Source: International Downtown Association
Alex Edward Ling is a modest gentleman whose life is characterized by a series of outstanding achievements. He immigrated to Canada in April 1950, where he studied in Toronto and in Orangeville while working on a farm. After completing his studies, he joined his father in the importing business. One evening in 1971, Alex was driving through the west end of Toronto, when he passed through Bloor West Village. Dazzled by beautiful flowers and trees with sparkling lights, Alex had found a location for “Ling’s Importers,” an import gift boutique.
Shortly after moving into the neighbourhood, Alex was invited to attend a BIA meeting by BIA founder, Neil McLellan. McLellan shared his vision for the neighbourhood and shortly thereafter, Alex found himself on the BIA Board of Management. Alex soon realized that all was not well in the BIA. Some merchants were angry; they were paying a levy and had yet to experience an increase in business. Some members had attempted to sue the board, and others were circulating petitions to abolish the BIA. Recognizing a lack of communication between the board and its members, Alex undertook to visit members to remind each that the BIA concept was new and therefore required patience. In subsequent years, Alex was involved in a number of initiatives that resulted in many successful events, festivals and beautification projects; all of which were well-received by members and local residents. In October 1979, Alex was elected as Bloor West Village’s Chairperson. He spearheaded countless initiatives to promote local businesses, ensuring that local residents’ voices were always heard.
The success of Bloor West Village as a business improvement area was clearly evident. Its model was mirrored through the establishment of additional BIAs throughout Toronto. Recognizing the need to unify the voice of Toronto’s small businesses, Alex established the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA). It promoted successful BIAs in the city by facilitating the exchange of information, experiences and ideas; helping small businesses thrive.
Alex is a man of foresight, by consistently developing new ways to promote small business while improving the customer experience. In 1990, Alex led Bloor West Village businesses into a new era by implementing the first blue box recycling program for businesses. He was instrumental in converting the tree lighting into solar power thus retiring over 45 hydro metres and, he led the conversion of gas lamps into solar power, ensuring that the Bloor West Village BIA was not burning fossil fuels.
Alex’s contributions to Canadian society have led to a number of prestigious awards. In 1992 he received a commemorative medal for the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada by the Governor General. In 1997, the City of Toronto presented him with the Civic Award of Merit. In 2000, the Outstanding Canadian Foundation presented the Outstanding Canadian Award to him. In 2002, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II honoured Alex with the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal.
Although, Alex is delighted with such accolades, he does not care to boast. On March 3, 2005, Alex’s 30 years of volunteerism and activism was honoured at a dedication ceremony that named a fountain at the corner of Jane and Bloor, after the man himself. It did not stop there. In 2008, the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association presented Alex with it’s Life Time Achievement Award. Today, Toronto’s distinct neighbourhood BIAs owe much of their success to this small business icon who truly believes that successful local business enterprise comes from developing connections between business owners and its customers. Although Neil McLellan is the founder of the BIA movement, Alex Ling is the man who ensured its survival.