Scotland 2015

Pollok Park, Glasgow 2015
Pollok Park, Glasgow 2015
Burrell Collection, Glagow 2015
Burrell Collection, Glagow 2015
Burrell Collection, Glasgow 2015
Burrell Collection, Glasgow 2015
Burrell Collection, Glasgow 2015
Burrell Collection, Glasgow 2015
Merchant City, Glasgow 2015
Merchant City, Glasgow 2015
The Kelpies, Falkirk 2015
The Kelpies, Falkirk 2015
Garden Water Bowl, 2015
Garden Water Bowl, 2015
Garden Water Bowl, 2015
Garden Water Bowl, 2015
New Lanark, 2015
New Lanark, 2015
Capelrig Burn, 2015
Capelrig Burn, 2015
Rouken Glen Park, 2015
Rouken Glen Park, 2015
Rouken Glen Park, 2015
Rouken Glen Park, 2015
Rouken Glen Park, 2015
Rouken Glen Park, 2015
Rouken Glen Park, 2015
Rouken Glen Park, 2015
Rouken Glen Park, 2015
Rouken Glen Park, 2015

The Tapir’s Night Journey Downstream (Collage and Poem)

RAINE_CATHERINE_TAPIRCOLLAGE

Response to the Tapir’s Night Journey Downstream

Transitions define my body.

Look how the current splashes my legs turquoise,

the moon silks my chest,

and wild solitude cools my nimbus to blue, white, and lavender.

Behold the purple eye that guides my canoe down the Amazon,

riding the night rapids in a dream of passages, openings, and

confluence.

And see how curving shapes in the dark transport me to waterways

that empty into wider and wider rivers

until the open Atlantic receives my vessel at journey’s end.

Shipwrecks and Voyages: A Collage Journey by Catherine

Shipwrecks Tilting on the Ice, Catherine Raine 2015
Shipwrecks Tilting on the Ice, Catherine Raine 2015

In this collage series inspired by sea and river voyages, shipwrecks tilt on the ice, abstract shapes go swimming, and an arctic hare chews on a twig. Meanwhile, a famous Norwegian explorer inhabits a turnip-shaped kayak, and a tapir chooses a canoe for his journey downstream.

Shipwrecks Tilting on the Ice, Catherine Raine 2015
Shipwrecks Tilting on the Ice, Catherine Raine 2015
Butterfly Swimmer, Catherine Raine 2015
Butterfly Swimmer, Catherine Raine 2015
Butterfly Swimmer, Catherine Raine 2015
Butterfly Swimmer, Catherine Raine 2015
Arctic Hare's Luncheon Scrapbook, Catherine Raine 2015
Arctic Hare’s Luncheon Scrapbook, Catherine Raine 2015
Arctic Hare's Luncheon Scrapbook, Catherine Raine 2015
Arctic Hare’s Luncheon Scrapbook, Catherine Raine 2015
Arctic Hare's Luncheon Scrapbook, Catherine Raine 2015
Arctic Hare’s Luncheon Scrapbook, Catherine Raine 2015
Amundsen's Kayak, Catherine Raine, 2015
Amundsen’s Kayak, Catherine Raine, 2015
The Tapir's Canoe Journey, Catherine Raine 2015
The Tapir’s Night Journey Downstream, Catherine Raine 2015
The Tapir's Canoe Journey, Catherine Raine 2015
The Tapir’s Night Journey Downstream, Catherine Raine 2015
Shipwreck Blues and Grays, Catherine Raine 2015
Shipwreck Blues and Grays, Catherine Raine 2015
Shipwreck Blues and Grays, Catherine Raine 2015
Shipwreck Blues and Grays, Catherine Raine 2015
Shipwreck Blues and Grays, Catherine Raine 2015
Shipwreck Blues and Grays, Catherine Raine 2015
Shipwreck Blues and Grays, Catherine Raine 2015
Shipwreck Blues and Grays, Catherine Raine 2015
Shipwreck Sonogram, Catherine Raine 2015
Shipwreck Sonogram, Catherine Raine 2015
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Shipwreck Sonogram, Catherine Raine 2015
Shipwreck Sonogram, Catherine Raine 2015
Shipwreck Sonogram, Catherine Raine 2015
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Shipwreck Sonogram, Catherine Raine 2015
Arctic Map, Catherine Raine 2015
Arctic Map, Catherine Raine 2015
Arctic Map, Catherine Raine 2015
Arctic Map, Catherine Raine 2015
Funky Ice Masses, Catherine Raine 2015
Funky Ice Masses, Catherine Raine 2015
Funky Ice Masses, Catherine Raine 2015
Funky Ice Masses, Catherine Raine 2015
Fram's Homage to Yamato-Gata, Catherine Raine 2015
Fram’s Homage to Yamato-Gata, Catherine Raine 2015
Fram's Homage to Yamato-Gata, Catherine Raine 2015
Fram’s Homage to Yamato-Gata, Catherine Raine 2015
Lingonberry Fram, Catherine Raine 2015
Lingonberry Fram, Catherine Raine 2015
Lingonberry Fram, Catherine Raine 2015
Lingonberry Fram, Catherine Raine 2015
Random Frams, Catherine Raine 2015
Random Frams, Catherine Raine 2015
Random Frams, Catherine Raine 2015
Random Frams, Catherine Raine 2015
Amundsen's Groovy Sloop, Catherine Raine 2015
Amundsen’s Groovy Sloop, Catherine Raine 2015
Amundsen's Groovy Sloop, Catherine Raine 2015
Amundsen’s Groovy Sloop, Catherine Raine 2015
Amundsen's Groovy Sloop, Catherine Raine 2015
Amundsen’s Groovy Sloop, Catherine Raine 2015
Shapes of Wreckage, Catherine Raine 2016
Shapes of Wreckage, Catherine Raine 2016
Shapes of Wreckage, Catherine Raine 2016
Shapes of Wreckage, Catherine Raine 2016

