A trip to Brookbanks Park brought the bifurcating trails, a hare bounding across an iron footbridge, and Deer Lick Creek.
On the banks of the creek, a giant tree had fallen and snapped in two. The distance between its severed stump and trunk was not great, but the expanse of liquid space between the two jagged ends took my breath away with its beauty.
I loved how the brook filled the void of disconnection and death, blessing an abyss with a measure of peace. As witnesses to brokenness and loss, the slowly moving water, the round stones on the creek bed, and the reflections that animated the skin of the creek comforted me. That tree died, but beauty didn’t die. It just changed. A whole tree, intact, thriving, with glossy leaves is beautiful. But a broken tree with only half of its body still rooted in a muddy bank is gorgeous too. Like Cohen’s cracks that let the light in, the shocking break is an opening for time, change, and water to move — not to take the pain away but to lovingly acknowledge its impact. The broken edges can breathe into that forgiving emptiness, exposing their ache to the kindness of night.
The main desk of Todmorden Room was directly in front of the entrance, and my husband Stewart was struck by how the librarian greeted each incoming patron by name. Even though there were only eight people in the library (including two staff members), we kept tripping over each other as we moved up and down the two short aisles.
The only multilingual resource I noticed at Todmorden Room was a Spanish learning kit with a CD, and the ESL collection had only fourteen books (hardly the fault of library with so little space to spare).
As at Woodside Square, Eglinton Square, and Bridlewood, the romance genre was well-represented, and it included a couple of titles that caught my attention: Kidnapped by the Cowboy and Outback Boss, City Bride. While in the outback, I hope there’s time for some Marxist-feminist critiques of the patriarchal messages behind the titles.
As I exited the room, I noticed a beige locker beside the check-out desk, possibly a hand-me-down from the gym down the hall. I liked how the library was so well-integrated into the community centre, which also offered swimming and martial arts classes. In fact, I learned from the librarian that families often coordinate their trips to the branch around activities at the centre.
Way to go, plucky Todmorden Room! You bring the convenience, the learning resources, and the family welcome!
I first wrote about Brookbanks Library in 2007, but it was only one line about this “quiet branch near a karate school in North York.” Two years later, I called in for the second time so I could describe the branch more fully. And then I visited for the third and fourth times in 2012 and 2015 to take some photographs.
Unobtrusively tucked behind a shopping plaza, Brookbanks Library contained an auditorium on the lower level, a main level, and a raised platform near the back of the main level that occupied about a quarter of the interior space. Connecting the main floor with the upper platform was a short flight of steps and a ramp in the shape of a backwards letter “L”.
Just to the right of the entrance on the east side of the library, materials in Farsi, French, Chinese, Hindi, Spanish, and Romanian caught my eye. In response to a shift in local demographics, a couple of notices advised that the Russian collection had been moved to Fairview Library, as had the Tamil collection (which could also be accessed at Maryvale branch).
As I rounded the northeast corner of the main floor, I came upon agreeable window seats along the north wall. They were plush, gently purple, and low to the ground. On my 2012 visit, I noticed that the purple covering had morphed into dark gray with a pattern of abstract loonies and toonies.
A matching window bench, though upholstered in green in 2012 and aqua in 2015, was in the teen section on the raised upper level. Young patrons who were reading in a sprawl on the floor and lounging in their socks on green cushions gave the library a homey atmosphere. I liked how nobody was shooing them in the direction of more conventional surfaces like tables and chairs.
After relating to the furnishings on the upper level, I took the ramp back down to the main floor, which gave me the opportunity to check out an elaborate mural by G. Eversole (1997) that stretched across a third of the north wall and most of the west wall. The centerpiece of the work was a large tree trunk from which grew copious foliage spreading in two directions.
The more I looked into the leaves, the more entities I discovered: a green monster claw grabbing a purple book, the yellow hat of Curious George’s guardian, mangoes, a sign that warned of napping Grues, a second descending monster with pink toe-talons, and a Famous Tails collection that included thin tails, fat tails, and striped tails in assorted colours.
The last set of window seats of the day were flush against the south wall in the children’s section. A huge white bear, taller than many of the aspiring readers in his jurisdiction, hosted a number of other stuffed animals on his person. Three bunnies — Bugs Bunny, a generic rabbit in calico, and one in a camouflage jumpsuit — rested on the bear’s lap while a turtle and small bear occupied his right leg. A large Curious George doll sat to the big bear’s left and rested a friendly monkey paw on his shoulder. A copy of Knut the Baby Polar Bear was propped on the bench just below George’s paw.
Between 2009 and 2012, something chaotic happened to the stuffed animal collective. In 2009, the group was composed and dignified, but the disorderly scene in the following photo suggests a surprising behavioral change.
Did these animals attend a wild rumpus the previous night? Even the sweet small duck looked as if it was having a rough morning-after experience.
Taking a final glance at Brookbanks Library, I noticed a fuzzy piranha in green and blue near my left foot. Although its many teeth were made of felt and my shoes were close-toed, I decided it was time to catch an express bus on York Mills Road without delay.
Thank you, Brookbanks Library, for your gorgeous trees, colorful mural, and plentiful windowseats!
To reach Saint James Town Library, I passed through Wellesley Community Centre’s lobby, where an up-tempo game of table tennis was in progress. As I hurried to the library entrance, the cheerful sound of basketballs thumping on the gymnasium floor punctuated my footsteps.
At 12:35 p.m. (five minutes after opening), the library was almost as crowded as the gym. Every computer unit’s dance card was full, and a number of patrons were lining up for their turn to surf.
In addition to the draw of free internet, I could see why people were eager to spend time at Saint James Town. With the entire west wall (and part of the south) composed of windows, only a bat or a vampire could complain about so much sunshine flooding the space.
I liked the quiet jellyfish corner, a contrast to the constant foot traffic at the corner of Wellesley and Sherbourne. In harmony with the sea-creature theme, fishing-rods had sprouted from the wall and spun out their lines to catch paper fish on a column. And sailing overhead was a colourful ship.
