Profile: “Button King” Sam Sterling (1983)

Condensed from The Canadian Jewish News, July 28, 1983

Sam Sterling was named Man of the Year of the Fashion Industry by the Fashion Division of State of Israel Bonds despite the fact that Sterling has never visited Israel, Frank Rasky wrote.

Sterling — the courtly 66-year-old “Button King” of Toronto’s garment trade — was still the unanimous choice of the selection committee because he has been an ardent booster of Israel since he was a ten-year-old delivery boy.

He used to deliver goods for a grocery store, butcher and drugstore on Manning Avenue, charging a dime per run, and earning $3 on a good night. He would give ten per cent of his take to Zionist organizations.

His parents, Jacob and Minnie Sterling, ran the Sterling Bagel & Challah Bakery at 110 Elizabeth Street.

President of Sterling Button Ltd., Sterling Pleating and the Opera Belt Company, Sam Sterling has been involved in the garment industry for half a century. He began at age sixteen as a $3-a-week salesman.

In an interview, Sterling said that his lifelong commitment to both Israel and tzedaka (charity) came from his maternal grandfather, Michael Posner, who was a house painter in Kiev and who helped found the Kiever Orthodox Synagogue on Bellevue Avenue.

“He was a distinguished looking man, recognized by everybody in the Ward around St. Patrick Street and Elizabeth,” Sterling said. “He was six feet tall, with a brass-headed cane, a long black silk coat and flowing black beard, and he was the most important influence in my life.

“He taught me never to talk about charity you performed. And he inspired me with his far-sighted vision of a homeland for the Jews. I was so impressed by his fervor I joined a Children’s Zionist Club at the old Talmud Torah on Brunswick Avenue.”

Sterling founded Sterling Buttons and Pleating Company on King Street at John with $500 in capital. His staff consisted of himself and his wife, Ruth nee Schumacher, who had previously assisted her father at the Punch Dry pop-bottling company at Augusta and Oxford.

Sterling developed the Sterling group of companies, which now has 100 employees
and branches in Montreal and Winnipeg. ♦