Toronto Public Library Pilgrimage of 100 Branches

Historic Yet Responsive Gerrard/Ashdale (1924)

Mural by Shayona Panth in collaboration with Supurna Ghosh (2009). Photo taken in 2013.
Mural by Shayona Panth in collaboration with Suparna Ghosh (2009). Photo taken in 2013.
Mural by Shayona Panth in collaboration with Suparna Ghosh (2009). Photo taken in 2013.

Before I even stepped inside Gerrard/Ashdale Library, its unique flair proclaimed itself from an outdoor mural. Decorating the sides of a concrete platform rising from the sidewalk, the mural featured elephants, the Taj Mahal, a lotus flower, a tiger, a dancer, and a peacock. These lively images in the foreground provided a contrast to the classical building in the background, which embodied the solid assurance of a structure that has presided on this corner since 1924.


When I first visited Gerrard/Ashdale several years back, the upper story’s wooden beams and fireplace made a big impression on me. With five strong wooden braces and an inviting hearth, this large open room looked more like a fabulous attic in a C.S. Lewis book than an ordinary library wing. Enhancing the magic, a large textile art piece that sparkled with tiny mirrors hung from a brass rod above the mantle.

gerrard ashdale
This piece was above the hearth mantle in 2009. In 2013, preliminary sketches of the murals outside the building rested on the mantle.
Artwork by Shayona Panth

On nearby shelves were resources in Urdu, Hindi, Gujurati, Bengali, and Chinese. The dark woodwork set off their covers nicely, and the books also looked naturally artistic on top of a long shelving unit.


IMG_1636 IMG_1628 The south wing of the attic housed the children’s section. I liked how the ceiling sloped at an angle towards the windows facing Gerrard Street, creating a garret atmosphere where a poet or a child could feel at home. A wooden puppet theatre was tucked under the low eave, and a chess game on the nearby table waited for its players to return.


I gazed up at two skylights and then briefly sat down beside a round window that comprised most of the east wall of the children’s room. A butterfly mobile inches from my forehead, I gazed at Kohinoor Foods across Ashdale Street, where commerce spilled onto the pavement in the form of green milk crates stacked with purple and yellow onions, grapes, and string beans.

gerrard ashdale

Returning to the main floor, I considered checking out some books on Indian textiles. Although I didn’t have any materials to feed the returns monkey, I left Gerrard/Ashdale with happy memories of a historic branch that responds to the needs of diverse 21st-century Torontonians.


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