After close to 50 years, beloved Beach doctor retires

Dr. Soni in his Beach Clinic office, February 22. PHOTO: Lara O'Keefe

After nearly five decades and treating close to 6,000 patients at the tiny but well-known Beach Clinic on Beech Avenue, Dr. Ebrahim Soni is retiring.

The beloved family physician arrived at the clinic in 1969 after immigrating from his home of Johannesburg, South Africa where he received his medical degree.

While he may seem like a natural now, Soni said becoming a doctor wasn’t initially on his radar. It was his older brother, who raised him after both parents passed away, who encouraged him to pursue this path.

“Our school year runs from January to December in South Africa,” Soni explained. “And in September of the year your school sends in your marks to the different universities.”

In September of that year, his brother reminded him it was time to apply to the universities.

“I was good at math and I said, ‘I want to do mathematics.’ His next words to me were, ‘I think we’ll apply for medicine,’ even though he had asked me what I wanted to do. But I didn’t question his wisdom.”

Citing his grades, Soni said he was convinced he would not get into medical school. But much to his surprise, he received a note in January announcing that he had been accepted into a medical program.

Soni completed his residency in 1962 in a Johannesburg hospital and, one year later, opened his own family practice in the city. But his fate would change a few years later when he was offered a scholarship by the DeBeers foundation to practice pediatrics in London, England.

As he was preparing to travel to London in order to finalize the details of his scholarship and practice, Soni spoke to a friend who had recently returned from Toronto.

“He said to me, I would advise you to take a look at Toronto as well. So I added Toronto to the itinerary,” he said.

While he was looking forward to visiting Canada, he had no intention of changing his UK plans.

“I came to Toronto and I went to the immigration officer … he took my passport and said, ‘What work do you do?’ And I said to him, ‘I’m a family practitioner.’ And he says, ‘I hope you like this country and I hope you stay,’” recalls Soni. “What an introduction! My god, I couldn’t believe it, you know?”

It was such a positive introduction that shortly after returning to South Africa, Soni made the bold decision to turn down the DeBeers scholarship and leave his established family practice in Johannesburg in order to move to Toronto.

Soni explained that one of the other reasons he made the decision to leave the country was more reactive. At the time, South Africa functioned on an apartheid system – a political and social system that focused on systematic racial segregation.

“The government decided that they would remove all the non-whites out of Johannesburg,” he said. “It’s a city of three million people. So they were moving all the Indians 20 miles away from Johannesburg to an Indian area. And I thought, that’s enough. My daughter was still a young baby and I thought, I’m not going to subject her to that.”

Still, leaving was not an easy decision to make. All of his siblings planned to remain in South Africa and “we were a big family. Ten kids – five boys, five girls – and no TV in those days.”

But despite leaving his family behind, Soni said Toronto is his home. The city’s open, welcoming community made him feel immediately at ease in the city and at the Beach Clinic, where a friend of his had been working.

“I was so comfortable treating the people and coming from an apartheid background – you have to understand that everything in South Africa is purely on a race basis. You’re always classified based on race, i.e. no matter what you are. Whether you’re a doctor, doesn’t matter. I came here and I started at the practice and I thought, my god what nice people.”

And it is the experiences with those nice people he will miss the most, he said.

“As much as the patients think that you’ve done a lot for them – I’ll tell you something – they’ve done a lot for me,” he said. “The mere fact that they’ve come to me, and they’re lovely people … I had more fun and enjoyment out of them, seeing them for whatever they were going through.”

That loyalty and appreciation is mutual. Soni’s patients are from the Beach and area, but they also visit from all over – Barrie, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Niagara, Hamilton, many who were used to the clinic and moved away, but still come back.

Some of those patients might be surprised to learn that for the first time in 65 years, Beach Clinic will be without a doctor. With Soni’s impending retirement, Dr. Yanofsky – the other doctor at the clinic – decided to move his practice slightly north to Main Street and Danforth Avenue.

While his retirement officially began on February 28, Soni said he’ll spend the next month or so clearing out the office.

It’s a task he hopes will help him ease into his retirement since, he joked, tapping the side of his head, “there’s a clock built in here. So I’ll still wake up at the same time.”

Musing about his next steps, he smiled as he said, “so that’s what I’m going to do. I’ll probably have to find a hobby, [and] I’m going to spend some time with the grandkids.”

 

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24 comments

Good bye Doctor Soni! You were always a kind and gentle hand, in the midst of sickness, and times of personal strife.
Your care was capable of minimizing what seemed to be the end of the world at times, ensuring a rational explanation for very irrational hypochondriac webmd’ing.
You were a great doctor to me.
I wish you the best retirement, and I know your grandkids will feel safe and cared for in your presence.
Take care good doctor.

Congrats on ur retirement from ur other daughter , Jennifer Whiteside !! Love and miss u always . ❤❤❤

Dr. Soni, is an incredible man! I moved away from the Beaches in 2009 and have missed our conversations very much. He was our Family Doctor. He treated both my parents and helped my Mother after my Father passed away. When my Mom got sick he helped my Brother and I make the best decisions for her care. Dr. Soni always made me feel comfortable like you were catching up with an old friend. My brother continued to see him and every time he would Dr. Soni would ask about me. We live in a time where people are always in a rush and Dr. Soni always took his time and made you feel important. I have tremendous respect for him and wish him the very best! Thank you for taking care off all us.