Picture Your Success!

Facilitating several collage workshops on the theme of “Picture Your Success” was a rewarding experience, especially when I saw how much the resulting artwork meant to the participants. I love the colours, stories, and messages contained in the collages featured below. They help me picture peace, fun, success, hope, freedom, love, and inspiration!

Fatima's Collage
Fatima’s Collage
Jennifer's Collage
Jennifer’s Collage
Mohammed's Collage
Mohammed’s Collage
Beth's Collage
Beth’s Collage
Manleen's Collage
Manleen’s Collage
Rebecca's Collage
Rebecca’s Collage
Shruti's Collage
Shruti’s Collage

Evening and Morning at Parkdale Library (1964)

2012

On my way to see a friend’s exhibit on Queen Street West one winter evening in 2008, a blue and white TPL sign stopped me in my tracks. Not wanting to waste a library-visit opportunity, I took a quick art detour to Parkdale Library, which was the 45th branch on my pilgrimage. (Four years after this evening visit, I returned to the site with my camera).

To walk into a warm library on a cold night is very comforting, like visiting a favourite aunt after a neighborhood snowball fight. She naturally offers you hot chocolate and fusses over how chilled you are.

Hot chocolate wasn’t available at Parkdale, but its main level had a vibrant mural that nourished the eyes with colourful shapes. Though the shapes were abstract, I could still identify a whale, a cow, a bird, and some eggs. (I liked how the clock seemed more egg-like than most clocks because of its proximity to the mural eggs).

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On the west side of the library, I saw a homework room, two quiet study rooms, and a community outreach office. In this office, a staff member was talking to numerous clients in a friendly, respectful manner.

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Along the south wall and part of the east wall were books in Vietnamese, Polish, Gujurati, French, Russian, Spanish, and Chinese. (On my 2012 visit, I saw Tibetan and Tamil books but not Russian ones).

I was impressed by the variety of activity at Parkdale Library. For example, I observed a computer class in progress, three men discussing social issues at a study table, and all of the children’s computers in use. The homework room hosted two families studying intently, and one student was camped out near a potted palm in an armchair, his books, notebooks, and backpack strewn about comfortably. With so much light and energy inside, the room was a haven in contrast to the cold and darkness outside I experienced on my initial visit to Parkdale.

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As I exited the library after my second trip, I noticed an art-gate that had escaped my attention previously (even when I passed it on the way to a Gaga Dance program earlier in 2012). A companion piece to the globe sculpture outside, it was decorated with eight red book spines that bore an unfortunate resemblance to dynamite. The books represented eight countries: Sweden, Russia, France, Slovak, Spain (with the “s” scraped off by a vandal), Italy, Germany, and Poland.

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2012

Thinking I had finished my blog work, I started walking east along Queen Street West. I had tucked my camera away too soon, though, for a mural by Maureen Walton next to the library building immediately captivated me. It was the perfect visual to summarize a morning immersed in the dynamic urban creativity of Parkdale!

