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50 famous people with keys to the city of Toronto

Posted by Chris Bateman / August 20, 2013

Keys to the city TorontoThe record of luminaries awarded a ceremonial key to the city of Toronto reads like the strangest party guest list of all time. There's author J. K. Rowling and martial artist Jackie Chan, legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma and former President of Greece Constantinos Stephanopoulos, Nickelback and Nelson Mandela.

Two Mickeys have the key to the city (Rooney and Mouse) but only seven women have received the honour, just three of them from Toronto. Contrast that with the 62 men from around the world who have a key sitting in a special wooden presentation case in their home or office.

toronto keys to the cityThe keys themselves are made of gold-plated zinc for the City of Toronto by North York Trophies and Promotions and cost around $80 each. The city keeps a stock of blank keys ready for engraving when the mayor announces a presentation, says Cece Metcalfe, the owner of the store.

The precise number of key recipients is actually difficult to place. In 2003, Mel Lastman gave one to the entire population of Prince Edward Island as thank-you for their support during the SARS crisis, which included a free truckload of oysters.

The city records only date back to amalgamation in 1998, and other former cities may have previously handed out their own keys.

toronto keys to the cityAccording to the City of Toronto, the presentation of a key is entirely at the discretion of the mayor and isn't subject to any formal guidelines or protocol. The trophy itself is meant to symbolize becoming a "freeman," a throwback to medieval times when a person of significant standing graduated from serfdom and was allowed to own land and run a business.

So far Mel Lastman has been the most generous, giving out 95 per cent of the keys since 1998. A plan to give the Spice Girls a key turned sour when the group refused to perform at a free outdoor concert the city had started (perhaps prematurely) planning.

David Miller and Rob Ford, on the other hand, have given out just five trophies between them. Upon receiving his key today, Doug Holyday will become the second deputy mayor, after Case Ootes, to receive the award.

Here's a full list of recipients since 1998. Some of them are famous. Some of them not so much.


Mickey Rooney - actor
Bobby Curtola - musician
Sheldon Kennedy - hockey player
Bobby Rahal - racing driver
Ed Mirvish - business leader
Roberto Leal - musician
Charles Adler - broadcaster
Nelson Mandela - politician
Barbara Ann Scott - figure skater
Johnny Lombardi - broadcaster
Yo-Yo Ma - musician
David L. Gunn - TTC GM
Norman Jewison - movie actor and director
Mickey Mouse - cartoon mouse
Frank Alvarez - radio station owner
Jorge Ferreira - musician
Céline Dion - musician
José Lello - Portuguese politician
Ron Huldai - Israeli politician
Joe Foti - Liberal fundraiser
Sharon, Lois & Bram - children's music trio
Desmond Tutu - religious leader
David Boothby - chief of police
Neil Young - musician
Donald Sutherland - actor
Konstantinos Stephanopoulos - president of Greece
Dr. Jan Paulsen - church leader
Orville Parchment - church leader
Pramukh Swami Maharaj - Hindu guru
Barenaked Ladies - musicians
J. K. Rowling - author
Boris Spremo - photojournalist
King Constantine II - former king of Greece
Sylvester Stallone - actor
Sophia Loren - actor
Margaret Atwood - author
Joni Mitchell - musician
Blue Rodeo - musicians
Tiger Woods - golfer
Carlos César - Portuguese politician
Thomas Rosica - church leader
Ronnie Hawkins - musician
Tony Dionisio - union leader
Muhammad Ali - boxer
Mike Myers - comedian
Eng. Ferrero Rodriguez - ????
Prince Edward Island - Canadian province
Rolling Stones - musician
The Anson Carter Family - family of hockey player Anson Carter
Nickelback - musicians
Case Ootes - deputy mayor and councillor


Julian Fantino - chief of police
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama - religious leader


George Cohon - business leader
George Chuvalo - boxer
Doug Holyday - deputy mayor

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.



Hamish Grant / August 20, 2013 at 12:07 pm
Mel Lastman was the keymaster.
DoucheDawg / August 20, 2013 at 12:25 pm
Nickelback has the keys to Toronto? Quick, somebody change the locks!
Abe / August 20, 2013 at 12:43 pm
user-pic also says that Nickelback are musicians.
W. K. Lis / August 20, 2013 at 01:02 pm
Too bad "Colonel" Harland David Sanders didn't get a key posthumously from Rob.
Maria / August 20, 2013 at 01:07 pm
DoucheDawg & Abe, thank you for making me laugh. Great comments!
Ell / August 20, 2013 at 01:12 pm
Not complete...

...without Russell Oliver.
Gozer / August 20, 2013 at 01:21 pm
Bring me the keymaster.
Me / August 20, 2013 at 01:31 pm
Leave it to BlogTO to make it a sexist issue.
jd / August 20, 2013 at 02:07 pm
Why not post all 69? Where can one get a full list?
evan / August 20, 2013 at 06:24 pm
I can't believe Mel Lastman got to meet Mickey Mouse.
Timmy / August 21, 2013 at 06:49 am
A profoundly stupid and outdated tradition, and a complete waste of taxpayers dollars. Nobody wants or approves of the "keys to the city" crap. Scrap it NOW.
Chris Bateman replying to a comment from jd / August 21, 2013 at 08:05 am
Hi JD, this is the full list. We had a tough time deciding exactly how many keys were given out (Prince Edward Island, a few bands, etc.) so 69 was our best estimate. We figured 50 of them were famous, hence the title. Sorry for the confusion.
Diana Spremo / August 21, 2013 at 11:42 am
Proud to see my father on that list -- Boris Spremo. He still cherishes his key with great pride.
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