Kelly Smith

There are not enough words to express the gratitude that my family (Slaney’s) feel for having such a wonderful, reliable doctor in our lives for so long. Dr. Soni has always gone above and beyond for our family, he will be sorely missed

Farewell old friend. You were there when I was just an infant. You have taken care of my family from my parents to my children and will be greatly missed. Enjoy your time and I am sure that your family will be glad to have you around more often. You have cared for many of us,now is your time.

Dr Soni has been an integral part of my very being. From being present from the day I was born to all the coughs, colds, bumps and bruises and my journey into adulthood and improving my physical and mental health. You will be missed Dr. Soni! Congratulations on your retirement!

I haven’t seen Dr. Soni in more than 20 years since I’ve moved away from the Beaches, but I have fond memories of him from my childhood. He was the most inviting, approachable doctor that I ever had and since I’ve moved from the Beaches, my search for another Dr. Soni has been unsuccessful. Never have I found another doctor like him. He had treated my parents, all 9 of my siblings and all my nieces and nephews who still live in the Beaches. He will be missed by them but I am used to it….I’ve been missing him since I moved away! Good luck Dr. Soni – Mari Scott (nee Nicholls)

Wow, well done sir. Best wishes for a long and well deserved retirement.

I still remember when you were the new doctor at the clinic.

Congratulations Dr. Soni on your retirement!
Although I have been gone from the Beach longer now for about 27yrs, as soon as I saw the story and picture I instantly remembered you. I came to see you for a wide variety of minor issues, and you were always such a caring man. Thank you for all that treatment oh so many years ago! I hope you find something to keep your mind and body active for your well deserved retirement.

Doctor Soni. Thank you for thirty years of amazing care and friendship. You were always there for our family with a smile and words of compassion whatever the problem. We wish you a wonderful retirement and many years of happiness. You deserve it!

On behalf of Heather, Sandra, Laura, Sam, Grace, Jordan and Vince MacDonald, Thank You Dr Soni from the bottom of our hearts. We have been blessed with the finest family doctor in the land. Congratulations on your exceptional career. We wish you peace and love always.

Dr. Soni, both my two children, Julia and Bill were ill and my sister-in-law Pam Bentley worked at your Clinic and said what an amazing doctor you were. You immediately recognized their health issues and I knew you were the most compassionate doctor I could find for myself and my children. You also treated me and spoke with such sincere kindness and always took the time to listen.
I know you have continued to be my son, Bill’s doctor and we all shall never forget you. Wishing you wonderful joy and happiness in your retirement

Dr Soni, has been my wife Deborah and I and our 7 children Viola,Brittany,Heidi,Matthias,Samuel,Emma and Josiah’s doctor for a span of 42 years. In that time we moved to Stouffville,Courtice and Oshawa, but Dr Soni always would be our doctor getting another doctor was out of the question.Thank you for your dedication and love of your profession not just for my family but also the thousands of lives you touched and the many seniors you visited on your own time.You will be sadly/ happily missed . Enjoy your retirement with your family you deserve it.

Farewell Dr. Soni, you provided the required physical exam for my landed immigrant status in 1969, and then years later you provided me with very excellent ongoing care.
Take care, and I hope that you find fulfillment in what comes next.

Thank you for everything Dr. Soni!! You are such a kind lovely person and you will be greatly missed. Enjoy your retirement!!

Dr.Soni, first of all, congratulations on your retirement. You signed me out of the hospital! When I grew up and moved way, I brought my own children to meet you. I have two grandchildren myself now.
In all the years that I knew you , you were the kindest, most soft spoken, knowledgeable gentleman that I had the privilege to have as my family Dr.
I pray for a long, happy and healthy retirement for you. God bless you. P.S. I’m sorry I told you that you hurt me when you sewed my stitches into my chin when I was 4! Yes I still remember and I still remember the devastated look on your face when I said that to you! lol
With loving respect,
Stephanie (Ball) Klaamas xoxo

Thank you Dr. Soni for your compassion and service to my family and I for the last 45 years, it has been a pleasure knowing you
Take care and happy retirement

Love, Love Love Dr. Soni or as my son when a toddler called him, Mr. Soni. Thank you for always taking the extra time in caring for the Slaney Clan. We have been through some terrible and good times together. You will be greatly missed. Hope to see you around. Have a great retirement and enjoy those grandchildren. xoxoxo

To the most compassionate and caring doctor I have ever known Dr Soni , I am so sad to hear you are retiring but on the same note very happy you are finally taking some well deserved time for yourself and your family. I can remember you looking after me as a very young child ( and now I am 52 ) and my beautiful Mom Angie Adamo and my dear Dad Nickolas Adamo and my sisters Joanne and Tina ! You were only a phone call away as my Mom always said . You truly were a God sent for The Adamo Family. You were the Best Dr Soni and you will be greatly missed . Enjoy your retirement!!! All the very Best to you and your Family!! Xoxoxo

Happy ritirement Dr Soni you have taken care of our family for over 40 Years when you took over the patienrs of Dr pervis now Im just wondering who is taking all your patients my Brother is very sick and has no family Dr

I wish you the very best retirement DR. SONI. We have been friends at your office for 49 years. Many good thoughts and smiles were shared with you.

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