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Forest Hill (1962): A Library with a Crest

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Forest Hill branch presides on a rise of land located on the north side of Eglinton Avenue West, just east of Bathurst. It has a wide central aisle flanked by four large arches that span rows of shelving. Each arch contains a wavy piece of metal, and silver mesh occupies the space between the curved metal and the apex of the arch.

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I enjoyed walking down the main aisle, noting the large fiction collection, young adult nook furnished with a red recliner, solid ESL offerings, and a Hebrew and Yiddish section. Apart from some kits for learning Russian and French, Forest Hill branch didn’t have the diverse multilingual collections I was used to seeing in Scarborough.

Without a patron or stroller in sight, the Forest Hill children’s section was completely quiet. A forlorn train set rested on a ledge above the raised and semi-enclosed pre-school area. The train’s body was composed of five boxes in varying sizes and covered in fading red, yellow, and blue construction paper. The sixth box, the engine car, was decorated in black and sprouted a paper-towel spool for a chimney. For steam, an opaque white plastic bag puffed out of the chimney. All six boxes carried a word, which together announced, “All Aboard the Forest Hill Express!”

Looking through open window of pre-school area to the north windows in the children’s section. Photo taken in 2012.

On my second visit, the train had left the station permanently, but many positive features remained. I liked the ivy on the windows, the wall-hanging with a Medieval crest, and the sculpture of a bear mama and her cubs in the pre-school room.

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The rewards of return also netted peaceful views of the newspaper reading area, yellow frames of sturdy study carrels, and an empty program room with chickens roosting on the puppet theatre.

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After I left Forest Hill Library, I walked in a small garden that helped the branch earn its name, for the pines and rocks evoked a forest so successfully that I tuned out the insistent traffic on Eglinton Avenue.

Forest Hill, thank you for your green arches, folksy crest, and theatrical poultry! Your garden and quiet shelves offer peace in the wilderness of chaotic urban life.

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Welcome to Saint Clair/Silverthorn (1981)

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To reach Saint Clair/Silverthorn, I travelled to Saint Clair West subway station and caught the westbound 512 bus. Then I rode along Saint Clair West until I heard the automated announcement for Silverthorn. Familiar blue TPL lettering on a white sign soon caught my eye, making feel at home in a neighbourhood that was unknown.

Similar to Mount Pleasant, Saint Lawrence, and Kennedy/Eglinton branches, Saint Clair/Silverthorn occupied a storefront building, Consisting of one large room, it had a friendly scholastic atmosphere that seemed to say, “Come on in and do your homework!”

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Apart from the pretty fern pattern on the carpet and a window bench, the library’s interior decor was somewhat bland, especially compared to the previous branch I had visited, Wychwood Library. However, on my second visit, I noticed a fine specimen of a pumpkin and ghoulish characters strung on fishing line that enlivened the atmosphere.

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Saint Clair/Silverthorn’s energy increased dramatically when a kindergarten class from across the street arrived for a program. As the group assembled near the entrance, a child belted out a happy greeting to the pumpkin by just hollering, “PUMPKIN!”

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2012

The uncarved Jack-o’-lantern was in better shape than some unfortunate Halloween creatures who had fallen behind the bench that doubled as a low bookcase and perch to watch passing streetcars. From the rusty vent below, a ghost cried out for help.

Help!

On the opposite end of the library from the hapless ghost, three shelves were reserved for the ESL collection. As part of the collection, ESL kits, abridged readers, and TOEFL study guides hung from two silver rods by the handles of tough plastic bags.

Four other shelves showed off an impressive selection of graphic novels, and nearby were lots of romance novels and books in Portuguese.

Two titles from the Romance collection stood out: “Three Brides for Three Bad Boys” and “Wrangling the Redhead.” Even though I wanted to wrangle the editor who had approved such a sexist titles, I was nevertheless grateful to Saint Clair/Silverthorn for its welcoming atmosphere, wooden window-bench, and Halloween whimsy.

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A photography visit in 2015 increased my gratitude to the library, for it provided the visual gift of two storefront displays that celebrated Black History Month and Chinese New Year. Thank you, Saint Clair/Silverthorn for rounding out the seasons with your commitment to community education!

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Hello New Toronto (1994)!

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To enter New Toronto Library, I passed under a silver scaffold in the shape of a steeple. Then I emerged into one lovely long hall that looked like the nave of a modest yet funky cathedral with giant orange slices arching overhead.

