For today’s library I go as close to home as I can possibly go: the Thorncliffe Branch. In 2004 we got our first Toronto Public Library cards there and for many years it was our home branch. We moved away from the neighbourhood in 2009 but in 2017 we returned, remembering how much we loved the area.
The neighbourhood is an interesting one. From 1917 to 1952, this area was home to a horse race track. In 1953, though, development started. The design was simple and, in my opinion, ahead of its time.
The neighbourhood itself is arranged in a U shape along Thorncliffe Park Drive. Overlea Boulevard crosses over the top of the U.
Along the outside of the U are high-rise buildings in the 20-44 storey range. On the inside near the top of the U is East York Town Centre – a small neighbourhood mall with a grocery store, banks, drug store, restaurants and a few miscellaneous shops. On the sides of the U you will find low rise apartment buildings. All in all there are about 34 apartment buildings in the neighbourhood. In those buildings in that small area just over 20,000 people live. This still amazes me as the town I grew up in currently has a population of 694. There are more people in my building alone than my hometown.
Just below the mall is the local elementary school and early education centre. This is next door to the park. And just below the park is the library that shares a building with a community centre.
The layout works extremely well, in my opinion. Overlea Boulevard is a bit of a busy street providing access to the area from outside while Thorncliffe Park Drive is a slower (maybe not slow enough) route providing access to the neighbourhood. Walking paths criss-cross the area making it very pedestrian friendly. We are all within a few minutes walk of the things we need: Grocery store, post office, school, pharmacy, and of course, library.
When we used to own a car, we would bring it wherever we went. And thus, no matter what we needed to bring back we had something to easily carry it. But now that we live without a car a bit of forethought is needed. We need to bring something to carry whatever we plan on picking up. If it’s a small shopping or library trip we might just bring a backpack. If I’m travelling by bike I will bring one or two panniers to do that job. If it’s a larger trip, for example to buy several day’s worth of groceries, we need to bring something a little bigger. Today I have a several library books to return and a small grocery trip to do so today I bring the larger of our two carts.
When Daegan was little and we would go to the library we would bring a cart just like this. It drew the attention of a librarian who always remarked fondly that there we were with our “bundle buggy” again. We would return all of our books and load it up again. Daegan is an avid reader and each of us were allowed to check out up to 50 books so we would often bring a cart nearly full of books for us all to read.
Today, though, I’m only bringing back a few and picking up a single book on hold, a Hindi children’s book for me to read.
Out the door I go and down toward the library.
Then across the street I go – it’s more pleasant and a little shorter to cut through the park.
Today there are a few kids playing in the splash pad and running around the playground, parents sitting and talking as they go. On market days, though, it can get very busy.
Delicious snacks are always available on market days.And on some market days Sage has been known to tell stories to children.
We approach the library from behind where you can see that in the latest renovation just about ten years ago they installed big lovely windows.
Around to the front I go…
Inside you can see how lovely the big windows have made the space.
This is a library that serves the neighbourhood well, and is targeted especially at kids. If you arrive on a day after school it is packed with kids. Some of them studying or reading, others playing games on the public computers. From what I read online this is a bit of a point of contention for some adults who would prefer a library be what many of us remember from our own childhood: a quiet place where children shall not make noise lest they first be shushed and then banished if they make more than a peep. I don’t mind the noise at all when I’m there, though. To me it is happy noise – rarely if ever argumentative – that means people are enjoying the space. And as a grown-up I also know that if I need absolute silence, there are many places in the city including several other nearby libraries as well as my own home in which to find it. I’m actually excited to see how in many ways the Toronto Public Library is redefining public space and how a library can and should serve a community. And I like the transformation I see from a library’s being a solemn and silent temple for books in to a place filled with life that people want to spend time in.
There are a number of DVDs in many languages available to browse here.
There’s also a relatively good Hindi movie collection which is useful to me for practice. That said, I admit that if I don’t get a movie online, I will go to a nearby paan shop to get cheap DVDs there. Not only do I get to keep the DVD, I can get a little practice speaking Hindi / Urdu there when I buy it as well.
There is a relatively small adult section in the library but for me, it isn’t a particularly great place to browse. It’s close to home, though, so it’s an excellent place to have them drop off my holds.
I drop off our returns and pick up my hold and off I go, following the path through the park again to the mall.
I just learned that with over 1,900 students, this is North America’s largest elementary school. The last count I can find shows that students here come from 47 different countries. It poses unique challenges to teachers who will find themselves with many kids whom they can’t speak with when they first arrive. There was a fascinating article in the New York Times on how the teachers are dealing with this and other challenges. I think you’ll find it interesting. Have a look here.
Living in this neighbourhood makes me very happy. Just a trip to the local library and grocery store means meeting people from all over the world. There are some things that are different about it – for example, I have felt a bit self-conscious going running here in short shorts and a t-shirt as men and women all around me are dressing as modestly as they can. On the other hand, something I really appreciate is the lack of bars in this neighbourhood. As it is mostly a Muslim neighbourhood there isn’t much demand for it, and so none have opened. After living in a part of town filled with university students and another in a relatively trendy neighbourhood filled with young people, I really appreciate not having many drunk people walking the streets and riding the buses to, from and between bars – or waking up to vomit on the sidewalks as I walk to the subway on a Sunday morning.
On the positive side, I love being able to go out for nihari or halwa puri for breakfast on the weekend or to find nearly any ingredient for Indian, Thai, Chinese, Korean, or any European food within a few minutes walk from the house. This is a wonderful thing for someone who grew up in a town of 694 and dreamed of travelling the world when he grew up. I still may not be able to travel the world as much as I like, so now I live in a city where the world comes to me.
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.