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How Toronto’s lavishly rich Latner family is tearing itself apart

Albert’s empire would likely never have existed if it weren’t for his wife. Temmy Latner was raised near Dundas and Spadina, just a few blocks from her future husband. In the early 1930s, Arthur Weinstock, Temmy’s father, founded Delight Dress, a womenswear factory on Spadina Avenue, the heart of the garment district. Delight Dress boomed and he made a tidy profit, but in the ’50s business began to slow down and Arthur decided to try another line of work. He teamed up with his friend Lipa Green in a new real estate development company they called Greenwin Properties—a loose portmanteau of the co-owners’ names.

Temmy and Albert married in a small ceremony in June of 1949 at Shaarei Shomayim Synagogue, then on St. Clair West. Afterward, they drove to Miami for a budget honeymoon. Temmy quickly became pregnant, and Albert, a dutiful young man, dropped out of university to support his new family. His wealthy father-in-law set him up with a job on a Greenwin construction crew. Arthur mentored Albert in the business, helping him work his way up the ranks. With Lipa’s sons, Al and Harold Green, Albert would help grow Greenwin into a Toronto construction behemoth.

He picked an opportune moment to join the construction industry: mid-century Toronto was undergoing a massive expansion. Greenwin built much of Don Mills, one of the city’s first suburbs, as well as dozens of condominiums in the downtown and subsidized social housing complexes in the inner suburbs. All told, the company would erect more than 15,000 residential apartment units and over six million square feet of commercial space in the GTA, eventually expanding into developments across the country.

Michael Latner

The first of Albert and Temmy’s four children was Steven, born in 1950, a bright, gregarious boy with a love of books, followed swiftly by the diligent middle brother Michael, then Elise, the lone girl who, from the beginning, preferred the company of her mother to anyone else, and finally, after a gap of six years, Joshua. The family lived in a tiny, sparsely furnished house on Khedive Avenue near Bathurst and Wilson, but soon moved to a house in Don Mills—one of the first houses in the subdivision, it was surrounded by farmers’ fields. As Albert’s fortune grew, the family moved to bigger digs in swankier districts of the city: a modern split-level at Lawrence and Bathurst, a mock-Tudor mansion on Warren Road in Forest Hill, and eventually a sprawling farm in King City.

Elise Latner

Friends who were close to the Latners in those years describe a tight-knit household dominated by confident boys with healthy intellects and egos to match. Family dinners—particularly Friday night Shabbat—were a sacred ritual. Latner gatherings, according to one regular house guest, were “dominated by loud, liberal chat among the men that would escalate into an uncontrollable cacophony of excited expletives and arguments.” Temmy and Elise, by contrast, would retreat into the sitting room to knit and do needlepoint in peace.

Temmy was always cooking, sewing, knitting, sketching, ironing, decorating or doing needlepoint—when she wasn’t playing piano. As a girl, she studied under the legendary concert pianist Boris Berlin (he held a needle under her wrists while she played to keep them from sagging). Her favourite piece, Rachmaninov’s Prelude, no. 2 in C-sharp Minor, could often be heard throughout the house. “She was an incredibly gracious lady who made everyone around her feel good,” remembers Tsion Avital, a family friend who first met the Latners in 1972 while on a visit from Israel to research his PhD at U of T. One night, when he was ill, a pot of homemade chicken soup arrived at his apartment, delivered by Temmy’s chauffeur. Many years later, when Avital’s first son was born, Temmy, on a visit to Israel, presented him with a handmade quilt. “This is a woman who could have bought a million quilts,” he said, “but she chose to make one instead.”

Those who knew Albert and Temmy in their heyday describe their marriage as a great love affair, one that provided a bedrock for their children. Temmy was Albert’s best friend, the only person he fully confided in and trusted.