Joining the ship in the air was a watchful dragon who could oversee the entire library from his vantage point. Included in his domain was a large paper castle with fairytale inhabitants and a dragon comrade.
Fortunately, the smaller dragon’s flames weren’t real, for the smoke might have damaged an amazing book collection. Although Saint James Town was modest in size, its linguistic span was wide enough to include Chinese, French, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Tamil, and Urdu.
A fire drill cut short my 2011 visit, but I had definitely seen enough to feel admiration for this well-utilized and vital branch in the heart of the city. A return trip in 2015 only confirmed this impression, especially when the word “imagine” etched itself in shadow on the warm windowsill.
Saint James Town, thank you for shining imagination through the windows and proclaiming it from the castle ramparts! Your jellyfish, flying ship, and dragons foster a playful learning environment for the fortunate Toronto Public Library patrons who call you home.
In the spring of 2010, I attended Thorncliffe‘s re-opening ceremony and bagged my 99th branch into the bargain! With excited patrons, balloons, belly dancers, and a foam Dewey 37, I privately co-opted some jubilation for the end of my library quest.*
I arrived at Thorncliffe Library at 12:45 pm, which was fifteen minutes before the opening. Luckily, I was near the front of the queue, which seemed to double every five minutes. By the time the doors opened at 1:05, the line had lengthened to almost a block! Veiled mothers with strollers, elderly gentlemen in suits, media representatives, white-haired ladies, and lively kids milled about agreeably.
When I took a moment to study the area surrounding the library, all I could see were high-rise apartment buildings in every direction. The claustrophobic view reminded me of a Toronto Star article about Thorncliffe that I’d read several months previously. According to Immigration Reporter Nicholas Keung, “More than 30,000 (Thorncliffe) residents — mostly newcomers — are crowded into 34 highrise and lowrise apartments in a 2.2-square kilometre concrete jungle behind Don Mills Road and Don Valley Parkway” (“Crowded, Stresssed Thorncliffe” January 11, 2010).
No wonder the line was so long and the faces so expectant; the people of Thorncliffe had been without their local library for two and a half years. I imagined packed elevators pouring book-lovers onto Thorncliffe Park Drive this afternoon, all eager to see a branch that was now twice its former size.
The crowd pushed forward when two security guards opened the doors, and the interior of Thorncliffe proved itself worthy of the wait and 1.83 million dollars. After I was handed a sturdy blue TPL bag and got my hand shaken by Councillor John Parker (Ward 26, Don Valley West), I took in the whole 10,000 square feet of the library.
The newness and energy of the space was tangible, and I was drawn to the large sound system that was animating two belly dancers in sparkly gear. Arms dipping and swooping, they were grooving in front of the east windows of the children’s section that overlooked a central courtyard.
A few yards away from the dancers, the word “read” in enormous three-dimensional letters was attached to the north wall. Each of the four lower-case letters had its own colour, creating an interactive word sculpture. The giant word was the centerpiece of Thorncliffe’s KidsStop, a play area that promotes pre-literacy skills. (Thorncliffe is the third TPL branch to have a KidsStop, after S. Walter Stewart and Dufferin/Saint Clair).
In the Toronto Star article mentioned above, Keung cited the statistic that “one quarter of Thorncliffe’s population is under 14.” The improved children’s area made me happy because it meant that the kids of Thorncliffe would now be better served, with more books, more space, a set of pink and teal armchairs that roll on huge wheels, and some colourful low cushions that reminded me of Lucky Charms moons and stars.
Within minutes of the opening, children were playing on the r, e, a, and d structures and enjoying hands-on learning games that were built into the 3-D letters. Kids were spinning dials, examining wooden toggles on a slate, enjoying an alphabet table, and checking out a counting wheel. One small patron lost no time in claiming a seat on the upward curve of the bottom half of the red letter a. What a great example of experiencing the alphabet kinesthetically! Mission accomplished, KidsStop!
Near the alpha-chair, a magician was showing a group of kids some card tricks at a low table. By this time, a large appreciative audience had formed a semi-circle around the tireless dancers. The crowd rested their elbows and handbags on bookshelves while they clapped in time to the beat and took pictures with their cell-phone cameras. The joy in the library was palpable, creating a celebratory atmosphere that did full justice to such an uplifting event.
Still smiling at the happy scene, I moved to a slightly quieter part of the library. As I walked through the branch, I admired side displays of new books and DVD’s, a generous CD collection, and offerings in Farsi, Gujarati, and Urdu.
The ESL section contained a lot of shiny new books, as did the Teen nook in the southeast corner of the building. A few steps away from the Teen’s L-shaped sofa unit was a separate Quiet Study Room. However, it wasn’t obligated to be silent that afternoon because it was hosting a big spread of samosas and salad.
My last stop at my last branch was a comfortable perch on a black leather chair in the reading lounge. Sitting beside the bank of south-facing windows, I sorted out which treasures I was going to carry home in my new library bag and let the buzz of the opening settle over my shoulders.
I felt a little sad when I realized that every branch on my 2006 library map had now been crossed off. I’m going to miss the anticipation of discovering new libraries. Although I still have a lot more work to do on the project, such as expanding earlier blog posts, checking out the bookmobiles, and adding better photographs, I take comfort in the fact that I finished the task I started. May this blog be the wordiest love letter ever written to The Toronto Public Library!
* Note: In 2010, Urban Affairs branch was still open and Fort York (2014) and Scarborough Civic Centre (2015) had not materialized yet.
In 2007, I wrote about Deer Park for the first time, describing it as the branch where I received my first Toronto Public Library card only two days after immigrating to Canada. In the intervening years, I had visited Deer Park so frequently that I had stopped noticing its distinctive features. In 2012, I decided to look at it with fresh eyes, as if seeing it for the first time.