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Potted palms standing tall in so much open space created a very upbeat and oxygen-rich atmosphere. For this admiring patron, New Toronto summoned a host of adjectives: hopeful, clean, modern, cheery, open, orange, green, brown, and cream.

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2012

In the east wing of the library, a display of banned books celebrated freedom of speech with titles such as Huckleberry Finn, Harry Potter, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Color Purple. I also studied a colourful exhibit of children’s bookmarks and selected “Books Open Your Heart” and “Make Peace with Books” as my favourites.

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Side wings lined the open central hall, and I enjoyed dipping in and out of them like a bespectacled hummingbird, selecting an art book here, a DVD about Venice there, and admiring the ESL, French and Polish collections.

I could have happily spent more time in this uplifting library, but a few more branches awaited visits. The second time I called on New Toronto, I had the luxury of spending an entire Saturday morning there, allowing me to notice details such as the literacy-building carpet, a Halloween tableau, and a shiny bell in the rain outside.

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Thank you, New Toronto, for your imaginative architecture, anti-censorship display, and jolly orange slices!

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Once Upon a Long Branch (1955)

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The moment I stepped into Long Branch Library, I was drawn to the “Once Upon a Time” display in the lobby. A librarian had painstakingly assembled large colorful storybooks that rested on stands, and underneath them lay a magical collection of characters and objects from the collective unconscious.

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With auburn hair flowing wild, Sleeping Beauty lay on her life-in-death bed, the fateful spinning wheel nearby — all entangled in vines upon vines of roses. One glass slipper waited near Cinderella, and a sorely tested princess tried to sleep on top of nine multicolored pallets. Finally, a castle glowed inside a snow globe near a dragon, a unicorn, and a pop-up castle book in three dimensions.

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Moving into the main body of the library, it cheered me to see how it upheld the artistic standards of the enchanted lobby. In this respect, Long Branch reminded me of Woodside Square, and not only because it had windows with same nautical flair as their Scarborough cousins. What made Long Branch’s interior so stylish, even glamorous, was a combination of aesthetic details: walls the dun color of Lascaux-cave horses, lava lamps in the teen zone, and gorgeous light boxes in the style of Charles Rennie MacIntosh.

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With gray skies outside and dim lighting within, a groovy moodiness prevailed, making the act of browsing the Polish and ESL sections seem downright cinematic. I wanted stay longer at Long Branch, but I needed to visit another library before Saturday got away from me.

As I walked to the front entrance, I passed a black ceramic panther preparing to pounce from a tall shelf. And when I went outside, I admired a sculpture over the door that embodied the state of complete absorption in a book. Even the letters of the Long Branch sign lilted artistically over the entrance, welcoming readers into a sanctuary for the imagination.

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Alderwood Library (1999): Dispatch from the Southwestern TPL Frontier

2012

Sharing residence with a community centre and French-immersion school, Alderwood branch is located across a wide hallway from Alderwood Pool. A huffing fairy-tale loup could never hope to blow down this huge open rectangle of a library, as its exterior walls are made of giant bricks.

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At first I couldn’t identify why this branch seemed so familiar until I realized that it was a school library as well as a Toronto Public Library. The white bricks and the formal atmosphere reminded me of my own elementary school library from back in the day.

In the corner closest to Sir Adam Beck School was a well-stocked selection of French materials for children. A “Class in Progress” sign was at the ready for the beginning of the school day, and as groups of kids arrived at regular intervals, their teachers called for quiet, saying, “Remember that this is a li-brary!”

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French books were also plentiful in the general part of the branch, joining a robust Romance collection.

Thanks to the picture of La Valise du mort, I’m going to be extra vigilant around valises from now on.

Although Alderwood had initially seemed somewhat institutional, a closer look revealed many craft creations that warmed the place up. They included a cardboard Casa Loma replica, a model forest in a box (complete with rock cave), and a Polish castle with pebbles pasted on the exterior.

Casa Loma by Maya Cervantes. Photo taken in 2012.
Chateau Moszna, Warsaw Pologne by Anna. Photo taken in 2012.

On my second visit to Alderwood, I was taken by a woodland diorama with a dinosaur painted to look like a badger or raccoon, a castle with outbuildings made from Hershey’s 100 Calorie Snacks, and a truly wonderful Humber Bay Bridge.

Unknown artist. Photo taken in 2012.
Calorie-conscious Medieval outbuildings. Photo taken in 2012.
Le Pont Humber Bay by Christina G. Photo taken in 2012.

