Skip to main content

For Berna and Myron Garron, donating $50-million to and renaming the Toronto East General Hospital holds special significance as their son Michael was born there in 1962.Chris Young/The Globe and Mail

Before he had his name on a hospital and before he inspired a $50-million gift – before the cruel illness and the preternatural maturity and the early end – Michael Garron was a normal kid.

Together, he and his brother Mark would pedal their banana-seat bikes through Scarborough until the streetlights came on. In the vast suburban outdoors, they would play hide-and-seek and pretend to be in the army.

Then, at the age of six, Michael was diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly, the carefree boy began thinking about mortality. His childhood became brutal quickly: first an amputated middle finger, then an amputated arm. At 13 and close to death, he told his mother that he feared being forgotten.

Forty years later, he has a memorial: the Michael Garron Hospital, renamed from the Toronto East General Hospital after a $50-million donation from his parents, Myron and Berna Garron. It's the largest cash donation ever to a Canadian community hospital.

A banker by training, Mr. Garron made his fortune in car-parts manufacturing. He and his wife have been energetic philanthropists. In 2010, they gave $30-million to Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, where Michael was treated. But Toronto East General had a special significance to the Garrons: It was where baby Michael was born.

Choking back tears in an emotional ceremony at the facility on Wednesday, Myron Garron remembered seeing the doctor emerge from the delivery room on that day in 1962.

"He had a little bundle in his arms, and it so happens that that was the first appearance of Michael Albert Garron," he said.

Hospitals would soon become far too familiar a setting for the Garron family.

Michael's soft tissue cancer was rare and his treatment often agonizing. But his former psychiatrist, Sol Goldstein, said the boy handled his ordeal with stoicism and a wisdom beyond his years.

"He was strong, determined, forthright," Dr. Goldstein said on Wednesday. "I learned as much from him as he learned from me."

Dr. Goldstein wrote a book about his young patient's struggle, Michael's Ship.

He remembered Michael's stubborn fits of silence, his yearning to learn French and his psychologically sophisticated drawings.

"When you're facing horrible things, you become mature in a hurry," Dr. Goldstein said.

Mark Garron didn't think his brother was unusual – "I was 12, so I had no wisdom to recognize wisdom" – he just looked up to Michael like any little brother might.

"I thought the world of him," Mr. Garron said.

"He was my role model. If he said, 'Jump,' I said, 'How high?'"

Now that Toronto East General's main facility near Coxwell and Danforth Avenues has been renamed, the hospital's umbrella title will be the Toronto East Health Network.

The donation will also pay for a new CT scanner and other equipment, and fund a research chair.

"We are forever grateful to you for this beautiful gift," said Michael Burns, chair of the hospital's foundation, addressing the visibly emotional Garrons.

"Thank you for entrusting us with Michael's legacy and for extending your promise to him in order for us to help thousands of others today and well into the future."

Later, Berna Garron walked with her husband through the halls of a hospital that now bears her son's name, looking tired, sad and satisfied.

"He will never be forgotten," she said.