At the centre of Deer Park Library was a large checkout station surrounded on all sides by sections of shelving. Starting at the south wall and circling the desk counterclockwise, I walked through a sunny reading area with windows overlooking Saint Clair Avenue. On that busy afternoon, several patrons had drawn chairs right up to the window and propped their feet on the heater covers. A nearby bamboo plant provided calming vibes.
As I passed through aisles of fiction, I rounded the east wall and discovered a Local History Collection that I hadn’t noticed before. Crouching in front of the shelves, a few titles jumped out at me: Mount Pleasant Cemetery – An Illustrated Guide, Opportunity Road: Yonge Street 1860-1939, and A Short History of the Deer Park Branch Library: 1911-1952 The Store-front Years. The latter was a bound handwritten manuscript by Joan C. Kinsella. A Short History described how Deer Park Library was initially nomadic, moving from one rented storefront to another until finally coming to rest at the current building in 1952.
Progressing through the north side of the library, what came into view were rows of non-fiction (including a full ESL collection), DVD’s and videos, the French section, reading tables, study carrels, and computer terminals.
The west side contained the children’s section, which had a low wall separating it from the main entryway. On a previous visit, I had seen an exhausted man asleep on the red reclining chair beside the low wall, but the recliner was empty in 2012.
On top of a long shelf near the recliner rested a dragon. What I liked about this dragon was that it appeared to be made by hand. The dragon-crafter had utilized material from old backpacks or raincoats to fashion a fearsome creature with red and purple horns.
The shelf closer to the window supported an even quirkier decoration: an oatmeal-coloured woolen castle! Created by April Quan in 2000, the castle complex had a green felt base and some fuzzy trees surrounding it.
To the right of the entrance, a yellow-green dragon was sewn to the wall. The portcullis was a quarter of the way down, and the main doors were partly open, the silver ring handles waiting for a servant to pull them shut at sundown. Meanwhile, a princess stood in the castle entrance to watch a developing conflict between the dragon and a knight in a purple cape.
I couldn’t tell what materials comprised the underlying structure of the castle, but I was really taken by the fact that all the walls and turrets were covered in wool. (Beware invading knights on saddled moths!)
One squat turret hosted a wizard in a high window, while a couple of the taller turrets had princesses in them. As an alternative to the crenelated parapets, some of the towers were topped with red roofs in the shape of upside-down cones. The circular courtyard was empty but seemed an ideal venue for a stately feast.
My day brightened by serious library with a knitted castle, I put my notes away and walked to the Saint Clair subway station. Thank you, Deer Park, for giving me my first TPL card and entertaining me with history, two kinds of dragons, and an owl flying out of a turret.
If you like your libraries playfully Gothic and full of imagination, then Lillian H. Smith is definitely the branch for you. When you pass between the wingéd lion and the griffin, it’s like stepping into a book illustration that has come to life.
Gargoyles on the exterior set the tone for the Lillian H. Smith experience. In keeping with the library’s history as a child-centered institution, the wall-creatures are striking yet non-threatening images of owls and a sheep. (Ms. Smith was a pioneering force in TPL’s history as the “first head of children’s services, 1912-1952″ and “the first trained children’s librarian in the British Empire” as noted in Margaret Penman’s A Century of Service: Toronto Public Library 1883-1983, p. 30).
Although the griffin’s beak could be seen as intimidating, the creature’s potential ferocity is what protects baby foxes and owls. A griffins’ traditional role has been to defend treasure from marauders, a duty that a cheesy grin cannot facilitate.
Equally protective, the lion sculpture shelters a mouse and a deer.
To honour or possibly appease the two stone beasts sculpted by Ludzer Vendermolen (creator of Wordsworth the owl for Beaches Library), someone had carefully placed a nut between the central talons of their powerful feet. Not to diminish the nutritional power of the nut, but maybe it was an overly dainty snack for a lion and a griffin. Beef hotdogs with hot peppers from a street vendor might have been a more substantial choice.
When I entered the well-guarded library, four circular tiers soared above me in a rising barrel pattern. Enjoying the atrium despite some mild vertigo, I walked up to the fourth floor, which was home to the extraordinary Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books. It only took a few minutes of wandering around the collection to realize that I would need to devote a special blog post to it, for I was overwhelmed by so much rich material. I’d also like to give The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation, and Fantasy its own post, too.
Dropping down to the second floor (the Merril Collection and a computer lab occupy the third), I found a densely-populated libraryscape. Every single table was spoken for, and inquisitive patrons crowded around the information desk with questions for the staff.
One of the most coveted spots was a sunny expanse of laptop-friendly table surface beside a south-facing window. For inspiration, the CN Tower beckoned as well as a lovely garden in the library’s backyard below. I liked the feeling of simultaneously floating above the city yet remaining grounded near the busy intersection of College and Spadina.
The second floor contained Chinese and French collections as well as an ingenious patron who had figured out a way to turn a library table into a cinema. Here’s how he did it. First, he laid a large rectangular man-bag on the table. Then he stacked eight DVD cases on top of that. Finally, he placed a portable DVD player at the summit of this tower, donned some headphones, and away he flew into the world of film.
After admiring the man’s portable movie theatre, I trotted down to the main level’s west wing. Two puffy armchairs waited for their next readers in front of a large window overlooking College Street. Further into the room was a whimsical reading area that paid homage to the library’s roots as the Boys and Girls House at 40 Saint George Street (1922-1963).
And nestled in the southwest corner was the Children’s Literature Resource and the M. G. Bagshaw Collection. There, patrons could research items such as the best children’s book illustrations of 2006 or carefully turn the fragile pages of antiquated books like this one I picked out for its gilt flag.
On the other side of the main level, a relaxed-to-slouching Cat in the Hat was neighbour to a copper-coloured satin dragon. Both creatures were secured to the ceiling by clear plastic filaments. Fittingly, the dragon seemed to be pointing in the direction of the door leading to the mysterious Gothic basement level, the remaining part of the library to be explored.
