George Takei: touring transit and delivering gifts

“A number of people came up to George and said things like ‘Excuse me, you look like Sulu from Star Trek’ and he would reply ‘No, that’s not me, I’m not Sulu.’” — Debra Pearse Hartery

George Takei pursued a couple of personal projects while in Toronto. “You could never keep track of George, because he was always off doing something,” said volunteer Keith Williams. 

Photo by Richard McDonald

Takei was on the board of the Southern California Rapid Transit district from 1973 to 1984, appointed by the mayor at the time, Tom Bradley. Toronto was a public-transit leader then and Takei wanted someone to show him around the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission). Peter McGarvey asked his brother to be the tour guide, as Doug too was interested in transit and had been a member of a TTC citizen advisory board. 

“The TTC was the best transit system in North America at that time,” Doug McGarvey said. “A lot of the American cities had gone to freeways and torn up the streetcar tracks and Toronto was one of the last places with them. We were building subways when most of North America was building freeway systems.” 

George Takei, wearing a very 70s suit, is seen being interviewed by two people holding microphones.
Talking to the media. Photo by Frank Goodman

They headed out on a sunny Saturday afternoon. “We took the subway at Union Station up to St. Clair and I showed him the different rolling stock at the platform at St. Clair station, streetcars and buses, and we took one of the last runs up Mount Pleasant while they still had a streetcar, up to Eglinton, and a trolley bus up to Lawrence. He was very interested in the different types of rolling stock and the details of things like advertising and where to find extra revenue to fund the transit system.

A scan of a 1976 TTC transit map.

“We ended up at Yorkville (a posh shopping district) at a sidewalk bistro and people were coming up asking us for autographs. That is the only time in my life I have been asked for an autograph and the person would not take no for an answer. I said ‘I’m not famous’ but I guess I was sitting with George so they figured I must be famous. People stargaze in Yorkville and they were looking for celebrities, and they found one.  

The badges given out to convention organizers, guests, and attendees were black plastic frames with a card bearing the convention logo, dates, and a space for writing the person's name.

“We’re sitting at that bistro and other people were asking for autographs and I had a pad of paper in my backpack and so I said, ‘Well, I guess I might as well ask for your autograph too.’ It looks like I folded it up and put it right into my pocket. I wasn’t really an autograph collector. 

“All I have from the convention is my badge and that one autograph from George.”

A page of stationary with Doug McGarvey's name at the top, with a handwritten message and signature from George Tekei.
"It was a grand tour of a lovely city with a fine transit system. Much thanx and fond best wishes.
George Takei"

Strangers on a train

Takei also traveled on the GO Train, the commuter train system in the Greater Toronto Area. This time he was accompanied by Debra Pearse Hartery. 

“I rode with George from Toronto to Oakville just after the convention because he was going to meet his aunt and uncle and he wanted to take transit there.” He had flown into Toronto with a gift: a full-sized pinball machine, imported from Japan.

“On the way to Oakville, a number of people came up to George and said things like ‘Excuse me, you look like Sulu from Star Trek’ and he would reply ‘No, that’s not me, I’m not Sulu’ and they would be amazed. ‘You look so much like him.’ He told me later that he had to tell people that because otherwise ‘We would be overrun with people.’

“People kept wanting to touch George, like he was an idol.”

Hartery made sure Takei found his relatives at the station but never learned if the pinball machine they later collected at the airport actually fit onto the uncle’s car.

Star Trek actor George Takei on stage, in a long shot.
Takei on stage. Photo by Joseph Aspler

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