What to give for a Wedding Gift

It’s that age-old question we all come across at some point, “How much do we give?” “Do we buy a gift?” “What do we get?, they have everything!”…

Figuring out how much to spend and what type of gift to give can be stressful, particularly if your generosity exceeds your budget.

First rule of thumb is to check if they have registered with a store. 98% of brides have at least one registry. These days, couples are statistically older and more established in their lives so when they register, they are truly asking for things that they need.

If items listed on the registry aren’t within your price range, consider giving a gift card to the store where the registry is listed. Think creatively if you can’t spend a lot of money, it’s not about the dollar amount you spend, it is the thought that counts most. They’re probably more concerned you can show up for their big day than they are with some pricey gift anyway. Small and simple things can have the most impact or value when linked to the day and couple, such as an engraved picture frame or other unique and creative wedding gifts.

If the couple registered for a big-ticket item that’s a little to much for one person to afford, why not consider a group gift. Couples love group gifts because they most likely can’t afford those luxuries on their own. Also consider a theme idea, with multiple gifts, or an overnight mini staycation with dinner or spa.

Wedding experts agree on a couple of things: the closer you are to the bride or groom, the more you are expected to give, and do not give more than you can afford just because of the expectations. It’s a bad idea to use the price-per-plate as a measure for how much you should spend on the wedding gift, the location and cost of the reception should not be the burden of the guest.

Give what ever you think is appropriate to your budget and your relationship with the couple but a ballpark guide would be… A distant relative or co-worker, $75-$100; a friend or relative, $100-$125; a closer relative, up to $150.

With regards to the Plus-One Status, you don’t need to double the amount if you’re double the guests, but you should multiply your base number by 1.5. (So if you generally don’t go lower than $100 when you’re solo, don’t go lower than $150 if you have a plus-one.)

You should never feel bad if travel costs impact your gift budget. If you’re spending money on travel and hotel to be there on their day, that is a huge contribution already. It is more important that you give within your means.

Whatever you decide to give, do so with thoughtfulness and affection, because you were invited to a special event where your presence is considered important.

Kalmar says goodbye to a ‘magical, beautiful place’

Old Mill Toronto owner Michael Kalmar says goodbye to ‘a magical, beautiful place’

Party held to celebrate outgoing president and VP; new owner Frank De Luca promises a ‘seamless transition’

Old Mill Toronto is under new management. A reception was held in former owner Michael Kalmar’s honour Thursday evening to celebrate his 24-year contribution to the Toronto landmark. He is pictured here, at left, with new owner, Frank De Luca, a long time Etobicoke resident.

Family, friends and colleagues gathered Wednesday evening at the Old Mill Toronto for a final farewell party to bid adieu to its president Michael Kalmar and VP of finance Blain Parsons after more than two decades owning and operating the century-old landmark.

The iconic restaurant, hotel and banquet complex on the bank of the Humber River has been sold to a property management group directed by Frank De Luca, a long-time Etobicoke resident.

There was lots of reminiscing at the reception, held in the Old Mill’s Guildhall Room, July 23, that featured none other than acrobatics, even a mime, who welcomed celebrants at the hotel’s front entrance.

Those closest to Kalmar wouldn’t expect anything less to celebrate a man who is described as the life of the party.

“It’s better than a wedding,” Kalmar quipped, “because I know everyone here.”

After partaking in appetizers and beverages, guests were treated to a trip down memory lane through stories shared by Kalmar and Parsons’ long time friends and coworkers, as well as Kalmar’s son.

Natalie Bauer, Old Mill Toronto’s director of marketing, communications and events, called Kalmar a “fabulous leader, an extraordinary person, who I think is quite awesome.”

“I’m sad because when I think of the Old Mill, I’ll think of you. You’re one of the best mentors I’ve ever had,” Bauer said.

Catering manager Helen Weech expressed her mock frustration at Kalmar’s departure.

“I was supposed to retire before you,” she pretended to scold.

Wheech recalled when her office was situated directly below Kalmar’s and all the times she had to bang on the ceiling because it sounded like he was having a party. At the podium, Weech told of Parsons’ John Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever impersonation, which garnered laughter from her audience.