Actually, it wasn’t the satin dragon but Sarah the helpful branch head who showed me the downstairs area. (Sometimes I try too hard to be literary). Before Sarah returned to her work, she pointed out the echo feature in the circular courtyard. If you stand right in the middle and make a noise, it bounces back vastly increased in volume and distortion.
The magical literary universe of the basement put me under its spell from the moment I saw it. It was Alice in Wonderland meets fairy-tale castle meets LED sconces of poetic doom. Freshly nourished by Lillian H. Smith’s basement, my imagination applauded the interior decoration for freeing itself from the shackles of being sensible.
Sarah had told me that walking up the steps gave her a sense of anticipation, and I could totally relate to that. If only all staircases were so evocative! After all, stairways are about transitions, portals, ascent and descent. All of them should have torches to celebrate their mystery!
The contrast between dream-like basement and sunlit Huron Community Garden was slightly disorienting, but the garden was the perfect place to end my tour of Lillian H. Smith. Natural beauty, knowledge, and creativity go hand in hand, griffin talon in talon.
Parliament Street Library impressed me as an unassuming centre of learning with a high standard of service. From the tree-trunk street furniture (recycled from Regent’s Park demolition rubble) to containers of crayons provided for the kids, Parliament Street’s attention to detail sent a powerful message of care.
When I arrived at 9:30 on a Tuesday morning in 2011, the library was already busy. Almost all of the early arrivals were men who quickly staked their claims at the study carrels, computer units, and large tables. One man guarded a trolley that seemed to contain all his possessions, including water bottles, a bag of bread, and some clothes.
Sharing my fellow patrons’ library enthusiasm, I started my personal tour of Parliament Street in the east wing. Happily, it contained lots of windows, including a curving bank of them with a view of the butterfly garden and tree-stump sculpture (the result of two projects undertaken by the Ward 28 Greenspace Committee).
I liked how the east wing reached out to lovers of diverse languages, offering materials in Spanish, French, Tamil, Chinese, Vietnamese, Somali, and Amharic. Music enthusiasts also had their personal haven, a piano practice room that could be booked for an hour.
Adjacent to the piano room was a quiet study room. As I sat there taking photos of book covers, it was a pleasure to hear slightly muffled melodies coming from next door.
And when I walked over to the Children’s Area in the west wing, I was immediately struck by the tapestry piece on the south wall. What appealed to me about this wall-hanging was its wild woven strands on the horizontal combined with knotted strips of fabric hanging on the vertical. A fabulous textile!
In addition to the lively tapestry, a group of stuffed animals lent their plush hospitality to the west wing. For example, a giant Clifford dog sprawled on the ledge beside the red ramp leading to the Story Hour Room, and dotted along the upper ramparts of the shelving were Curious George, an alligator, Franklin the Turtle, and Babar the Elephant.
The Children’s Section was empty at first, except for a solitary reader who had pulled up her chair right next to a window sill. However, as the magic hour (and a half) of 10:30 drew nigh, librarians began to bustle in preparation for Preschool Story Time. Soon, a number of young story-seekers and their caregivers began to file into the Story Hour Room and gather in front of the puppet theatre. It was heartening to see that even in the 21st century, the prospect of a traditional story can still generate buzz!
It would have been fun to hear the story, but I only had enough time to see the second floor before I left. As I walked up the steps, I remembered an ESL field trip to this library that took place in 2005. Some very helpful staff at Parliament Street gave a large group of LINC students from my centre an orientation, and the nerd in me thrilled at the sight of so many students receiving their first shiny blue library cards! (On my 2011 visit, an ESL class was in progress in the same room where my former students had filled out library application forms en masse).
More good work was taking place on the second floor, which also housed the Toronto Centre for Community Learning and Development as well as the Neighbourhood Information Post. I learned from one of Parliament’s librarians that many patrons visit the Information Post to fill out forms, pick up mail, and receive welfare cheques — a crucial service that responds to bureaucracies’ demand for permanent addresses. This is quiet heroism at its best.
All in all, I came away from my Parliament Street visits with a strong sense of this library’s commitment to serving children, immigrants, aspiring artists, and low-income patrons on the very edge of survival. Of course, all of the TPL branches provide these services, too. It’s just that community work seems especially visible at this particular branch. For this reason, I believe Parliament Street deserves extra credit for its valiant role in supporting Toronto’s most vulnerable citizens.
Similar to Evelyn Gregory branch, Victoria Village Library fit right into its neighbourhood setting, taking its place among the generous number of trees along Sloane Avenue in North York. With pale green walls and leafy views from its high windows, Victoria Village’s interior was like a cheerful and well-stocked treehouse.
Although built on a modest rise, there was a sense of elevation when I looked out the big glass door in the west wall. From there, I could see high rise apartments in the distance and trees in the foreground near the library’s parking lot.
When I turned towards the north wall, I noticed that the ceiling was lower over the Kids and Teen’s Section, creating a long and narrow space illuminated by more than a dozen high rectangular windows side by side. These windows served up a vision of mystical sky slices filled with leaves in summer and dark branch etchings in winter. Below the windows, ESL materials as well as offerings in French, Chinese, and Hindi appeared on the shelves.
In the Teen Zone, two homemade robot friends supervised a busy study table from on top of a bookshelf. Both robots wore pie tins on their heads and had protruding egg-carton eyes taped to their aluminum faces. Large disposable baking tins provided their torsos, and their arms were foil-covered paper towel rolls with hands made from fuzzy silver pipe cleaners. (On my 2013 visit, I saw that the robots had been retired from service).
Victoria Village also contained a large program room on the basement level. There, a forgotten scarf became a frame through which to appreciate the community area.
I was reluctant to leave this restful branch, so I walked slowly around the north side of the building after exiting. There I discovered the tree responsible for filling the interior window panes so beautifully. With the setting sun pausing on its branches, the parking lot could momentarily be mistaken for a backyard. And that’s the beauty of a library that makes its patrons feel so very at home.
