live close by or are traveling to the city from out of province or country, these three books will inspire you to see Toronto as more than Casa Loma, Black Creek Pioneer Village, and the CN Tower. While I highly recommend you check out these sites, I also suggest visiting the welcoming neighbourhoods, natural ravines, boardwalks and parks that make Toronto a must-visit destination.
The Toronto Book of The Dead
The Toronto Book of The Dead by Adam Bunch ($16.99, Dundurn Press) offers amazing stories about Toronto’s dead from the Indigenous people who first walked this city to those who died on The Noronic, a Great Lake cruise ship that went up in flames killing passengers, guests, and the industry itself. We learn about Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables, Neil Young and his musical start in Yorkville and the comeback of, perhaps, the extinct passenger pigeon thanks to science and the Royal Ontario Museum.
Thanks to Bunch, I want to head east to Tabor Hill, near the corner of Lawrence Avenue and Bellamy Road in Scarborough to glimpse the giant mound of earth, housing a 700-year-old mass grave with the bones of more than 500 people buried during a Feast of the Dead celebration in the early 1300s. In downtown’s Victoria Memorial Square Park, at the corner of Wellington and Portland, stand some of Toronto’s oldest gravestones, including Canadian-born daughter of Elizabeth Simcoe and Lt.-Gov. John Graves Simcoe. Then there is “The True Story of Toronto’s Island Ghost,” which tells the spooky tale of the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse and its keeper. You can check out Trinity Bellwoods Park, which was once Trinity College at the University of Toronto college grounds, the location where Canada’s first black doctor, and friend of U.S. president Abraham Lincoln, graduated from medical school.
When traveling to a new city, I love to check out its tourist sites as well as the places locals hang out. In Toronto, that should be Bellevue Square.
In the book Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill ($32, Penguin Random House), Jean Mason, a grown woman with a husband, two kids and a downtown Toronto bookstore, starts hanging out in Kensington Market, a vibrant and diverse Toronto market and gathering place, because a variety of people have informed her they have seen her doppelganger buying churros and dragging an empty shopping cart down the street.
At the crossroads to Kensington Market is a park called Bellevue Square, where Jean’s spends time trying to spot her twin and paying local people for information related to her.
“The park Katerina meant is called Bellevue Square. I saw what she was talking about right away: you could see anyone or anything in that park. I sat on one of its benches…and watched people coming and going for two whole hours. I had to remind myself to keep looking for my twin, but the passing parade was so gripping that from time to time I forgot my stakeout. The park was a clearing house for humanity.”
The book also takes you to other parts of Toronto including Pine Street, the Art Gallery of Ontario and, across the street, the “Scrabble-board backside of the Sharp Centre for Design hovers over Grange Park;” the Ossington strip that “turns into a kilometer-long buffet” and Denison Square to Augusta.
“(It’s confusing that they named the street Denison Square, when in fact it’s a street, and Bellevue Square is more rectangular than square, and really, it’s a park.)”
The Only Cafe
No one knows Pierre Cormier, a Toronto lawyer whose body is discovered several years after he disappeared, or what happened to him in Lebanon including his wife, ex-wife and adult son, who begins a personal investigation.
The hunt begins at an east-end Toronto bar, The Only Cafe, which exists and gets a mention in the author’s acknowledgments.
In the book, Cormier’s ex-wife makes a dig at the east-neighborhood.
“Aggie was a snob about the geographic destination ‘east’ though she’d been born and raised on Canada’s east coast and her ex-husband was of Middle East extraction. For Aggie Lynch, anything east of the Don Valley meant vulgar and not a little unpredictable.”
Yet The Danforth shines in The Only Cafe.
“He might then have turned west, toward home. He’d turned east instead, crossed the Don Valley and entered what he’d always thought of as the city’s European microcosm, Danforth Avenue. He drove past the teeming patios, the Greek restaurants, Greeks street signs, Greek statuary, Mediterranean enthusiasm. He dove slowly, absorbing all the images of pleasure….He drove until he entered another world. No more patios and pleasure-seeking throngs, no more shish kebab and booze. The signs were now in Urdu, the shops proclaiming Halal meat. He drove until he saw the mosque, the unmistakable minaret, the silver crescent, the emerald domes.”
In the book, we drive along the Lake Shore, hear about Cherry Beach and the warning about those who go there at night – “lovers and addicts” – and St. George subway station “you can go anywhere in the world, Cyril. North, south, east, west. Take care.”
A copy of these books was provided by Dundurn Press and Penguin Random House for an honest review. The opinions are my own.
Lisa Day has a passion for books – owning them, reading them, writing about them and talking about them. She carries at least one, maybe two or three, books with her at all times and when she isn’t reading, she is writing about them. You can also find her on Twitter at @LisaMDayC; Instagram at @LisaMDayReads, Facebook at www.facebook.com/BookTime584 and GoodReads at http://bit.ly/ldgoodreads