After Improv class on Sunday Sage and I find ourselves in the back of a northbound bus. In the seat next to us a father is ignoring his 6-7 year old daughter who is staring at a phone on which a children’s TV program blares. We ask them if they can turn it down a little bit but are told they won’t. A few stops later, a 30-something couple get on and sits behind the father and daughter. They are cartoonish in their dislike for each other. Like two little children they try to find little things to annoy the other one and then, as the argument simmers down and they get quiet one or the other of them comes up with a new thing to try to get things started. Sage and I are both taken back to reading the Sunday comics of our childhood.
It’s good, though, as somehow it is almost humorous and compared to the screeching television we are entertained. After about 45 minutes of riding we arrive at the corner of two busy suburban roads.
When we get out we realize how cold and damp it is. We had a short glimpse of spring a few days before but now we’re back in the doldrums of March weather. It rains off and on, a cold drizzle that chills me to the bones, especially when the wind picks up.
Just a block later, though, it feels like we’ve gone to the country. Are we in Ontario or a small Missouri village?
The library is only a five minute walk or so from the intersection where the bus dropped us off. The library itself looks lovely. It is one of the newest libraries in the system, opened in 2009 and it shows a lot of the same priorities as some of our recently renovated branches. It starts outside with a public space – The Reading Sprouts Garden. There is room for outdoor performances, space to sit, and beds for flowers that today has a few shivering pansies in them. I commiserate with them about the terrible weather.
Were this a nicer day we might spend a bit more time outside, but I need to warm up. We walk around the front of the building to the entrance.
There is a wall of windows facing the street and another wall of them around the corner and the space inside is open and inviting. We are met almost immediately by an enthusiastic woman inviting us to join a book launch party for a young adult book, Carey Price: How a First Nations kid became a superstar goaltender. The room for the book launch is full of parents and kids. We politely decline and check out the rest of the library. Throughout our time there we hear clapping and laughter coming from the book launch crowd. While my bus ride might have given me the idea that children are no longer interested in books, nor are their parents interested in encouraging reading, this is clearly not the case. It’s as if all of the kids interested in reading have converged on this space.
There are libraries with big collections of books in which you can find anything you like. There are small libraries which serve best as places to pick up your holds but are not really worth browsing. This library, however, is neither of those. While it’s relatively small, only 7,000 square feet, it has a nice mix of books and both Sage and I are able to find a few things we’re interested in. I add a few more books to my “Want to read” shelf on Goodreads.
One of the things I love about the design of many of our newer libraries is that they’re designed to be enjoyed and to be pleasant places to spend a long time. Gone are the old days of libraries with heavy wooden tables surrounded by hard wooden chairs seemingly designed with the sole purpose of making sure that if you were spending time in the library you really wanted to be around the books. Nobody would come there to relax and enjoy a book, study with friends, or relax. Now they’re far more inviting.
I go to the bulletin board to see what sort of programs are happening here. Among other things, there is a Lego club for 6-10 year olds, citizen preparation classes, after-school crafts, and even a class to prepare 10-14 year old kids to be at home alone safely. An adult program, “The World Inside and Around the Beehive” happened just the week before.
We pack the few books we picked up – neither of us had room for many, and head out. Now we’re ravenously hungry. For this trip I have decided to take Sage somewhere I’ve been before but haven’t been in many years: the Downsview Park Merchants Market.
At one time, de Havilland, Canada used to have an aircraft manufacturing centre in North York, Ontario. This eventually became a Canadian Forces base but has since been decommissioned. Part of it still houses an airport used by Bombardier Aircraft, but the remainder has become a park: Downsview Park. Some of it has been used as performance space, notably used for “Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto” – commonly known as SARSStock – a benefit to help revive Toronto’s economy after the 2003 SARS outbreak. The concert brought people like The Guess Who, Rush, AC/DC, and The Rolling Stones to perform in front of about 500,000 people. Justin Timberlake also came but, not really fitting in with the others, he was booed and had to dodge things being thrown at him.
Elsewhere in the park is an area for Urban Agriculture. Right now there are about 3 acres being cultivated, most by organizations like Fresh City Farms, a company that grows and sells locally grown food in Toronto.
The park is a large open space – almost 600 acres and because of the airport, most of it is treeless. It is at a higher elevation than the parts of Toronto to the south so it has an odd feel – like being at the top of a mountain.
After a short walk from the bus stop we arrive at the market.