Closer to Pickering than to downtown Toronto, Port Union Library is the most easterly branch in the TPL system. In fact, fifty one kilometres separate it from its westernmost counterpoint, Alderwood Library.
I liked the small-town atmosphere of Port Union Community Recreation Centre, which welcomed visitors with a display of hand-crafted baby clothes. Occupying the west wing of the community centre, the entrance to Port Union branch was just to the left of the knitting exhibit.
At first glance, the library was an impressionistic collection of red triangles and slanted wooden beams. Though small, Port Union’s tall windows, long side aisles, and unexpected corners made it seem much larger.
What distinguished this den, however, were two large portholes that encouraged soulful gazing for extended meditative periods.
Not far from the portholes, an open door led to a program room. It was already set up for the coming evening’s Book Discussion Group, and I was touched by the care that had gone into the preparations. Each seat contained a copy of What’s On(Programs and Events at Your Library: January-March 2011) and a bookmark. In addition, the front table supported many copies of The Swinging Bridge by Ramabai Espinet, name tags, a meeting agenda, and a bell in case of verbal rowdiness.
The library was still decorated for Christmas, so after exiting the program room I took a moment to admire the tree and one of the faux gifts underneath. As I crouched to take a picture of the shiny present, I studied the gold-ferns-aflame carpet at close range. It might not have been to everyone’s taste, but I found it festive.
Warmed by wooden ceilings and blessed by portholes, I left the building after I checked out a CD by Yael Naim and a French book which narrated the back story of Georges Seurat‘s acrobat.
Port Union called me back in 2015, and I enjoyed visiting it in spring as much as I had in the depths of winter. Having appreciated the portholes from the interior perspective, it was time to focus on the exterior before driving back to Scarborough Junction.
Port Union, I’d like to end this post by complimenting the stunning flowers that grow in the reflection of your portholes. Your friendly spirit shines in every season!
On a summer day in 2010, I took the #83 bus south from Donlands subway station to Jones Library (1962). Even though it was my second visit, the experience was first-time fresh because I noticed so many more details. For example, I’d previously walked right past a wonderful textile art tableau that was displayed behind glass just beside the entrance.
Created by April Quan, the same artist who fashioned the woolen castle at Deer Park branch, the Jones piece also featured a castle but had expanded its historical reach to include a hammock-reader and a mechanic.
I loved the way the prince seemed to be saying, “Come on out of the book, princess.” The royal couple seemed unfazed by the presence of a car instead of a carriage and a hammock instead of a bed piled with mattresses on top of a pea.
Stone, wood, and sunshine greeted my eyes when I walked through the entrance to Jones. With the skylight’s help, the wooden floors glowed, and a stone wall near a large decorative quilt further warmed this small neighbourhood branch. Many patrons were taking advantage of the extensive Chinese collection, which included newspapers and magazines, and exuberant youngsters enlivened the computer bank.
A gorgeous quilt hanging on the wall above the computers captured my attention. From a nearby notice, I learned that the textile piece was a Victorian Crazy Quilt that had been completed in six sessions by a team of volunteers in the winter of 2010. Textile artist Sandra Reford had guided the quilters, and the results of their artistic collaboration delighted me.
I loved how the quilt hummed and vibrated with colour. I could have studied it for hours and found new patterns and pictures, but the following images immediately jumped out: planets, suns, beach balls, tents, flowers, teddy bears, a pineapple, and an elephant. Like a collage, the crazy quilt managed to corral these disparate elements to create one coherent whole.
For a branch with only 3,636 square feet of floor space to its name, there was a lot to see and appreciate at Jones. Around the corner from the quilt was a wooden puppet theatre with a black velvet curtain. Leafy boughs filled the windows facing Dundas Street East, and original art decorated the walls above the children’s bookshelves. My favourite was Shazina’s heart-centred LOVE painting. Thick green and yellow letters spelled the most important word of all.
Thank you Shazina and Jones Library, for your large heart, amazing quilt, and hospitable atmosphere!
My first trip to Dawes Road branch had taken place in 2007, so I’d forgotten the striking contrast between the bunker-like exterior and the warm and friendly interior.
From the lobby, I saw an occupied community room to the right and a large noticeboard devoted to immigrant services. Some of the programs included English Conversation Circles and more formal English classes.
Dawes Road reminded me a lot of Thorncliffe Library before its renovation. Both are small neighbourhood branches that serve a large immigrant population, many of whom live in tower blocks like Cedarview Apartments and Crescent Town. To meet the needs of a diverse local population, Dawes Road patrons can borrow materials in Bengali, Chinese, Tamil, Urdu, French, and Hindi. For example, here is a jolly Bengali/English book about Floppy’s friends.
Dawes Road resides in one big square room, although the Children’s section has the means to be separated off by a curtain if required. The beige material could also double as a makeshift puppet theatre with a bookshelf surface called into service as a stage.
I liked the non-fussy atmosphere of this corner of the building, especially the simple stain-glass window decorations made from black Bristol board and waxed paper. Adding Halloween flavour was a purple polymer bat on a chain.
In addition to the bat, a freaky check out desk and eerie information area upheld the Halloween theme. And normally-sensible signs were not only draped with faux spider webs but also festooned with pumpkin-headed scarecrows, bats, monsters, and spiders.
I was tickled by the idea of a haunted returns box that featured a caution pumpkin beside the book slot. I wished for an audio device that could emit a ghastly moan every time an item was dropped in the box. Even better, a reproachful voice could wail, “Your books are overdueooooooo!” when it detected a late return.
Before I took my leave, I checked out a volume on Greek and Latin word origins. The librarian processed it with a spooky scanner, scarifying my check-out experience with a plastic spider.
Walking back to the car with my spider-scanned book, I felt impressed by the high level of Halloween spirit that Dawes Road had displayed.
When I returned in 2015 to take new pictures for an exhibit, the check-out spider had left the premises long ago. However, I discovered a hand-painted treasure map on the west wall just to the left of the beige curtain. I inquired about the artist of the map and learned that she was a beloved local teacher who used to bring the children in her classes to the library.
