Where is it written in stone that Canada's Walk of Fame has to only be in Toronto? That's more or less the question Jeffrey Latimer asked the organization's board of directors when he took over as the achievement-recognition body's CEO last spring. And now the Walk is about to take a hike.
"My job is to make it mean more to more people more often," Latimer told The Globe and Mail in advance of this year's Nov. 15 gala. "The Walk of Fame has a great place in Toronto. But what it needs is a larger place in this country."
Latimer, an impresario looking to make an impression, is the talk of the walk these days. Hired by the 19-year-old institution to shake things up, the manager of crooners The Tenors and a theatre producer of such hits as Forever Plaid and Evil Dead: The Musical seeks to transform the Toronto-centric Walk of Fame from an annual Hollywood-style gala to a something less celebrity-driven and more of a national, grassroots, year-round concern.
The annual Walk of Fame festival, centred by the red-carpet photo-op gala, will continue to happen in Toronto. This year's inductees are former sprinter Donovan Bailey, civil-rights pioneer Viola Desmond, actress Anna Paquin, business leader Ted Rogers, scientist and environmental activist David Suzuki, and Stompin' Tom Connors (in the Cineplex Legends category).
Behind the scenes, however, ramping up to next year's 20th-annual event, Latimer and his team are working on something broader. The name of this year's gala is Beyond Famous, which is a clue to what Latimer has in mind. Plans call for a new (yet-to-be-named) national foundation as an umbrella for the Walk of Fame and other programs, with an aim to acknowledge lesser known inspirational people such as soldiers, teachers, first responders and community leaders. CNN's Heroes, which honours everyday difference makers, is a model for what Latimer envisions.
A new wrinkle would have inductees not only be recognized with a star in Toronto's entertainment district, but also with some form of commemoration in their hometown.
It's all geared to showing Canadians, particularly young Canadians, that there's more to achievement than the fame-based kind. "This can't be just about a dinner one night a year, with cameras looking for stars, and the next day we have a hangover from a great party," says Latimer.
Future Walk of Fame inductees will be involved in mentorship programs. Latimer wants people to see the road the enshrined travelled to get where they are, in order to help people set and reach their own goals. "We want this to be a platform that not only acknowledges achievement," he says, "but catalyzes it."
Another change has to with the introduction of year-round events. In the past, one of the considerations for induction was the candidate's availability to attend the gala. Active hockey players couldn't be chosen, for example, because their in-season schedules wouldn't allow for it. The filming schedules of actors are also a factor. The new initiatives will create flexibility.
That said, the jewel of the Walk of Fame programs will continue to be its annual gala, to be televised at a later date. Stars aligning this year include host Jann Arden and performers and presenters Serena Ryder, Brian Mulroney, Jim Cuddy and Martin Luther King III.