Adding further texture to the scene were two men absorbed in a game of chess, an elderly man sleeping under a life-sized plastic tree, and a masked troll in a chair surrounded by autumnal icons.

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As this post nears its conclusion, I’d like to compliment Alderwood Library on its clever hanging rack for ESL kits. These kits come in tough plastic bags with handles that click into place and can be hung from rods. In most libraries, the kits hang all in a row like shirts in a closet, but Alderwood’s rack was designed such that language-learning patrons could easily access the kits from four different angles. Having frequently wrestled with kits mashed together into an unreadable mass, I greatly appreciated this innovation in rack-design.

Even though Alderwood has menacing suitcases and alarming trolls, its accessible ESL rack, charming castles, and generous windows offer much to attract visitors to this branch in the southwest corner of the TPL library map.

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Humber Bay Library (1951): A Jazzy Cabin with an Ivy Nook

2012

Humber Bay, the 69th Toronto Public Library on my quest, came packaged in a compact square building with dark wooden siding on part of its exterior. I liked how the siding created a jazzy-cabin effect.

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The wood motif was repeated inside the library, most prominently in the sturdy check-out station. There, several librarians were performing their duties in a massive oaken puppet theatre. Dark beams loomed over their heads, rested below their hands, and composed the broad columns that framed the desk. (On my second visit, I apologized to the staff for comparing them to puppets, and they graciously assured me there were no hard feelings).

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Despite the prevalence of heavy wood and the building’s low ceiling, Humber Bay was by no means claustrophobic, thanks to an east wall composed almost entirely of glass and a trio of windows overlooking a garden. A low wooden reading bench with books tucked underneath served to create a charming ivy nook.

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A small but well-furnished branch, Humber Bay offered its patrons books in Russian and Polish in addition to the standard library materials.

In the children’s section was a display featuring the local winners of a bookmark design contest. I especially liked the one that had a Christmas tree reading a book about Christmas at the top of the bookmark. Below the tree floated a blue ghost learning about Halloween. Next down was a turkey studying a Thanksgiving text, followed by a heart, a bookish birthday present, an egg, and a literate shamrock. They all looked happy, even the turkey.

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Near the end of my stay at Humber Bay, I sat at a table near the streetside window and wrote down some words to characterize the library: simple, manageable, light-filled, wholesome, enclosed, reserved, and ivy-blessed. Thank you, Humber Bay, for being the best jazzy cabin with an ivy nook I have ever visited!

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Lively Danforth/Coxwell (1989)

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From the moment I walked in the door of Danforth/Coxwell branch, its compelling energy was palpable. Kids raced around to gather books, strollers abounded, and every corner of the building hosted a patron. Danforth/Coxwell was the most popular place to be seen reading on a summer weekday afternoon.

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Surveying the busy Children’s section on the west side of the main level, a lime-green gorilla hung from the ceiling next to a fuzzy pelican in green, orange, and black. Near the west wall, three carpeted steps led up to a small platform that supported shelves of picture books. A father was sprawled on one of the steps, reading a story to his two boys.

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In addition to the comfortable steps, three solid window benches provided yet more literary opportunities and doubled as miniature stages for self-expression. One little girl was so happy in the library that she was jumping up and down on a window seat in her flip-flops. A cheerleader for literacy!

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Happily, I noted three more wooden window benches on the other side of the main floor, which held the teen and adult sections. All three window perches faced Danforth Avenue, where passersby were bracing their umbrellas for an imminent thunderstorm. Appreciating my sheltered position, I walked between tall shelves of fiction and non-fiction, noting the extensive Chinese and French collections.

I eventually came to rest on a window seat as the sky darkened outside. After sorting through a stack of library materials accumulated during my self-guided tour, I checked out my selections and walked up to the second floor.

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The upper level contained offices, washrooms, and a community room where I once spent a few hours volunteering for an English Conversation Circle. This reminder of how much the Toronto Public Library helps newcomers as well as children, teens, and seniors made me want to jump on a window seat and cheer!

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York Woods (1970) is Library #75

My husband Stewart was with me when I first visited York Woods Library, the 75th branch on my quest. When he saw the thick exposed concrete of the interior, he said, “This Brutalist style reminds me of my local library in Scotland in the 1970’s.”

