Ron Wallace, fondly known by the nickname “Mr. Aurora”, is being remembered for his passion for the community.
Wallace, founder and long-time editor of The Auroran, died Sunday afternoon after a nearly decade-long battle with an atypical parkinsonism-related disease. He was 76.
Wallace was a three-term Aurora Councillor, a York Region District School Board Trustee, volunteer firefighter and tireless community advocate.
Wallace founded The Auroran in 2000 with a vision for a hyper-local community newspaper.
The move came after a long career in journalism which began in the early 1960s working as an “office boy” at The Toronto Star.
While at The Star, he was the first person in the newsroom to learn about the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, after pulling the breaking news bulletin off the wire.
A passion was born.
After bouncing to the Canadian Press and other organizations, a chance letter back home to North Bay ended up in the local paper and, thereafter, Wallace had a taste for bylines.
After studying journalism at Ryerson University, work at the Stouffville Tribune followed before he took the helm as editor of the Aurora Banner and the Etobicoke Guardian.
In the meantime, his love of books fuelled a second career.
In 1985, while he was juggling his newspaper work with being a volunteer firefighter in Aurora, he and his late partner Rosemary Schumaker founded the R&R Book Bar, a popular store selling new and used books that, thanks to Ron and Rosemary’s tireless involvement in Aurora’s civic life, became a community hub well beyond the printed page.
“It was 1.30 in the morning – Sunday, November 25, 1984 – when the fire alarm pager in my bedroom went crazy,” Wallace recalled in an article he penned for Ryerson alumni. “As a volunteer firefighter, I jumped out of bed and my life took a 180-degree turn. It took me, however, about two more weeks before I realized it. In downtown Aurora that cold November morning, a major fire was blazing out of control. At stake were three businesses and eight apartments. By dawn, all would be destroyed. Among them, a bookstore.
“It’s nearly impossible to restore a book damaged by water, and the owner, throwing in the towel, knew it. He had been 11 years in Aurora, and only three weeks earlier, had moved to the location that was now a stark ruin against the early-morning sky.”
The penny dropped two weeks later and, while vacationing in Florida, Ron and Rosemary decided to step up to the plate and establish a store of their own.
“They say that journalism is the most fun anyone can have with their clothes on,” he joked. “So can selling books, actually.”
The new millennium brought a new enterprise for Wallace. With a vision for a new paper serving the community he loved, he founded The Auroran in October of 2000.
The newspaper’s early motto was simple – “If it matters to Aurora, it matters to us” – and it was a motto he took seriously. Aurora was not only a community he loved – the community also inspired the name of his daughter, Aurora Wallace, now a university professor.
“I wore Aurora on my sleeve, that’s for sure,” he said, proudly.
In addition to his careers in journalism and politics, Wallace was a long-time member of the Rotary Club of Aurora, a keen supporter of the Aurora Optimist Club, the Lions Club, the Royal Canadian Legion, the Society of York Region Artists (SOYRA), the Aurora Farmers’ Market and a driving force behind the Aurora Street Festival, a popular annual event hosted by the Aurora Chamber of Commerce, which was set to mark its twenty-fifth anniversary in June before COVID-19 forced its cancellation.
“During the early weeks of 1995, Ron Wallace approached me at the Aurora Chamber with the idea of celebrating the 200thanniversary of Yonge Street by holding a street sale,” recalls Rosalyn Gonsalves, who served as manager of the Chamber at that time. “I just about had a fit as Mary Lynn Stephenson and I were the only employees and with the Home Show and the demands of an ever-growing membership, we wondered how this would all happen.”
They listened to the pitch, were skeptical, but promised to bring it up to the Board, she said.
They got the green light and Board member Lisa Knappett stepped up to help Wallace make the “Longest Street Sale on the World’s Longest Street” a reality for June of that year.
“As our luck would have it, the Hon. Hal Jackman, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, was visiting [Trinity Anglican Church] and together with Cathy Vrancic, President of the Board, they walked over to Yonge and Wellington and [Jackman] officially opened the very first Aurora Street Sale to much fanfare. Lisa, who was relatively new to Aurora, was not too thrilled with having to make a speech and Ron said, ‘Don’t worry, dear. I’ll be more than happy to write it for you. That’s what I do for a living, you know.’”
Following Wallace’s passing, community leaders past and present shared their tributes of their friend and colleague.
“We are all deeply saddened at the news of the passing of Ron Wallace, affectionately known as ‘Mr. Aurora,’” said Mayor Tom Mrakas. “What a profound loss for our community. Ron Wallace gave so much to Aurora [and was] a remarkable community leader that will be truly missed.”
Former mayor Tim Jones recalled working with Wallace on Council, paying tribute to his friendship and camaraderie both at and away from the table.
“Before and after I left active political life, while Ron was still active, Steve Hinder and I would invite Ron up to the YRP (York Regional Police) ‘shed’ in Newmarket on a monthly basis for a beer, simply to discuss what was happening in our Town and have a few laughs. When Ron and Herb McKenzie got together to fight to preserve anything to do with Aurora, you knew you were up for a heartfelt argument where they were not wrong with their ideals. And, I recall how happy we all were when he and (wife) Pat got together as a couple.
“Aurora was so fortunate to have had Ron play the roles that he did in our Town. Hopefully Council will find a way to recognize his influence and effect in a suitable manner.”
Ron Wallace was recognized for his work in life. In 2012, he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, an honour instituted by the Federal Government, which was presented to him at a Queen’s Park ceremony by then-MPP and good friend Frank Klees.
“Ron Wallace touched countless lives over the course of his many iterations as an elected politician, community leader, volunteer and Chief Cheerleader of the Town of Aurora,” said Klees. “In his roles as a ‘newspaper man’ – whether as a reporter, editor or publisher, Ron was always my toughest critic and will always be remembered by me for his first column on my foray into the race for MPP, which ran with the headline: ‘Frank Who?’
“I was privileged to know Ron in his professional capacity, but more so, I was honoured to count him as a friend and will forever remember his love for our Town.”
A year later, the community Ron Wallace loved honoured him with the Citizen of the Year award.
“He is a stranger to very few,” said former mayor Geoff Dawe when he presented Wallace with the accolade. “He has been an exceptionally visible and active member of our community. He came to Aurora in 1969 to work in the newspaper industry. His community involvement speaks volumes for his character and his commitment to our Town.
“With a wealth of accolades and a lifetime commitment to his community, our Citizen of the Year’s altruism can be summed up best by his own words: ‘I love Aurora and that’s all there is to it. I would do anything I could for this Town.’”
Ron Wallace is survived by his wife, Patricia, daughter Aurora, and sister Bunny.
HAVE YOUR SAY – Share your memories of Ron Wallace to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran