I grew up in Seattle, and am used to hearing out-of-towners who visit the downtown library raving about our breathtaking city (and libraries). Well now I know how they feel. I just returned from my third visit to Toronto, where I was speaking at a library conference, and have been boring everyone silly with effusions of praise for this great city, the fifth most populous in North America and one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. The city has great arts and theatre, and a hot clubbing scene, a terrific public market with amazing variety of foods (and the most cheese I’ve seen in one place outside of Paris), a gorgeous main library that anchors a tremendous library system with 99 branches, and even their own space needle, a mere three times the height of ours.
But what I like best is what a wonderful walking city Toronto is, with great long streets that stretch for miles through a terrific succession of ethnic neighborhoods, from Greektown to Little Italy, Portugal Village to Cabbagetown, Koreatown to Yorkville. That such a vast city maintains its human scale is partly thanks to the influence of urban thinker Jane Jacobs, best known for her The Death and Life of Great American Cities, who helped keep Toronto from making the common missteps of modernizing cities, such as bisecting themselves with huge freeways. I’ve been there during a heat wave, a chilly autumn, and a cold snap, and I just couldn’t keep from walking for miles and miles.
Readers interested in getting a taste of Toronto’s rich history have plenty of great fiction to choose from, from Michael Ondaatje’s story of a seeker in 1920’s Toronto, In the Skin of a Lion, to Alvin Rakoff’s tale of rough-and-tumble depression era Baldwin Street, to the transcendant poetry of Anne Michaels’ Fugitive Pieces, where the city serves as the adopted home of Holocaust survivors and their memories. (Bernice Eisenstein’s Toronto-based graphic novel, I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors, makes a great companion read). Dionne Brand’s What We All Long For offers a lively glimpse of the contemporary urban melting pot, while Michael Redhill’s Consolation ferries back and forth between the modern city and its early beginnings, as a historian searching for the first photographs of Toronto uncovers more than he expected.
Mystery buffs have a lot of titles to choose from, such as the recent anthology Toronto Noir, Robert Rotenberg’s Old City Hall, Rosemary Aubert’s Ellis Portal mysteries, starting with Free Reign, Scott MacKay’s series of police procedurals beginning with Cold Comfort, and Maureen Jennings’ mysteries featuring detective William Murdoch.
Start planning your own visit with one of our Toronto guidebooks, and maybe I’ll see you there!