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Brutalism was new to me, but research confirmed that York Woods, which was built in 1970, possessed Brutalist functional concrete blockiness in spades. (Apparently, Prince Charles is a prominent opponent of Brutalism, so if he ever wants to join the 100-branch club, he’ll need to be sedated before visiting this branch in northwest Toronto).

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Behind the wide checkout desk opposite the entrance was a sign that invited everyone to “Enjoy Cricket, Lovely Cricket with The York Woods Library.” In fact, we had just seen a lively informal game in progress in the parking lot, with a tennis ball standing in for a cricket ball.

The community-friendly vibe was consistent throughout the building’s interior as well, from the large variety of languages available on second floor (including Urdu, Spanish, Hindi, Tamil, Polish, and Somali among others) to the Learning Centre’s computer lab and the Rita Cox Black and Caribbean Heritage Collection.

Near the Leading to Reading Office on the main floor was a Victory over Violence Exhibit. Posters and large freestanding displays defined passive violence, verbal abuse, oppression, and social apathy. I was especially struck by Martin Luther King Junior’s quotation: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

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Promoting early reading skills is clearly something that matters to the Toronto Public Library, as evidenced by the large children’s section at York Woods branch. This department contained a Children’s West Indian and Black Heritage Collection as well as materials reflecting the linguistic diversity of the neighbourhood.

Walking from the northeast section of the main floor to the south wing, I enjoyed the spaciousness and sense of ease afforded by such a large library building.

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Attracted by the tall windows on the south wall, my curiosity was rewarded by the site of the most artistic picnic table I’d ever seen resting on a rectangle of concrete.

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Later, I went to look at the table more closely and discovered its creators were local artists who belong to the Jane and Finch West-Side Arts Hub.

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Uplifted by the inspiring quotations on the outdoor table, I ended my first visit to York Woods by going back upstairs to fetch Stewart, who was patiently reading in an armchair with a view of a community garden and a Baptist church.

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Thank you, York Woods, for your picnic table, your strong concrete lines, and for your generous open spaces. These clearings offer us chances to breathe, think, and dream in our crowded city, blessing us with calm.

Sunny Jane/Sheppard (2009)

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Recently relocated from a mall down the street, Jane/Sheppard now occupies the site of a former police station. I missed the grand opening in April 2009, so I was excited to finally visit the branch in September of the same year and enjoy its refreshing newness. Even the carpet smelled new!

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When I returned three years later for a photography visit, I noticed some nice tufted grasses that I had previously overlooked. Some of the furniture looked more careworn than in 2009, but the building itself still seemed fresh.

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Built in the shape of a glass cube by Cannon Design, the simplicity of Jane/Sheppard’s visual statement appealed to me. Despite a floor space of only 7,000 square feet, the interior felt uncluttered, calm, and airy. Abundant glass, sunlight, and subtle whites and greens made it the perfect translucent paperweight for a classy giant who likes books and key lime pie.

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Unaware that they were inhabiting an imaginary paperweight, a small number of patrons dotted the libraryscape on my first visit. It  wasn’t hard to find a place to sit and look around, so I chose an innovative long booth with a wide table designed to accommodate laptops.

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In addition to the booth, a broad range of seating options were available at Jane/Sheppard, including chairs for magazine readers facing Sheppard Avenue, a window seat on the west wall, and cushioned blocks in yellow, red, and green for the smaller kids. (On my 2012 visit, there was only one block left).

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Crouched near the savannah grasses by the south windows were three solid, low-to-the-ground animals in dark grey leather: an elephant, a hippo, and a rhino. They had gathered to contemplate a wire and bead toy, perhaps hoping it contained water.

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After finishing up my notes, I rose from the comfortable booth and departed Jane/Sheppard with a sense of appreciation for its quietly regal presence that glowed with light from the outside in.

Site of Catherine’s 80th Toronto Public Library Visit: Maria A. Shchuka (1951)

2012

Residing in the thick of urban bustle, Maria A. Shchuka Library‘s tall windows offered views of the swirl of traffic at the intersection of Eglinton Avenue West and Northcliffe Boulevard. From a continuous bench that hugged the west and north walls, readers could browse the newspaper as transient groups of bus passengers and pedestrians passed them a few feet away on the sidewalk.

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Wanting to see how far the bench extended, I left my armchair to survey the entire ground level. In the northwest corner was an imaginative children’s area with unconventional furniture. The small tables were neither round nor square; instead, they resembled sunny-side up amoebas.

