The Golden Chain
Four Generations of Love
If you live in Midtown, you have no doubt heard of Ruth Sherkin. She’s the matriarch of an extraordinary family of Midtowners and has been a mainstay of this community since she was born, 85 years ago.
In celebration of Mother’s Day and to learn more about this great matriarch and the precious mother-to-daughter chain, we spoke to Ruth’s granddaughter, Jessica Langer, a professor at Centennial College:
My grandmother is amazing; she’s an inspiration to all of us, and the matriarch of this huge family. She’s one of those people, everywhere you go, everybody knows her.
In the early part of the 1900s, Ruth’s parents came over from Poland and moved to the neighbourhood of Toronto now known as Chinatown. Later settling into Midtown, where they lived on Ridelle Avenue, Ruth grew up, then met her husband, Charles “Husky” Sherkin, founder of United Tire.
“She met my grandfather when she was 15 years old. It was like the world’s most amazing love story. They were married for over 60 years.”
Raising four kids, as well as her younger, 11-year-old brother after their own mother died, Ruth “was like a lot of other women of her generation; she was a support to her husband, and kept the home fires burning.” While her husband Husky was away, in “China for three months at a time,” building an empire, “it was the most amazing thing! She built herself a community.”
Ruth is the kind of person who’s always there for her family, friends and neighbours. Her house was the chosen place in the neighbourhood where the kids could go and feel safe and loved. Not only did the Sherkins raise an extraordinary family, they helped build a loving and prosperous community around them.
“My grandparents weren’t as well off as some of their friends. Their parents were immigrants; they were bakers. My grandfather was the youngest and it was his job to clean out the ovens. At that time, there was a lot of anti-Semitism and the Jewish community was very close-knit, to some extent, by necessity. They all worked together to provide opportunities for each other. Ruth and her philanthropic friends, like Temmy Latner, were the first generation of Jews in our community to do really well, financially.
At that time, there was a lot of anti-Semitism and the Jewish community was very close-knit, to some extent, by necessity
Ruth told me once that she would have liked to have gone to university but at the time, it wasn’t the thing young, married women with children did. But she made sure all of her kids got an education, especially my mom, Ferne Sherkin-Langer, Ruth’s only daughter.”
Ferne, a pediatric nurse, author and realtor, raised three children of her own despite an epic struggle with Crohn’s disease. Ruth was always by her side, ready to help.
“My grandmother really stepped in when I was very young. She was basically a co-parent, because my dad was a medical resident and then a surgical fellow, and my mom had to go to hospital for a month. I grew up in awe of my mom. She showed me no matter what challenges you might face, if you work your butt off, you can do it, and if you don’t, at least you tried. She wrote a book about her journey with Crohn’s disease called, If this is a test, have I passed yet? There are all these apocryphal stories like the one about the time she was in the hospital and had to write a nursing exam. They wouldn’t move the date, so she capped her own IV and went and took the exam, then went back to the hospital. It was incredible! She is the North Star of my life and this kind of beacon that’s helped me push myself. People trust her professionally and personally, because they know she cares. I’m that kind of person too; I love people, I love my students, I love my colleagues, I want the best for everybody and I learned that from my mom and my grandmother. It’s something I’m trying to teach my own daughter as well.”
She is the North Star of my life and this kind of beacon that’s helped me push myself. People trust her professionally and personally, because they know she cares.
Jessica is now inspiring her daughter, Miranda Langer-Whatley, aged eight-and-a-half, teaching her that she can be a strong and ambitious woman and still be traditionally feminine, kind and loving.
“It’s been amazing having these role models in my life. Everybody should be lucky enough to have a chain of women. My mother calls it the ‘Golden Chain’ that goes from mother to daughter, from mother to daughter. It’s this Jewish idea, the door to the door, that you have to think about what you pass down from generation to generation. What is your legacy going to be? In my family, it’s a legacy of love, a legacy of care, a legacy of help, and a legacy of knowing no matter what, you’ve got somebody who loves you, who has your back. There’s something fundamentally comforting to know your mom loves you, and your grandmother loves you, and your daughter loves you, and you love all of those people back. It’s an unbreakable chain of women who all love each other and who are passing on that love from generation to generation.”
For Mother’s Day this year, the whole extended family will gather in Midtown at Ferne’s oldest brother’s house on Old Forest Hill to enjoy a traditional dinner together in the love and comfort of their extraordinary family. Four generations of women and a legacy of love.
Natalie Secretan is a self-confessed word nerd and owner of Blogwitt.com, with a background in communications, content marketing, and journalism. A former fitness leader, she also writes on a variety of topics including health, wellness, and lifestyle.