We’re hungry so we head straight for the food court. Unlike a mall food court, this one has a distinct international focus with stalls feeling more like street food stalls than food court stalls at a mall.
I grab some cash – it’s a mostly cash operation here, and Sage and I split up and agree to meet back at a table with whatever we come back with.
I head for a restaurant that has food from Trinidad and am met immediately by a happy and enthusiastic man. I have had some food from Trinidad but not so much. I try to order small things so I can try other places’ food as well. I order a double – which I’ve had before, a “sandwich” made of roti with chickpea curry (channa) in the middle. He asks if I’ve tried aloo pie before. I tell him I haven’t and he suggests that. He tells an older woman whom I later find out is his mom, the order and she starts making it. Then he excitedly asks if I want to try a drink “on the house”. “It’s something I know you’ve never had before.” How could I pass that up? He grabs a cup with ice, and heads for the fridge. He fills it part way with a brown liquid and the rest of the way with an orange liquid. He hands it to me. “Watch out! This will make your taste buds explode!”
I take a sip and he’s right. It’s really great. There’s a taste of fruit juice – and something else that makes me think of the sassafras tea my mother in law would make sometimes.
“That’s mauby. Do you know what it is?”
I suggest it tastes like it might be a fruit but he corrects me. It’s a tree bark brewed like tea. The brown liquid was that tea which can be a bit bitter so he added some freshly squeezed grapefruit and orange juice to it. It was delicious. I take it all back to the table, promising to report back on what I thought of the food.
I go back to the table with my food and Sage and I taste it. The double is my favourite but the aloo pie is also quite good. It reminds me a little of aloo paratha but the bread is thicker. It’s almost the thickness and softness of naan.
Sage made her way to a Mexican food stall. There she got a chorizo and cheese quesadilla with a spicy jalapeno salsa. I tried a little of it as I can only eat a little cheese without getting a headache. It was really delicious. I want to eat the whole thing even though I know I will spend the next morning in bed with a headache if I do.
At the end of our first round I go back to the stall and report back. The food was excellent. He asks what my favourite was and I told him the double was good. Then he asked if I liked the aloo pie. I tell him it was good but the double was amazing. He said he liked to eat aloo pie for breakfast and told me how good it was as a breakfast food. He asks me if I think it would be good as a breakfast food and I say that yes, I think it would be amazing, especially with achar (pickle). He looks surprised and asks me how I know what achar is and where I get mine. I tell him that usually I buy it but sometimes I make it myself. He agrees with me – it’s a good dish on its own but with achar it becomes amazing. Then he stops and says “See? This is why you cant judge a book by its cover. I would never have thought you’d know about achar but you really do appreciate good food!” I promise to return again soon.
I make my way to try another bit of food and order a combo at a Filipino stall: chicken, egg rolls, rice and soup.
This was pretty disappointing, I have to say. The egg rolls were ok but the minced chicken inside was not spiced. The same could be said for the chicken. The soup was also relatively bland and likely from a can. Hugely disappointing and I couldn’t finish it. I have fond memories of a Filipino BBQ place downtown with delicious food so I was hoping this would be just as good. I’ll need to try another place – possibly with suggestions from friends.
Meanwhile, while I’m out, Sage tells me a little boy about 6 years old in a bow tie comes by and announces to her that he is starting his own business and would she like to buy some lip balm or honey? As much as she wished she needed either of those things, she really didn’t but wished him lots of luck with his new business.
Now we went in search of dessert. Right behind where we had been sitting was a Vietnamese restaurant that also served Vietnamese iced coffee, cà phê sữa đá. This is strong coffee brewed by a drip method that reminds me of the same method used for making South Indian style filter coffee. Then, once it is brewed, it is mixed with sweetened, condensed milk and poured over ice. It is hugely delicious and another thing I can only have a little taste of. Sage lets me hold it to take a photo and ensures that I don’t “accidentally” drink it all.
Now fed and happy, we wander the actual market. There is a huge variety of things from cheap clothes (men’s socks: 12 pairs for $10) to cookware, antiques (including some beautiful wristwatches and pocket watches).
Finally, it was time to go so we head back out in to the cold and get a pleasant surprise. Several years ago on my last trip here, Daegan and I had to wait outside for 20 minutes on a cold day like today to get a bus that took another 15-20 minutes to get to the subway. Today, though, we see that a five minute walk away is a new subway station: Downsview Park Station. We go inside, board the warm train and head back downtown.
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.