and Mac Kenner were voracious readers,” says daughter, June. “Through A & A, they started out selling text books for what is today, Ryerson University, as well as dental and medical texts for the University of Toronto. Growing up, books were always front and centre in our home, and they always played an important role in our lives. My father was the front man, my mother, the backbone. They complemented each other in work and in life; they were a great pair. Even after they retired, their lives went full circle back to selling books at antique markets and craft shows.”


When it came to honouring the memory of her bibliophile parents, the choice was clear, and, again, books would play a prominent role in her decision, as would Israel, a favourite travel destination of Mac and Alice. In fact, in 1981, June’s 71-year-old father, and middle child, Daniel, shared a bar mitzvah at the Kotel in Jerusalem, while Daniel’s siblings, Mark and Sara, looked on proudly. Alice had also became involved with ORT (Organization for Rehabilitation and Training) as a fundraiser, and together, she and Mac became donors to an ORT school in Israel.


Through United Jewish Appeal’s recently concluded Campaign 2011, June made a generous donation to Kiryat Shmona’s Renanim School for Disabled Children, creating the Alice and Mac Kenner Library.


Founded 45 years ago, Renanim serves 120 children aged 6 to 21 with physical and/or mental disabilities. Due to extensive rocket damage during the second Lebanon War in 2006, the school was closed down and moved to another location. UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, along with the Rashi Foundation, created this new, exceptional campus, an innovative model for special education suited to the unique needs of its students.


“My mom lived the immigrants’ dream,” says June, leafing through old black and white photographs of her parents. “She exceeded even her own expectations because she was brilliant and driven. She didn’t believe in looking back, only forward. Even when the subway came to Toronto, Alice was convinced that people would no longer have to come up to street level, making business even tougher.”


But, true to form, and with Mac’s ever present encouragement, the couple kept their noses to the proverbial grindstone, ultimately making A&A Records a name synonymous with Canadian music.


And, it’s June’s hope that, along with honouring her beloved parents’ memory, she’ll be giving the children at Renanim School the opportunity to exceed their, and their families’ expectations, too.


“These children have undoubtedly lived difficult lives, as have their families,” says June. “I hope that this gift will provide them with the opportunity to reach, and even go beyond their expectations. My parents absolutely loved children, and I’m so thrilled that my mother was able to meet my son-in-law Kevin, and fall madly in love with her precious lone great-grandchild, Mackenzie, named after my father, in 2004. I know they would be so proud to have their names on this important school. My parents both exemplified the Canadian dream, and, together they cut a large swath in Toronto and in Canada, and, hopefully, through this gift, they will be doing the same in Israel.”

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