In my view, the creases, tears, and taped-up bits only enhanced the artifact’s appeal. The map was old, but so much care had been lavished on its creation that it would have been painful to discard it.
The map also served as an excellent backdrop to showcase Dawes Road’s varied book collection.
The 61st branch on my library pilgrimage was Pleasant View, which I visited for the first time in 2009. It was the very last branch east of the Don Valley Parkway that I hadn’t seen up to that point.
As I ambled around Pleasant View, I discovered a medium-sized auditorium and shelves with books in Chinese, French, and Italian.I was especially taken with the open reading areas. There was one in each of the four corners of the building, all with comfy chairs and floor-to-ceiling windows.
Though Pleasant View’s character seemed very pragmatic, it also had a whimsical side. In the Children’s section, five arches that contained animal portraits were separated by flat columns that had been splattered with pink and green paint.
Proceeding from left to right, the first portrait starred a seated deer wearing a sari. Relaxing in a temple grove, the deer held a book in her hooves as she enjoyed a serenade by a woman with a sitar and a man with a drum.Next to the deer was a picture of a rabbit with an enigmatic expression and a pleasingly-draped blanket over one shoulder. The third frame depicted the head and neck of a cheerful giraffe. She wore a patterned red scarf and an unstructured tunic.The fourth animal’s identity was unclear to me; possibly it was a fox, but its whiskers looked feline. Priestly robes bestowed an extra measure of gravitas on the cat-fox.The final animal portrait featured a scholarly bear at work in his study. He wore a robe like an Oxford don and a blue hat in the shape of a Yorkshire pudding.Inspired by the studious bear, I left his host library even more determined to visit the remaining thirty-eight TPL branches!
I knew right away I was going to like the new Cedarbrae Library when a bird man on stilts waved his fuzzy rainbow duster of welcome at me. With a ukulele strapped on his back and wild tufts animating his head, the bird man was giving guests the highest fives of their lives as they approached the entrance.
Energizing the post-renovation party, tabla drums and sitar beats floated down from the second floor. The size of the crowd was impressive but not overwhelming. With 31,500 square feet of room to manoeuvre, the new space was equal to the challenge of accommodating so many eager Cedarbrae returnees. One woman who saw me taking pictures remarked, “It took so long (to reopen) that it had to be the Taj Mahal of libraries. And it is the Taj Mahal of libraries.”
In addition to the vocal praise-givers, I especially liked the patrons who simply flomped down and began to read in the new armchairs, ignoring the speeches, the buffet, and all the hoopla. In my view, these introverts represented the true soul of the ceremony, settling deeper into the shiny upholstery to savour the library they had missed.
The children also lost no time in claiming their rightful place in the fantastic KidsStop area. To step from ordinary carpet onto a floor of rippling blue water was to be transported by riverboat into a magical realm. In this world, you can read inside an elephant, find jungle animals on the wall, follow a path of pebbles and riverbeds, or curl up in a nook to call up a story on the phone.
The children were having a big time trying out the learning games attached to the sides of the riverboat. One of the coolest activities I saw was an illuminated box with a pen that used light instead of ink. I also liked the cushions and soft furniture that called out “Come read a book on me!”
Next to the lively KidsStop was a long banquette situated in front of a huge window overlooking the program room. People kept running over to the window, catching sight of a major food preparation scene in progress, and exclaiming, “It’s food! Let’s go get in line!”
Watching the unfolding buffet operation became a spontaneous spectator sport. A number of kids took to kneeling on the cushioned bench as they observed librarians peeling back yards of aluminum foil to reveal pans of rice and samosas. By five o’clock, the queue stretched from the locked program room door to the middle of the lobby.
When I returned to the area thirty minutes later, only rice and fruit punch were left, and a jolly group of eaters now occupied the new red stage and the tiers leading up to it. The featured afternoon matinée was Sitting and Standing with Heaped Paper Plate.
I wasn’t hungry, so I headed upstairs to avoid the chaos of the program room. It was much quieter on the second level, and all the extra space gave me a peaceful feeling. I was also impressed by the range of multilingual materials: Bengali, Hindi, Persian, Gujurati, Chinese, French, Urdu, Tagalog, Tamil, Polish, and Korean. Gazing at these shelves, the poetry selection for the Poetry is Public is Poetry installation on the sidewalk outside seemed especially apt: “A man packed a country in a suitcase with his shoes and left” (“Exile” by Rosemary Sullivan).
Other treasures of the upper floor included a local history room with the proper archival vibe, three study rooms alive to infinite possibility, and a Teen Zone with a long wavy black sofa already inhabited by conversing teenagers. I was also happy to see a gorgeous lounge and an extensive CD collection.
Comparing this successfully-renovated branch to how it looked when I took my 2003-2004 LINC classes to get their library cards, the place was unrecognizable. Inside and out, the new Cedarbrae Library is one of the best-looking buildings in this corner of Scarborough.
It was dark when I finally left the party. I turned around to take a few last pictures and was dazzled by the light pouring from the library. And when I returned five years later to take photos for an exhibit, the light had remained strong. Indeed, Cedarbrae’s open spirit combined with its tinted windows continue to offer rich creative lenses that delight the artist in us all.
When I walked into the one-room library to west of the courtyard, I was pleased to see the dragon tapestry that I remembered from a previous visit. Presiding over the multilingual collection on the south wall, the sheer size and ferocity of the creature impressed me.
With his bold eyebrows, serpentine goatee, and four fangs, the Burrows Hall dragon commanded respect.
The ceiling in the dragon’s section of the library was much higher than the other half of the room, and I loved how the high north-facing windows revealed a blue Scarborough sky. With architecture that accentuated a view like this, it came as no surprise when I later learned that Burrows Hall had won an Ontario Library Association Building Award in 1999.