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At floor level, I admired the lowest bookshelves I had ever seen. They actually looked more like cubbyholes than shelves, as they were cleverly tucked under the window bench on the west wall. This thoughtful arrangement placed small picture books within easy reach of Maria Shchuka’s youngest patrons.

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Much less accessible was a rattle-tailed dragon with a peekaboo mirror on one foot and a flower pocket on the other. Custom-made to fit in the pocket, a soft daisy dangled from the dragon by a braid. Although this plush creature had wings, its legs were shackled by clear plastic restraints that were bolted to the top of a free-standing bookshelf.

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Feeling sorry for the dragon’s restricted life on a shelf, I walked up to the second floor. The shades had been drawn against the late afternoon sun, so everything looked more silvery than downstairs.

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Computers lined two sides of a small atrium, making it difficult to peer all the way down into the reception area below. Maybe the designers were worried about pranksters dropping paperballs on people from on high.

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Though Maria A. Shchuka stopped being Head Librarian in 1996, she might have shooed mischievous characters into the spacious Quiet Study Area or the Learning Centre for a meditative time out.

Art in Quiet Study Room by Phyllis Walker. Photo taken in 2012.

IMG_5882However, with so much to study at this branch — the Rita Cox Black and Caribbean Heritage Collection plus books in Italian, Chinese, Turkish, Portuguese, Tagalog, Spanish, Russian, and Vietnamese — who could complain that boredom had driven them to lob paper missiles over the atrium?

Honey, let me get on with my whisking.
Honey, let me get on with my whisking.

Disco Branch: Albion Library (1973)

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Located near the intersection of Albion Road and Kipling Avenue, Albion Library‘s gritty branch-on-the-edge vibe reminded me of Eatonville Library, which also presses against the outer limits of the Greater Toronto Area. Eatonville was built in 1967 and Albion in 1973: two survivors of groovier times.

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True to the non-conformist decade that produced it, Albion’s dark green and red-orange interior showed a refreshing disregard for pastel niceties. Also in line with a truth-seeking era, the large exposed heating and cooling ducts overhead did not pretend to be respectable. Forty two years ago, a barefoot patron might have felt comfortable reading a copy of Be Here Now under such non-hypocritical ducts.

Fully shod but sympathetic, I explored the sprawling single-level building, a notebook with doves on the cover in hand. As I circled the branch, I found generous windows, stretches of book-lined aisles, and pleasing zig-zag angles.

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When I wasn’t distracted by poetic patches of sunlight on the carpet, I was studying the amazing range of materials in Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, Gujarati, Telugu, Hindi, Italian, Punjabi, Spanish, Tamil, Urdu, and Vietnamese. I also admired a glass cube in the middle of the north wing that displayed a busy computer lab.

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IMG_0089IMG_0097IMG_0095The children’s wing provided sheltered reading spots with lively balloons floating overhead. I thought the giant leaf attached to the wall was an inspired architectural feature.

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Other animating elements included a landscape collage, a pro-vacation art installation, and a monkey who was swinging over the information desk.

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After buying a few books from the sale trolley, I left Albion feeling cooler than when I came in. And that’s coming from a deeply hip person who blogs about libraries!

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Handsome George H. Locke Library (1949)

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George Herbert Locke was the Toronto Public Library‘s second Chief Librarian, a position he held from 1908-1937. According to Margaret Penman’s A Century of Service: Toronto Public Library 1883-1983, Locke defended fiction’s right to be in the library, created National Story Hours for children, and gathered materials in Russian, Yiddish, Italian, and Lithuanian for new immigrants (pp. 22-23). Penman believed that Locke’s greatest achievement was “the establishment of an integrated branch system . . . that provided for interrelated services in all parts of the city of Toronto” (p. 24).

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George Locke’s namesake library made its presence known the moment I emerged from Lawrence subway station. The solidly handsome building was a fitting tribute to a man once described as a “strong, straight-grained, sinewy Irish-Canadian, six feet three inches tall, two hundred and sixty pounds” (19).

Judging from Locke’s picture, I could see how this “outstanding example of manhood at his best” (19) might have quickened the pulses of a few maiden librarians. (From 1883 until the late 1950’s, female librarians were not allowed to keep their jobs after they got married. A Century of Service further describes how these hard-working women were perceived as “vestal virgins tending the flame of literature and dancing around the figure of the chief librarian” (38)).

No dancing librarians greeted me at the door of this sturdy stone branch, but sturdy didn’t translate as stodgy. In fact, the outer solidity enhanced the interior’s classical openness. Flanked by steadying wooden columns, the central circulation desk was the calming focal point of the entrance.