Kalmar’s son, Lorne, took a turn behind the microphone to share memories and express gratitude and pride for his father.

“I grew up here, running around. We consider this a second home,” Lorne said of the Old Mill, standing beside his two sisters, Rachel and Alana. “Even if it took our dad away from us a bit, he made up for it with free buffet food.”

He added, “This is quite emotional. I’m so grateful for all you’ve done. I’m so proud of you, dad.”

The Old Mill’s heritage and its integrity will remain, vowed new owner De Luca, who celebrated Wednesday evening, but chose not to speak, making sure the spotlight remained on Karlmar and Parsons.

De Luca stressed the change of ownership will be a “seamless transition” in a statement.

Recalling his many years with the mill, Parsons said, “It’s been a rewarding and wonderful journey.”

“I can honestly say, every morning when I came in here, I felt refreshed, invigorated. It’s a magical, beautiful place,” he said.

Where does one begin when trying to say thank you and goodbye, mused Kalmar, as he expressed his appreciation for the Old Mill’s management and staff. Kalmar paid tribute to its founder, Robert Home Smith, and his predecessor William Hodgson. He didn’t get emotional until acknowledging his late father, George “GK” Kalmar, with whom he purchased the Old Mill, in 1991. The duo would go on to expand the Old Mill to include a spa and hotel.

By Lisa Rainford 

It’s Business As Usual


  It’s Business As Usual At The Historic Old Mill Toronto
Now Under New Ownership

After 24 years owning and operating the century-old landmark Old Mill Toronto, Lark Hospitality President Michael Kalmar has announced sale of the iconic restaurant, hotel and banquet complex to a respected asset and property management group directed by Frank De Luca, long-time resident of Etobicoke.

Expressing mixed emotions at now “ending this chapter in the century-long ancestry of the Old Mill Toronto”, Kalmar cited “three distinctive elements functioning in harmonious collaboration over the past hundred years to bring this cherished aspect of our city’s cultural life to the international prominence it enjoys today:

“At the forefront were the visionaries, risk-takers, and entrepreneurs who guided growth and transformation of the ever- evolving complex throughout its existence – founder Robert Home Smith, followed by the dynamic William Hodgson, and latterly, George and Michael Kalmar, the father/son team who orchestrated the addition of a boutique hotel and spa in 2001, and established the Home Smith Bar which has become one of the city’s most popular jazz venues.

“Of primary importance, too, has been the generations of dedicated staff who have personified the value and importance of customer service as a guiding principle of Old Mill policies from our earliest beginnings.  And our loyal customers, a multi-generational roster who have enjoyed, and helped create the century of memorable experiences that enrich our history.”

Commenting on acquisition of the Old Mill Toronto and plans for its continuing operations,  principal Frank De Luca affirmed that it will be a “seamless transition”.  It will continue to be operated with respect for the establishment’s colorful heritage and a commitment to maintaining  the integrity of its current standing in the local, national, and global communities.  The vision for the future will reflect its celebrated history as a centre for the community.

For The Old Mill Toronto, contact:

Natalie Bauer – natalie.bauer@oldmilltoronto.ca      

Adam De Luca – adam.deluca@oldmilltoronto.ca


Let it be, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

Hotel guests of today are far more likely to be concerned about environmental issues such as recycling bottles, cans and paper at home as well as making greener lifestyle choices, such as organic food or fuel-efficient vehicles. As such, traveller’s today are concerned if their hotel is committed to environmental sustainability because travelling for leisure or business doesn’t mean we have to leave our green habits at home.

A “GREEN” hotel is an environmentally friendly property that take the initiative to implement very important practices and programs to reduce energy, water and waste. Hotels use an enormous amount of energy, collect an enormous amount of waste, and use a tremendous amount of water, it’s important that hotels embrace going GREEN and reduce the impact on our planet.