Turning my focus from the ceiling to the floor, I also admired the carpet with its abstract cinnamon rolls in a sea of lentils. (Or could they be bulls-eye targets embedded in lite-brite?)
On the other side of the branch, two besotted toy mandrills sat on a shelf in the Children’s Section. With eyes only for each other, they were oblivious to the nearby Reading Hut and the Saturday afternoon crowd.
On the day of my visit, Burrows Hall was so hopping busy that I had to orbit the room a couple of times before I could find space at a table. Then I settled down to take pictures of books from the multilingual collection, which included Chinese, Hindi, French, Tamil, and Urdu.
The temporary challenge of finding a seat did not detract from the pleasure of visiting Burrows Hall. In fact, experiencing such a fully engaged facility made me enjoy it all the more. With Confucius’ statue only a few steps away, it seemed fitting that Burrows Hall had attracted patrons who preferred to spend their Saturday learning at a library instead of reclining on their sofas in front of a TV.
On a research visit to Northern District Library in 2009, I appreciated the serious atmosphere of this branch, how its vast main floor reminded me of a university library. To wander among its extensive shelves took a pleasingly long time, and an hour had passed before I realized I’d better wrap up my notes and fetch some food for dinner.
Perhaps it was hunger talking, but the grid pattern of the white ceiling reminded me of an upside-down waffle. The flat lights were the waffle’s indentations and the beams which framed the light-grids were the raised ridges. As I walked under the pale waffle, I passed big leather couches near the entrance and headed over to the large Children’s Area in the southeast corner.
Reading benches were placed near the tall windows, creating handy places to perch when the call to read sounded. I liked the inclusive display of books propped on top of a shelf, titles which included Heroes and Shamans; Goddesses; Sikhism; and Many Ways: How Families Practice Their Beliefs and Religions.
I was also impressed by a large piece of functional art in the Children’s Area that was fashioned from wood. Appleapes had a red border that framed an apple tree and five apple-loving apes. The apple tree was on the left side and hosted a woodpecker on its trunk. A big mama ape occupied the majority of the composition, filling the lower middle and right portions. Clutching an apple in the digits of each lower limb, she also had a row of coat pegs and hooks integrated into her body. Above the mama primate were four babies hanging from the red wooden border overhead. They, too, had apples in their clutches.
As I meandered through the rest of the library, I marvelled at the size of the foreign language collections: French, Serbian, Chinese, and Estonian. There used to be a Japanese collection as well, but a notice advised that it had been moved to North York Library. ESL and Literacy materials abounded, and a North Toronto Local History Section was available too.The Skylight Gallery upstairs consisted of a semi-circular stretch of wall that curved underneath (surprise!) a grand skylight. With the exception of one painting near the washrooms, no artwork happened to be on display when I visited in 2009. I had some difficulty making out the artist’s name painted in the bottom right corner, but it looked like Tom Lane. With a distinctively tactile appeal, the large canvas was covered in tinted tree bark, and its three-dimensionality was enhanced by protruding mushrooms. Refraining from touching the bark, I trotted back down the stairs and emerged into the afternoon busyness of Yonge and Eglinton.
In the two and a half years between my first and second blog post about Northern District, a renovation occurred and I added camera skills to my blogging toolkit. (Furthermore, after a recent visit to take pictures for an upcoming photography exhibit, I edited the 2012 photos and added new ones for good measure.)
In 2012, the main differences I noticed were a glass-walled program room (where my friend Ellen and I led a Culture Days program in 2011 ), luxurious new study booths in the teens section, a snacking zone, and three beautifully contemplative study rooms.
Two other important changes were the shifting of the children’s section into a different corner of the library (minus the Appleapes) and the creation of a spacious reading area in its place.
I liked the way the new reading room seemed to thrust the readers into the heart of Yonge and Eglinton — all the city dynamism without the noise!
The final difference between the 2009 and 2012 versions of the library was the presence of a striking art display by Afsaneh Shafai in the upstairs skylight gallery.
Northern District Library, it’s been a pleasure to witness your evolution. Keep bringing the scholarly energy, support for the arts, and willingness to change!
A number of years had passed since my previous sojourn to Highland Creek, but I had not forgotten the distinctive ceiling that resembled an unfolded sauna. Thanks to the the ceiling’s skylight and the generous number of high windows, Highland Creek was as radiant with natural light as ever.
Not far from the skylight, four lucky readers had settled in the same number of armchairs in front of the hearth. Two coffee tables were piled high with the remains of fireside browsing material: magazines, craft books, and a photo digest of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Later I added to the stack after I photographed two books from Highland Creek’s small multilingual collection.
Closer to the entrance, a glamorous dragon called Desdemona batted her lashes at incoming library patrons. I liked the she-dragon’s sparkly green scarf and the way it complemented her hide-tone. With purple talons matching the shade of her ears, wings and back-plates, Desdemona was the best-accessorized dragon I have ever seen.
From a high shelf in the Children’s Section, the dragon’s tail received the solar benefit of south-facing windows, something that a reptile in a cold climate must appreciate.
Highland Creek’s multipurpose room contained some interesting wall art that referenced the previous summer’s reading program, Destination Jungle. Thank goodness nobody had torn down the art at summer’s end, for I would have missed the opportunity to see the denim-clad monkey, fluffy cuttlefish, and the melancholy frog.
Highland Creek, thank you for the opportunity to bask in the presence of your skylight, hearth, and bright mural!
Similar to Dawes Road and Thorncliffe branches, Flemingdon Park Library holds its ground in the shadow of multiple sets of high-rise apartments. Located just south of the Don Mills and Eglinton Avenue intersection, the branch shares its quarters with a pool and community centre.
On arrival at Flemingdon Park, I went to the sunny reading room first. An elderly patron was reading a newspaper in her first language aided by a magnifying glass, and silence reigned among the wooden tables.
After some quality quiet time in the reading room, the skylight near the lobby drew me back into the main section of the library. With my head tilted back towards the light, I noticed the mural that hung beneath a triangle of glass. I liked the central Canadian flag and cheerful panels, each containing an individual picture.
