Toronto Public Library Pilgrimage of 100 Branches

A Day Out with the Toronto Public Library: Ward’s Island Bookmobile Stop

A couple of Saturdays ago, Stewart and I raced to catch the ten o’clock Ward’s Island ferry. After we’d safely launched ourselves on the boat, I caught my breath and noticed a singular vehicle occupying the exact centre of the ferry. It was one of the TPL Bookmobiles! I liked how its presence was whimsical yet purposeful, with books destined for a beach excursion while providing essential library services to the resident islanders.

photo by Stewart Russell, 2010

After the strollers, bicycles with shopping wagons, and camera-laden day-trippers streamed off the ferry, the Bookmobile exited last. Then it trundled along Cibola Avenue, stopping in a grassy patch just north of Algonquin Bridge (the wooden footbridge that arches over a narrow stretch of harbour and is off-limits to rented bicycle surreys).

Photo by Stewart Russell, 2010

With twenty minutes until opening time, I settled down in a heap with my notebook on a nearby sidewalk that led to the boardwalk. It was a gorgeous autumn morning, and I enjoyed the warmth of the sun on my hair.

Photo by Stewart Russell, 2010

At 10:30 on the dot, two patrons climbed aboard the Bookmobile, and by 10:35 approximately eight people were inside, their bicycles leaning against the front and side of the bus. Other bikes were strewn at random on the grass, prompting me to ponder how liberating it must be to hop on a bike and fetch your books without having to worry about traffic, subway steps, or bike locks!

Photo by Stewart Russell, 2010

When I stepped up into the mobile library around 11:00, I noticed how different the vehicle seemed in daylight. Compared to my previous evening’s visit at Queen’s Quay, the Ward’s Island stop seemed more leisurely and relaxed. The radio was playing from the dashboard, and the view from the back window was leafy and harbour-scenic. (Perhaps it’s not fair to compare the two bookmobile sites because it’s hard for a crepuscular parking lot to compete with a restful island site).

The Bookmobile wasn’t overly crowded, which made for a congenial environment. For example, there wasn’t the competitive huddle next to the DVD shelves that I observed at Queen’s Quay. However, like their urban cousins across the water, the Ward’s Island patrons appeared to relish bookmobile visits because they provide a reliable opportunity to catch up with fellow book-loving friends.

Even though the driver-librarian had to process the materials by hand due to a computer problem, patrons waited patiently in line with their armfuls of books. Meanwhile, a mom was asking her two young children for feedback on the week’s selection of picture books. She would read a line or two, show some illustrations, and see if the kids showed interest in the book. When she’d gathered up all the books that had passed the interest test, she showed off some of the titles to a friend, who exclaimed, “Look at the eyes on that lemur!”

Eventually, I made my way to the front of the bus to check out a book on Vermeer. When I commented that the driver’s job seemed fun, he said, “The people are nice, and it’s never a dull moment!” Indeed, Ward’s Island residents of all ages seemed happy to see him drive up and spend a few hours dispensing a wealth of printed information, entertainment, and good cheer.

Photo by Stewart Russell, 2010

For the second time in as many days, I descended the Bookmobile steps and emerged into the outside air. I located Stewart, who had been taking pictures of the exterior of the bus, and he suggested lunch at the Rectory Café. Very little persuasion was required, and after a meal of lamb burger (Stewart) and salmon and bagel (me), we went for refreshing walk along the boardwalk. It was the perfect activity to cap a wonderful outing. What a joy to visit Ward’s Island in the company of Stewart and the Toronto Public Library!

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