Ideas for going GREEN

Install thermostats & heating/air conditioning controllers in each room

Use non-toxic, earth friendly cleaning agents

Start a linen, towels and sheets, reuse program in all guest rooms

Implement fluorescent lighting. Use sensors /timers in frequently used areas

Switch to low flow toilets

Use low flow shower heads in guest rooms

Provide guests with bicycles, walking maps, information on public transportation

Apply window tint/film to reduce heating and air-conditioning demands in rooms

Educate staff & guests about going GREEN with brochures or signs for guests to follow

Use bulk soaps and toiletries (refillable dispensers)

Recycling baskets in all guest rooms, recycling bins in all public areas & back of house

Purchase Local Products 

Reduce food waste disposal

Implementing programs that involve management, employees, guests and the public to teach and encourage them to protect the environment and keep energy consumption to a minimum, hotels should create a ‘green team’ with the goal of continual improvement and scheduled re-evaluation and reporting.

The Old Mill Toronto has shown national industry leadership and commitment to protecting the environment through wide ranging policies & practices. We participate with the Green Key Eco-Rating program which is a rating system designed to recognize hotels for improving their environmental performance.

Valentine’s Day

Every year on February 14th, we exchange cards, candy, gifts or flowers with our special “valentine” all in the name of St. Valentine. But who is this mysterious saint and where did this tradition come from.

The day of romance we call Valentine’s Day is named for a Christian martyr and dates back to the 5th century, but has origins in the ancient Roman holiday Lupercalia, where young men randomly chose the name of a young girl to escort to the festivities. Pope Gelasius I recast this pagan festival as a Christian feast day circa 496, declaring February 14 to be St. Valentine’s Day.

The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Another legend has it that Valentine, imprisoned by Claudius, fell in love with the daughter of his jailer. Before he was executed, he allegedly sent her a letter signed “from your Valentine.” an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and–most importantly–romantic figure.

In addition to the United States, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia. In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated around the 17th century. By the middle of the 18th, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. 

In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as “scrap.” Today, according to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year.

This year why not make a special hand-made Valentines Day Card for your Valentine.

Baby Shower Planning

Traditionally baby showers are given for the families first child and only women were invited to “shower” the mother to be with gifts, celebrate new life and share their wisdom and knowledge of becoming a mother.  It was also considered that someone who is not a family member should throw the shower to avoid having it look like the family was asking for gifts.

Today anything goes and traditional rules are not followed as any relative, close friend, close co worker can plan an amazing baby shower both before or after the baby arrives, typically the last two months of pregnancy. And, although baby showers are predominantly still “for women only” holding a shower for both men and women is becoming more popular especially when it’s for the 2nd child.

When setting a date for the shower you should check with grand parents or other guests of honour to make sure they are available. It wouldn’t be good to send out invitations only to find that the most important guests can’t attend. Invitations should be sent at least 3 weeks in advance to an intimate number of friends and family.

Baby shower themes can also be great fun and sometimes helps to organize the party preparations, but are not necessary.  What about a tea party? Fancy table cloths, tea pots, plates and cups. Serve assorted teas, scones with clotted cream and jam, finger sandwiches etc. You can even theme your tea party; everything to do with pink or blue, of course that can only be done when you know what the mom to be is expecting.

Throw a long leisurely baby brunch shower! or how about breaking tradition and having a “Mommy Shower”. Instead of guests bringing baby gifts, everyone brings something to pamper the mommy, like chocolate, bubble bath, gift certificates for take out food, spa services, comfy clothes etc. If you opt not to have a theme, a simple, elegant bright decor with flowers are most appropriate, remember all eyes will be on the belly of the mom to be, so keep the decor simple and to a minimum.

Serving food at the shower is always easiest as a buffet. Serving finger foods allows your guests to try something different and by spreading small bowls around the party, allows guests to also mingle by moving around the room.  Keep food light and simple by serving such items as a veggie tray, fruit tray, keish, sandwiches, cheese & crackers, salads, deviled eggs, buns & cold cuts and lets not forget cute cupcakes. There is also no shame in pot-luck either!

Gift opening is the main event but baby shower games and prizes are always a fun way to create atmosphere and there are many games to choose from.  One unique idea referred to as “Diaper Extraordinaire” is simply putting together a gift basket filled with items like a bottle of wine and glasses, cheese and crackers, wine opener etc. and on your invitations write that there will be a draw for a gift basket that anyone would love. The price of a ticket is one small pack of diapers & wipes. Guests can enter as many times as they want. The lucky winner goes home with a beautiful basket while the mom to be will have a lot of  diapers that can be quite expensive.

