Rising up as a member of the Firth Bikes household gave Sylvia Firth Mitchell greater than a love of bikes and a way of journey – it additionally outfitted her to open two profitable vintage and present retailers of her personal.
With a eager eye for lovely and distinctive objects, Sylvia owned and operated Previous & Presents in Inglewood and, later, in downtown Elora. A few of the best-loved retailers of their respective areas, the Previous & Presents shops have been a vacation spot for each native and out-of-town guests, says daughter Cynthia Mitchell. “Usually, it was the primary place that they might go to within the space.”
Born at Toronto Grace Hospital, Sylvia Firth was the center little one of Harry Firth and his spouse, Hephzibah (Effsie) Parkinson, who had immigrated from Yorkshire, England.
Sylvia’s younger life was almost reduce brief by a catastrophe at sea. The Firths incessantly made journeys to Europe to go to household and buddies, and in 1939, the preschooler travelled for the primary time, along with her mom and sister June aboard the passenger liner SS Athenia. The Second World Conflict broke out because the ship, leaving Glasgow for Montreal, was crossing the Atlantic. In a change of plans, Effsie and the kids disembarked in Liverpool. A day later, on Sept. 3, 1939, the Athenia was torpedoed by a German U-boat, killing 117 passengers and crew members.
Sylvia was raised in a loving residence the place household got here first. She and her sisters, Norma and June, loved spending summers at their cottage at Frenchman’s Bay, exploring Taylor Creek Park, skating in Little Switzerland and sliding down the Scarborough Bluffs to swim in Lake Ontario.
Their father, Harry, ran Firth Bikes at 1857 Danforth Ave. for 55 years, promoting bikes and components to everybody from lovers to skilled racers to the Toronto Police Service. Dubbed “Mr. Bike” by these in his business, he additionally designed and produced the Firth Buddy Seat, an early type of a passenger seat.
Since Firth Bikes was a household enterprise, all fingers have been on deck to fulfil mail orders and to work within the retailer and on the Toronto Sportsmen’s Present, says Sylvia’s son Trevor Mitchell. Sundays have been spent attending races and hill climbs that Harry, a founding member of the Canadian Bike Affiliation, had begun.
“Again then, it was uncommon for girls, significantly younger girls, to journey bikes,” says son Brent Mitchell, “however Sylvia, an avid motorcyclist from her early teenagers, would like to journey her Excelsior on the paths on the household’s property, and on smaller roads close by.”
By means of the household enterprise, Brent says, Sylvia realized expertise to run her future store: “the significance of exhausting work, creativity, constructing robust relationships with each clients and suppliers and the flexibility to adapt and take possibilities.”
Sylvia attended Scarborough Village Faculty #9, Ontario Girls’ Faculty in Whitby (now Trafalgar Citadel Faculty) and graduated from Toronto Lecturers’ Faculty in 1956.
In 1954, Sylvia noticed Don Mitchell on the subway after which at a dance at Leaside Excessive Faculty. Their first date – on the night time Hurricane Hazel swept via Toronto – was destined to be a memorable one. Sylvia and Don, a chartered accountant, married in 1957 and had three kids – Cynthia, Brent and Trevor – whom they raised in Scarborough and, later, in a big Victorian residence in Orangeville. It was there that Sylvia found her pure expertise for restoration and a love of antiques.
“Sylvia would roll up her sleeves, strip painted woodwork and wallpaper, pull up carpet and restore and paint partitions,” says Trevor. “She was superb along with her fingers.” She quickly parlayed her curiosity right into a enterprise, refurbishing previous steamer trunks and promoting them on the Harbourfront Vintage Market within the early ’80s.
Her dream of getting an vintage and residential and backyard store got here true with the opening of Previous & Presents in Inglewood. In 1993, Sylvia bought an previous constructing in Elora, which turned its new location.
She sourced treasures via auctions and property gross sales, refinished deserted items of furnishings and awoke at daybreak to be first in line at yard gross sales. “Sylvia and her buddies would go to Florida for just a few winter months,” Brent says, “and she or he would return with a van filled with neat issues for her store.”
Sylvia seemed for previous, uncommon and good high quality gadgets. “She might acknowledge issues that may look superb with a easy sanding and portray or a brand new body, or gadgets that have been distinctive and might be repurposed into one thing new,” says Trevor. “Generally she would get issues that merely caught her eye and spoke to her in a creative means.”
Together with her retirement in 2013, she closed the store, offered the constructing and moved to a house overlooking Belwood Lake, the place she hung out with household and buddies. Her travels took her throughout Europe, typically along with her granddaughter Olivia. She liked her day journeys to Georgian Bay to observe Trevor scuba dive and going flying with Brent.
Magnificence made its means into different areas of her life. As a 20-year member of the Fergus Lioness Membership, she did volunteer work; and she or he contributed to the Elora Enterprise Enchancment Space’s beautification venture, adorning the city with planters, flowers and stone benches, and waking early to water the potted flowers. For this, the Centre Wellington Chamber of Commerce offered her with an award of excellence in 2003.
Sylvia had an eye fixed for locating treasures in surprising locations. As soon as, an auctioneer requested if anybody wished an previous cabinet that had been used as a rooster coop. “It was filled with feathers and issues that chickens do,” Cynthia says. “Mother purchased it for a greenback. Everybody, together with the auctioneer, laughed as she carried it away. She smiled, took it residence, refinished it and used it for show in her lovely retailer. She might have offered it many instances.”
That embodied the spirit of Sylvia’s creativity and kindness. “Whether or not it was her kids, buddies or an deserted piece of furnishings that she would lovingly restore,” says Cynthia, “she noticed potential in everybody and all the pieces.”
JOIN THE CONVERSATION