A few years back I started a project, intending to visit each of the, then 99, Toronto Public Library branches. In part it was to visit each library because I love libraries, but after my first couple of visits I realized it was equally good for visiting parts of the city I might never see. Thanks to a populace that loves their libraries (people line up before they open like an Apple Store on New iPhone Release Day) there’s one in nearly every neighbourhood from multi-story ones filled with hundreds of thousands of books in the heart of the city, to ones in tiny villages at the edge of the city to still others in suburban shopping malls.
I visited a few libraries and then, thanks to a project that took me out of town increasingly more frequently over the years, I drifted away from it and even deleted most of the entries I wrote. However, I was able to come across some notes in a Facebook status I downloaded before deleting my account about the Albion Branch back in 2014. It said:
distracted me with their beauty, cycling, and gardening opportunities. I also found that I was a bit overwhelmed for no good reason about this next visit. I guess part of the reason was it was so far from downtown. It took a bit over an hour to get to the Albion library, certainly not bad for a suburban visit, but at the same time that hour didn’t account for the frequency of the bus that took me there. Unlike many buses in Toronto, the 73C Royal York bus comes every 20 minutes – this could mean a long wait on the side of the road if you just miss a bus or one is delayed. But I finally made it up there. The bus dropped me off in my least favourite kind of neighbourhood: A sprawling, suburban wasteland. On one side of me was a large parking lot for a mall, on the other side six lanes of fast and impatient traffic between me and the library. This is definitely not a library I would be riding my bike to any time soon. My time in the library was interesting. When I got in I saw that it was very much used by the folks in the neighbourhood. If there was a chair, there was someone sitting in it. All of the computers were in use, all of the tables populated with people studying, reading or writing. But I felt a little bit guilty as I walked around. I tried and tried to find something I liked about this library but I came up pretty short. One thing I was happy to see, though, was the diversity of languages available. As the webpage says, the library has: Large collection in Chinese, French, Gujarati, Hindi, Tamil Medium collection in Arabic, Italian, Panjabi, Spanish, Urdu Small collection in Bengali, Persian, Somali, Tagalog (DVDs only), Telugu, Vietnamese And so I was able to get my usual in situations like this: a couple of preschool Hindi books to practice my reading. I also brought home a Hindi horror film. I’ve found that when it comes to thrillers, Hindi films catch me off guard in a way that most English films don’t. So I’m especially excited to see how that works out with horror films. Other than that, I couldn’t find much that I enjoyed about it. I had just finished my book on the way up and was looking forward to finding something to read for the trip home and even that didn’t pan out. And the appearance was a bit worn around the edges but still too new to be quirky. And believe me. I felt bad. I certainly didn’t start this project to find all the shortcomings of the places I go. But then, on the way out the door, a set of posters caught my eye. Major renovations are about to start. And while I’m sad that this will likely leave this neighbourhood without a library that is clearly well used, I also see that I’m not alone in thinking that perhaps an update is needed. After I left the library I headed across the street to visit the mall – the only commercial area for about 2 kilometres (Albion and Islington has a number of interesting-looking shops including Brar Sweets, a great restaurant I’ve visited with a coworker some years ago). The mall was one of the type that if you’ve read the other entries here you know I really like. There are loads of independent stores with a surprising number devoted to cell phones. But I realize also that I came to this mall before some years ago but approached from the other side because this mall has another draw for me. The Albion Cinema is there – one of two Hindi movie theatres in the city. Both show Hindi (and often Tamil and Punjabi) movies with English subtitles. Not only that, but in addition to the usual movie fare, you can also get samosas and chutney to snack on instead of popcorn. Ticket prices are a shock for those of us who see movies downtown: a matinee at this cinema is $7 per person. So, for the price of a downtown movie ticket you get your movie and your snacks. And you also usually get an interval in the middle to get up, stretch your legs, and get more snacks. So all in all, a successful trip, if not exactly what I expected.
Not exactly a stunning review, I know. However, the renovations I mentioned in that entry are done. It seemed appropriate, then, that I would head up to see what I could see.
The ride didn’t get any easier – and now Royal York Station is under renovations so the bus bays are closed. And now that I moved, it’s even further away. It took me about 90 minutes each way. On the other hand, it’s not like driving 90 minutes. I had good music and good things to read and at times coffee to drink. Who can complain?
The area is still one of my least favourite types of development in the city: wide fast roads that are essentially un-bikeable with no roads to bypass them on your bike. Transit or driving are the best way to get here. And be careful crossing the roads – the speed limits are high and these sorts of areas are where so many pedestrian collisions and fatalities are happening.
But as for the library: What a change! Starting with the outside. The facade is colourful and welcoming – even before the nearby construction and landscaping is done. I found myself excited to go inside and see what was there!
Where the previous library had a lot of concrete and not much in the way of light, this one was open and bright with large windows and skylights. It’s a space where you want to spend time. There was ample seating and, because it’s 2017, many of the places to sit also had both 120 volt AC outlets as well as USB charger connections.
I browsed around a bit, picking up a bunch of nonfiction books for me and the rest of my family. We’re all in to books about change – personal, social, and cultural. How do we create positive changes in ourselves and our communities? Hopefully these books will help us.
I do have to say that one place I was a little disappointed was in the Hindi Children’s Book section. They seem to be changing throughout the city, getting less and less space. There was this shelf and 1-2 others and that was it.
Yes, I know that there still lots available in storage, but for me as a “new reader” (at least in Hindi) I find I search the same way I did when looking for books as a child. What books have pictures I like? I’m still too inexperienced to know what authors are good or what illustrators really hook me. Still, I did find a few things: a picture dictionary, a couple of picture books, and to really stretch myself, a copy of The Little Prince in Hindi. I haven’t read it before and I know I will likely be looking up every second word but that’s how one learns. We also picked up Strangers – a Hindi remake of Strangers on a Train from 2007. I’m quite curious to see how it goes.
A quick visit to the washroom before I left showed one more welcome modernization that they’ve added with their renovations:
Afterward I went across the street to the mall. It hasn’t changed a whole lot.
The cinema is still there with some Punjabi and Hindi movies on offer:
I didn’t see anything that really piqued my interest so I continued onward to the food court. I was ready for a snack. The food court is a great example of Toronto in microcosm: Bagels, Greek food, momos (Halal), Subway, Thai / Chinese food, Hakka Chinese, McDonald’s, Timmy’s and a Caribbean buffet. Though I usually like to try something different and quite frankly was eyeing the momos, I ended up going to Timmy’s because my need for caffeine and only a small snack rather than a meal made that the right choice for me.
Suitably caffeinated it was time to head back across town. At least now I had no shortage of things to read as I travelled.
If you’d like to read about more of Toronto’s awesome libraries and the neighbourhoods they’re in, visit the Toronto by Library page.