When deciding on a gift sometimes practical versus cute for example can be the most invaluable.  Perhaps a group gift for those big-ticket items is the way to go – a stroller, car seat, portable crib, items that will endear you to the parents on a daily basis. Of course everyone wants to ooh and ahh at all the cute little outfits, blankets and booties. 

Send your guests home with a simple party favour. Perhaps something edible, like wrapped home made cookies or a boxed cup cake, a sweet ending to a beautiful shower and it’s a nice way for you to say “Thank you for coming”.


Old Mill Marks Centennial With New TTC Subway Sign

Old Mill marks centennial, honours area history with new TTC subway sign
TTC, MPP-elect Peter Milczyn partner on pictoral tribute


The Old Mill has made a name for itself over the past century as a place to celebrate milestone events, share family dinners and partake in afternoon tea.

It has become a fixture on the bank of the Humber River and cemented itself in Toronto residents’ family histories. While many people know of the Old Mill, fewer are familiar with its heritage, said its president Michael Kalmar.

“The story of the Old Mill is a wonderful story; it’s a good news story,” said Kalmar at a special reception to commemorate the centennial of the Old Mill, established Aug. 4, 1914.

In partnership with the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and with support from former Etobicoke-Lakeshore councillor and Liberal MPP-elect Peter Milczyn, The Old Mill unveiled a pictoral tribute to the early history of the Humber Valley and Kingsway area at the Old Mill subway station.

“What’s the tie in between the Old Mill and the TTC? Both are important conduits to the area,” said Kalmar during the afternoon reception Wednesday, June 18 that brought together decades-long staff members for the centennial event.

The new signage, permanently installed on walls of the east and westbound platforms of the Old Mill subway station, incorporates rare historic photographs and drawings that date back to the 1600s when Huron Indians made their homes on the banks of the Humber River to the early 1900s through the First World War and the Depression era.

“A picture tells a 1,000 words,” said Kalmar, who pointed out the Old Mill got its start as a community centre. Its founder, Robert Home Smith, who built the surrounding neighbourhoods, wanted a place where everyone in the community could come and socialize. Long before the invention of social media or the television, the Old Mill was where residents came to share news of the day, to be entertained and have afternoon tea, Kalmar said.

“Really, we’re just custodians of a wonderful tradition that we have to make sure carries on,” he said.

Natalie Bauer, director of marketing and events at the Old Mill, chose the photos that make up the words ‘Old Mill’ at its namesake subway station. She said with each letter, she wanted to tell a story. She began with photographs of the Huron Indians living along the river. She called the project “a great experience.”

The TTC’s Chief Customer Officer Chris Upfold said a project such as this one helps the transit commission create links to the communities it serves.

“This is a great thing for our customers, a great thing for the TTC. We’re excited to be a part of it,” he said.

Milczyn said the project creates a “link between a local institution, our community and the transit system, the very lifeblood of our city.”

Speaking to the staff, Milczyn thanked them for their “contribution to so many special events in people’s lives,” including his own wedding.

“The Old Mill has a special place in my heart and many people’s hearts,” he said.


Staff photo/MARY GAUDET

Employees of the Old Mill, each with decades of service to the company, gather around the new sign for Old Mill Station. The TTC and the Old Mill collaborated on the project that uses photographs from the 100 year history of the Old Mill and area to spell out the subway stop.

For further information about the Old Mill’s centennial, visit Centennial Celebrations

Story  By Lisa Rainford / Bloor West Villager

Backyard Entertaining

With the flowers starting to protrude above the ground, and the sun shining just enough to go outside with out bundling up, summertime is just around the corner and it’s a great time to plan getting together with friends and family to enjoy the outdoors. 

There are many ways to plan a successful backyard party, but the first thing to arrange is the perfect seating experience to allow everyone to be comfortable and engage in conversation.  If your entertaining a large crowd then smaller seating areas, scattered around the backyard will ensure that people will mingle and create different conversations that can be enjoyed by various people.

