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The Choir Boy connects new, old Toronto
Thursday, 03 December 2009

Written by Michael Swan, The Catholic Register,

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Thomas Buckley
Thomas Buckley, author of The Choir Boy, outside the downtown Sears store. (Photo by Michael Swan)
TORONTO - If you’re strolling by the Eaton Centre this Christmas season, you should know there’s a Christmas present waiting for you in one of the store windows.

It’s not a Nintendo Wii, a box of chocolates or anything else you might feel compelled to buy before Dec. 25. It’s just a story about a St. Michael’s Choir School boy, his family and the build-up to Christmas. It’s called The Choir Boy and will be presented in 25 installments in a downtown Sears store window between Nov. 30 and Christmas Eve. It will also be posted online at

Thomas Buckley, the career trucking company executive who wrote the story, thinks of his Christmas tale as a gift to Toronto. In a sense, it’s a gift of the old Toronto to a new Toronto.

“I’m an east-end boy,” Buckley told The Catholic Register.

Buckley freely admits he’s part of an older Catholic Toronto — the Toronto of Irish, German and Italian immigrants whose lives orbited around such institutions as St. Michael’s Cathedral, Massey Hall, St. Michael’s Choir School, doughnut shops and Irish cops. And he’s incorporated all that into his story.

His 8,300-word story is illustrated with photos of all the Toronto landmarks Buckley grew up with and that were part of his own family. Buckley was married at St. Michael’s Cathedral. His mother was Rose Winterberry, a cousin of St. Michael’s Choir School founder Msgr. Edward Ronan. Two of Buckley’s sons were for a time enrolled at St. Michael’s Choir School, and Rose became a choir school mom.

But in his story Buckley also tackles the new multicultural reality of the city. In the end, he unveils the values and hopes that made Christmas so natural in the Toronto he grew up in.

“It’s this warmth I want to share with Toronto,” Buckley said.

For Buckley Christmas is still a natural in Toronto.

The end is a surprise, and The Catholic Register wouldn’t dream of spoiling the surprise. But Buckley is only too willing to say exactly what’s in his story.

“There’s faith, there’s hope, there’s love in a doughnut shop and there’s forgiveness,” he said.

Buckley never saw himself as a writer, and he’s the first to say how odd it is for a guy his age who has made a living in sales for the family trucking business to suddenly launch himself into literature. But over the summer, Buckley found himself with hundreds of ideas buzzing around his brain.

Along with the ideas came a need to write it all down. By Thanksgiving he was reading his Christmas story to his assembled family. They were both astonished and impressed. Even Buckley’s 18-year-old son told him The Choir Boy was an emotional experience.

Buckley attributes the whole thing to divine inspiration.

Sears took on the story as a way of reviving the tradition of Christmas store-window displays.

Buckley hopes his story helps people to experience what Christmas should be about.

“In the end, I hope they come away and say Merry Christmas to the next 50-or-so folks they meet — and mean it,” he said.

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Michael Swan, The Catholic Register
About the author:
Michael Swan is Associate Editor of The Catholic Register. He is an award-winning writer and photographer and holds a Master of Arts degree from New York University.

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