Rob Ford

5 things you didn't know about Rob Ford

It was always going to be tough to dig up five totally unknown Rob Ford tidbits. Of all the mayoral candidates, Ford is the only one to have been probed in a bestselling book and countless revealing newspaper and magazine articles. The drugs, the violence, the gaffes, and dubious political moves are, for the most part, common knowledge. With that in mind, it made sense to focus on other parts of Ford's life: his early years, the family business, and his politics.

Born May 28, 1969, Rob Ford attended Scarlett Heights Collegiate and showed a strong interest in playing football. He attended development camps in the U.S., but eventually found himself working at the family business, DECO Labels and Tags, after a brief stint at Carleton University. In 2000, he married Renata Brejniak at the All Saints Roman Catholic Church in Etobicoke. Renata had been briefly married before and the pair dated for several years before their marriage. They have two children: Stephanie (born in 2005,) and Doug--"Dougie"--who was born in 2008.

Rob Ford was first elected to city council in 2000. As staunch and outspoken conservative, Ford was frequently isolated, often attracting attention for hyperbolic outbursts directed at cyclists, Asian people, and one-time nemesis Giorgio Mammoliti. "Outside of council, they don't even talk to me," he told Toronto journalist Brett Ruffell, then a Ryerson University student, in 2004. "They ridicule me and make fun of me. What can you do? I say hi and they walk right by me. What can I do? That's their problem."

"I'll expose every single possible scam that these people are a part of," he continued. "They don't like it, but I don't care. I just worry about the taxpayers want, not what my colleagues want."

His father swam with Marilyn Bell during her famous Lake Ontario crossing
In his youth, Doug Ford, Sr. was a keen athlete. "Standing six feet tall, with his chiselled jaw, thick golden hair, and dashing smile, he looked like a movie star," Robyn Doolittle Robyn Doolittle writes in her book Crazy Town. He loved long distance swimming, and when 16-year-old Marilyn Bell attempted to cross Lake Ontario on Sept. 10, 1954, Ford attempted to swim by her side. "He didn't make it," Doolittle writes. "[He] kept training, and on the side worked as a lifeguard. It was at the local pool that he first caught sight of a beautiful, blond Diane Campbell [the Rob, Doug, Randy, and Diane's mother.]"

In later life, Doug Sr. was the MPP for Etobicoke--Humber from 1995 to 1999 under Mike Harris. "His combative speeches at Queen's Park became something of legend," Doolittle writes. "In one famous incident, he began heckling people who had come to make deputations about not having jobs." Despite fiery incident, Ford commanded respect within the PC party. His single term established the Ford family's political dynasty in Etobicoke.

(Note: On further review, there appears to be some doubt about whether Doug Ford, Sr. took part in the same swim as Marilyn Bell. The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star make no mention of Ford starting the lake swim, which attracted several contenders, including the heavily-favoured Florence Chadwick, Jerry Kerschner, Winnie Roach Leuszler, and Marilyn Bell. Ford may have been in the lake that day, but it's not clear in what capacity. The jury's out on this one.)

Rob's first love was football
Before discovering politics, Rob Ford was intent on pursuing a career as a professional athlete. In Grade 10, Ford was captain of the Scarlett Heights junior football team, though, as Doolittle notes in Crazy Town, the yearbook misidentified him as Doug. Ford attended "a prestigious football camp in the US," Doolittle writes, but wasn't naturally gifted. "He had a lot of heart," a former Scarlett student said.

At Carleton University, where he briefly studied political science before dropping out, Ford tried out for the Ravens' offensive line, but whether he actually appeared for the team is unclear: Ford says he did, but former teammate John Lindsay told Toronto Life in 2012 the pair were frequently benchwarmers. "Robbie was a little guy," he said.

Ford said he didn't ever start a game, but several times appeared as a substitute. Regardless, he turned to coaching, leading the Scarlett Heights Raiders in the 1990s. Famously as mayor, Ford coached the Don Bosco Eagles until being dismissed in May 2013.

Rob was endorsed by the Toronto Star for city council in 2000
Rob Ford the politician emerged in 1997 during an unsuccessful attempt to unseat Gloria Lindsay Luby in Ward 3 Kingsway-Humber. In 2000, promising to run the biggest sign campaign in the ward, Ford ran against incumbent Elizabeth Brown in Ward 2 Etobicoke North. "We suggest Rob Ford, a local businessman who is the son of former area MPP, Doug Ford," The Star wrote. "Incumbent [Brown's] heart is in the right place but she is too often missing in action." Ford ended up capturing 43 percent of the vote to Brown's 31. "The people said they wanted change and they got change," Ford said.

During his first term, Ford opposed funding renovations to Nathan Phillips Square, called funding a program to help squeegee kids "ridiculous," and pushed for cuts to councillors' office expenses, spending just $5 of his $4,917 allowance in the first year. He was also treated twice for kidney stones and earned a mention in the paper for hanging a pre-amalgamation Etobicoke flag in his office upside down.

The Ford family's business, DECO Labels and Tags, is huge
DECO--short for "decorative," but also D for Doug, E for Edwin (co-founder Herriott's first name,) and CO for company--was established by Doug Ford, Sr., then a salesman at a meat packing plant, with the help of friend "Ted" Herriott in the early 1960s. The business specialized in special "pressure sensitive" self-adhesive labels and was a relatively quick success, giving the Ford family status in their Etobicoke community.

By the time Rob Ford became part of the business, DECO had manufacturing plants in Chicago, New Jersey, and 50,000 square foot production facility Toronto. The local plant, according to a 2010 story in Canadian Packaging magazine, generates half the company's revenue, mainly through clients in the food industry.

As a private business, DECO is not obliged to release financial records, so it's hard to put a dollar figure on its level of success. In 2010, a trade magazine put the company's annual sales at about $29 million. Since then, that figure has been put as high as $100 million. On top of that, according to a 2013 Globe and Mail story, the Ford family's real estate holdings are worth in excess of $10 million. Despite owning a stake in a million-dollar company, Ford consistently positions himself as "just an average guy."

Ford says he likes to play board games, pool, and ping-pong in his spare time
The best thing about DJ Deadmau5 taking Rob Ford for a spin in his blue "Purrari" was that it gave us a rare chance to see the mayor relaxed, sober, and unscripted. In the half-hour it took the pair to get Tim Hortons at Leslie and Lake Shore--Ford had trouble having his order of five espressos in one cup understood ("It's good, trust me," he said)--we learned that, apparently, the mayor likes to play Risk (but one of his brothers apparently hates it) and that his family used to enjoy yachting but now spend their time on the lake fishing for salmon.

At the drive-through, Ford found it hysterical that Deadmau5 had to order "a single, a double, and a double" espresso to get the required five shots. He also treated viewers to his thoughts on the lack of suburban planning downtown: "These people down here, you get some councillors that just don't want to have drive-throughs. There are some councillors that do not ... I don't care what anyone says they're car haters. They just don't want cars. They want streetcars and cyclists ... just anti-car."

Photo by Christian Bobak.

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


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