Setting the perfect decor for your backyard entertaining can be done with a simple string of patio lights or hanging lanterns. Light tiki torches around the garden and use votive candles to set the mood by placing them in small glass jars. Get creative with your table decor by using lightweight colourful tablecloths and brightly coloured paper napkins, which are easily disposable afterwards, and less time in cleaning up.

Providing music for your party is a great way to encourage fun. You can use your patio as a dance floor and keep the music near by so those that won’t to dance up a storm can. You can hire a DJ but if you do not want the added cost then plan ahead with top dance hits from your era downloaded on to your iPod or use your MP3 player or cd’s for everyone to enjoy dancing to.

Food at your party always seems to be the number one concern. Easy backyard entertaining is preferably done with a smart backyard buffet. Keep your menu light and simple, food should be yummy and easy to handle and the less you have to fuss the more time you get to spend with your guests.  Why not take advantage of your grill and have a few people to watch over grilling hotdogs and hamburgers. Don’t forget dessert, something perfect for a summers evening like fresh fruit kebobs and maybe some freshly whipped cream to dip into. Be sure to have plenty of finger foods on various tables around your garden and set up a self serve bar table complete with a cooler for ice, so everyone can help themselves to a drink.

Hospitality is the key to throwing a great party, welcoming your guests and making them feel good that they came. Chances are with great friends, just being together is all that’s important.

Specialty Burger Recipes to give your grill a thrill!

Great cocktails to serve at your next backyard party.

DJ services to help bring your Backyard entertainment to the next level.

“An Artist in Your Midst”

The Old Mill Toronto has a special place in the hearts of Torontonians, and as it celebrates its 100th anniversary a visit to the website was timely. As I scrolled through the site looking at the old photographs and reading the history of the Old Mill I felt compelled to share pertinent information about an artist who lived “in your midst”.

Clara Isabella Harris was an accomplished, prolific artist who lived in close proximity to the Old Mill Toronto. For forty years (1930’s -70’s) Clara and her husband Frederick, a commercial artist, lived at twenty-three Valleyview Gardens.


Title: “Clara Perry” (Self portrait before Clara married)

The exterior of the house looked like any other on the street except for one difference: the inside was a “full blown” artists’ den and thriving business.

As described in Fred’s diary:

March 27, 1938 – Clara had W. Scott to sit in afternoon
October 2, 1938 – designing cards, cutting canvases, making stretchers
November 22, 1938 – Evie had 20 school teachers in to see work & get cards
October 14, 1939 – Don, Gloria and Jack for class
April 15, 1941 – Cleaned studio

Clara was well trained. She studied under J.W. Beatty, a colleague and major influence on the Group of Seven Painters; portrait painter Archibald Barnes, George Agnew Reid, Manly MacDonald and William Cruikshank.

She studied at reputable institutions: the Ontario College of Art, the Port Hope Summer Art School (Affiliated with the Ontario College of Art) and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Clara exhibited in Canada and the U.S. with such notables as A. J. Casson, Franklin Carmichael, Emily Carr, Clarence Gagnon, A.Y. Jackson, Arthur Lismer, Paraskeva Clark, Frank Panabaker and Edward Potthast.

True to the “plein-air” method of painting Clara travelled long distances, in all seasons, in Canada and the U.S. Considering the cars and roads of the 1930’s these were serious undertakings. And to “top it off” she often went without Fred!

But Clara’s favourite spot to set up her easel was in her own backyard: the Humber River by the Old Mill. Clara captured the Humber in all its glory as well as surrounding areas. Through careful documentation she has left a significant historical and environmental record before colour photography was commonly used.

From Fred’s diary:

May 14, 1938 – “out to Humber River in morning” 

Title: “Berry Road at the Bottom of the Humber River”, Toronto


Title: “Church St., The Kingsway, Toronto, Morning, May 16, 1934”.


Title: “Summer on the Humber River, Toronto Ontario”.


Title: “Autumn on the Humber River, Toronto, Afternoon, October 15, 1935”.

I now live in the NYC area but return to Toronto regularly facing the reality that change is inevitable. But all is not lost. Clara Isabella Harris and the Old Mill Toronto share a common advantage. Their respective values are appreciated in what exists today and preserved in what is recorded on their websites. A “win-win situation”.

Verna McLean
Curator, Clara Harris Collection