The heart shape composed of nestling face-crescents captured the beauty of Toronto’s multiculturalism, and I liked how the library showed tangible support for diversity with its resources in French, Chinese, Gujarati, Hindi, Persian, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Tamil, and Urdu.
In addition to the faces in the heart, a portrait of E. T. also appeared in the mural, causing me to wonder if it might have been painted in 1982, the year the Spielberg movie came out. This would make historical sense, as Flemingdon Park branch opened in 1981.
Even though the library wasn’t as slick and shiny as some of the more recently renovated branches, it displayed a lot of heart. The Children’s section was unadorned but functional, and it was obvious that residents of Flemingdon Park relied on the library for important services that many could not otherwise afford, such as newspaper subscriptions, Internet connection, and MAP passes. (On my most recent visit, more than a dozen patrons had lined up long before the Saturday opening time of nine a.m. in order to secure popular MAP passes. One woman had even brought her camp stool to perch on).
Indeed, Flemingdon Park’s lack of glamour was what gave the imagination all the more incentive to travel from an underprivileged neighbourhood to a world of books. Where else could you meet a moon-fish, hipster bears, and Persian heroes under one sunny roof!
Wanting to gain a sense of the exterior of Leaside Library before it opened for the morning, I began to circle the perimeter. However, an ancient boulder soon stopped me in my tracks. According to a nearby sign, this “Precambrian erratic was slowly transported to the Leaside area by a glacier more than 10,000 years ago.” I loved the rock’s dignified presence, which was like a grandfather elephant resting after centuries of geological movement. When I looked more closely at the cracks and patterns on the erratic, I found one that looked like a giraffe.
Next, I trotted along a boot-made trail in the snow and took in Leaside Tennis Club and Traces Mane Park before ducking into the warm library. (In addition, on my most recent visit in 2015, I encountered an equine creature made of sticks who stood its ground on the north side of the building).
As I was getting my bearings in the lobby, a group of pre-school kids trooped through the door in a jolly burst of noise and colourful hats. Their teachers ushered them into the program room to the right of the entrance, where a sliding door created a separate space for the duration of the program.
About an hour later, I noted the expansive south window that suffused the place with pure winter light. I also liked the clever storage area for flat cushions in primary colours. (When I was in Brownies, we called them “sit-upons” but I’m not sure if they’re called that in Canada).
The rest of Leaside’s interior was pleasingly rectangular. I loved the high windows on three sides, especially in the places where dark tree branches held steady behind the panes. Most of the space was open plan, with the Children’s Room demarcated by a portal that contained display cabinets on either side. A bank of computers formed most of the outer barrier of the kids’ zone, with a gap serving as a second entrance.
Guarding the cabinet-entrance was a non-threatening Yeti, and on the other side of the barrier was a deer in a long stocking cap. I was very taken by one of the display books, The Cow Who Clucked, for I support a cow’s right to cluck instead of moo if she so chooses.
As I continued my self-guided tour, I found the French collection and some window seats. A patron was contentedly seated on one of them with her laptop. She had set her galoshes carefully to one side and was typing in her stockinged feet.
The north window bank also had its fans, as did the local history room near the checkout desk. When I explored the Leaside Room, I discovered a signed copy of Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss and a framed example of Mayoral bling with lots of gold maple leaves clasped together.
Refreshed by sunlight and shadows, I left Leaside with a spirit of gratitude for its distinctive boulder, contented Yeti, friendly staff, and classy decor.
Located at the northernmost reaches of Woodside Square Mall, Woodside Square Library’s sleekness immediately captured my attention The exterior wall was covered in silver metal and contained windows looking into this one-room branch.
With its silver compactness, the library resembled the ultimate hipster submarine. And like a beatnik cafe in San Francisco, this educational joint was jumping! The room was packed with parents reading to their children, kids sitting on the floor with their picture books, each computer busy, some elderly men nodding over Chinese newspapers, and teenagers hunkered down over their math textbooks and calculators.
As I wandered around Woodside Square in a loosely counter-clockwise manner, I admired its groovy flair. Some of the windows on the east side of the north wall contained dark amber panes, creating an artistic effect that was only slightly marred by the mundane view of a Food Basics parking lot.
I also liked the wooden wrap-around bench that jutted from the west side of the north wall, providing unstructured seating under another row of windows. And a corner seat tucked between two shelves was another example of clever usage of limited amount of space.
The children’s area sheltered in the friendly presence of a lozenge-shaped window that overlooked the mall corridor. Seven staggered window strips in yellow and orange competed with a circular green desk to see who could be the most colourful.
Although Woodside didn’t have as extensive a collection of multilingual books as Malvern, it did offer materials in Chinese, Gujurati, Hindi, French, and Tamil. The romance section seemed disproportionately ample for the size of the branch, but why complain when you could enjoy being Seduced for the Inheritance or discovering Texas-sized Secrets?
Almost as big as a Texas-sized secret was my surprise at finding a DVD about the history of the Kansas City Chiefs. Growing up in the Kansas City area, most of my acquaintances had an opinion about the Chiefs or the very least a red Chiefs T-shirt. When I was a teenager, I worked in the cafeteria at the college where the team used to train over the summer. (I still remember how much steak got consumed!) Several decades later and one country north of the border, here was a slice of home in a thin plastic box. Amazing!
Still marvelling over the unexpected Chiefs DVD, I walked over to the automatic check-out machine. As my selection was processed, I enjoyed looking at the red firecracker decorations that celebrated Chinese New Year for 2009. Welcome, Ox! Lanterns with red tassels dangled from the ceiling, adding a festive vibe to the room.
The last feature of Woodside Square I admired was a sturdy returns slot that was set deep into the wall. I wished I had a thick book to return so I could hear it make a satisfying thunk in its receptacle in the staff’s office.
Though I had nothing to return, I left Woodside Square with New Year gifts of colour, memory, and architectural beauty!