The entire library resembled a jewellery box with three sections side by side, all connected and flowing through space. If Locke Library were a dance, it would be a Viennese waltz performed by an elegant but not pretentious couple in their sixties.

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To the left of the main desk was the Children’s/Teens Collection. It was blessed with a wooden bench that rested below a bay window overlooking Lawrence Avenue. A large structure attached to the ceiling hosted eight parrots who faced away from the street. Each bird was swinging from the upper ramparts on individual trapeze stands, fine spots to observe library traffic below.

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Lower down on the structure were some toy animals who were hanging on for dear furry life. These precarious creatures included Skooby Doo (with a pack of Scooby Snacks), some bears, and a lone monkey. More stuffed animals led a less challenging existence on top of bookshelves and draped on chairs.

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Several steps away from the aerial menagerie, a nook in the northeast corner welcomed readers with three steps leading up to a sofa, a large round window, and shelves of picture books. The enchanting nook captured a fairy-tale mood, making it the perfect setting for the magic phrase “Once upon a time.”

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When I crossed over to the other side of the library, I found the Adult Collection to the right of the circulation desk. Unleashing my natural window-seat affinity, I made a bee-line for a bay window that mirrored its equivalent on the north side. Then I nestled into the warm corner where the bench met the wall, enjoying the afternoon sun on my left shoulder and the sight of a large pine tree in Lawrence Park and Ravine.

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Returning my attention to the interior, I liked how the sunny spaciousness felt like a continuation of the park. My fellow readers seemed to share the peaceful spring mood. One young patron had propped a giant skateboard beside his armchair before settling down to some homework. Others were absorbed in the newspaper or their laptop screens.

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Relinquishing my warm corner, I walked among the shelves and discovered that ESL was solidly represented but there wasn’t an extensive multilingual collection. At this branch, the largest one was the Children’s French Livres in the north wing.

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I couldn’t be disappointed for long though, especially when I spotted my third window-seat of the day. From this new perch, I gazed out at Yonge Street and then studied the play of shadows on the seat. Easily amused by objects in sunlight, I photographed Kaffe Fassett‘s Glorious Interiors resting between diamonds of light and shade.

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I wanted to spend more time by the window, but I had an appointment to keep, and people rarely accept “I was late because I was taking pictures of library books on a window-seat” as a valid excuse. Though brief, I treasured my visit to this calm centre of down-to-earth elegance at Yonge and Lawrence.

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George Locke, your branch has done you proud! As an enthusiastic TPL patron, I would like to thank you for the crucial way you strengthened the library system. Without your vision and dynamism, Toronto’s cultural heritage would have been the poorer.

Davenport Library (1988): 1246 Shaw Street at Last

When I studied the TPL map before I set out for Davenport Library, I incorrectly assumed that Shaw Street extended as far north as Saint Clair Avenue West, causing me to overshoot the desired streetcar stop. In fact, three unnecessary stops passed me by before I realized I’d gone too far.

Deciding to try my luck on foot, I hopped off into the rain, walked down Dufferin to Davenport Road and then proceeded east on a prayer that Shaw would appear soon.

Stencil art on the wall above the checkout desk, Davenport Library
Stencil art on the wall above the checkout desk, Davenport Library. Photo taken in 2013.

I was getting tired and cold, so when I saw the small building on the corner of quietly residential Davenport and Shaw, my spirits lifted. On that dark afternoon, the library’s lights looked especially welcoming to this sojourner.

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The door made a chunky clink when I opened it, but none of the three patrons inside looked up. Glad to rest my feet, I sat down at a table and let the lime walls of the narrow room soothe me.

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The floor’s blue and green tiles complemented the walls, and I liked the way the shelving had been adapted to fit into a space that resembled a railroad apartment. Davenport’s tall shelves lined the west wall, each a three-sided entity unto itself. A book-seeker facing west could contemplate titles in front of her and then find more on the left or the right.

Tucked into the southeast corner of the library was the children’s section. Above some cheerful red shelves, miniature kids were enjoying hot air balloon rides with their friends.

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Although it took only a few minutes to cover the library’s 3,604 square feet, I lingered for more than an hour at a table in the northwest corner marking papers. I felt the gratitude of a traveller who has found shelter after being cold and lost. How lucky I was to spend a rainy afternoon in this secluded boxcar of a branch!

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… by Catherine Raine