In 2009, I thought perhaps living the highrise life wasn’t for me. I dreamed of having an apartment no more than a floor or two above the street where I could park my bike outside and ride to everything I needed. Moving over 30 floors lower, I thought, would make me feel more connected to my neighbourhood and community. And so it was that we left the neighbourhood we were in and moved to a little house on the edge of a park on the opposite side of town.
Now Sage and I are revisiting that neighbourhood and our second “Home Library” in Toronto, the Bloor-Gladstone branch. Getting there takes us about 30 minutes, mostly spent on the subway – one of the most pleasant ways to travel in the city.
We come to the top of the stairs and enter an environment totally different from where we currently live. Bloor Street is a busy throughfare with lots of car and bicycle traffic and the sidewalks are filled with people visiting the shops and restaurants along the street. As we stand to cross the street, sirens fill the air and an ambulance weaves its way through traffic to get through the intersection. As it passes, an old man in the crosswalk puts his fingers in his ears.
We get to the front of the library and find a plaque out in front. I knew the library was relatively old but I didn’t realize it was 105 years old. It makes sense, though. It’s one of several Carnegie Libraries in our city.
A library can sometimes set the tone for the area around it. Today a man is sitting outside the library reading. I don’t blame him, the weather is lovely!
Just after we moved to the neighbourhood here, this library opened from a major renovation. It almost doubled in size, and like many of the recent renovations there were a few more things were added. The designers were generous with windows as usual as you can see from the all new glass-enclosed addition at one end.
They worked hard to maintain some of the architectural elements inside so that you can still feel the history. But the prim and proper nature has moved on. When they opened again they added comfortable seating, relaxed the policy on noise, and even allowed people to bring food and drink inside. Whenever we’ve been in here we notice that people respectfully take advantage of all of that without creating a disruption for others. It makes it a place people don’t just come as a chore or to pick up a book, it’s a destination where people want to spend time.
Like every library in the city, there are foreign language collections that cater to the diverse make up of the surrounding neighbourhood.
And I’m in luck, there are even six shelves of films for me to practice my Hindi with.
Before this trip, Sage got inspired and decided she would pick up a book and include a review in the entry.
I’m going to read it as well when I get the chance.
Though it is still early, we are both really hungry. We head next door to Tierra Azteca. When we lived in the area, this was primarily a Latin American grocery with a handful of tables in the back There wasn’t a menu, there were just a few kinds of tacos, and menudo (tripe soup) on the weekends. Over the years they’ve grown. I took Sage there for the first time not long after they got a menu with a few more dishes on it. In those days, the wait staff usually didn’t speak English and so when they came over, Sage was a little unsure of how to order. I spoke up and gave both our orders in Spanish. Sage was shocked as she had no idea I knew any Spanish. To be fair, I don’t know much. I know enough not to starve or go without a washroom. “How could I have known you for 20 years and not known this about you?” she asked incredulously.
Today the grocery store is gone, they’ve turned completely in to a restaurant. I like the transformation though I have to admit I do miss the days of its being more of a hole in the wall. Still, I’d rather see them be successful.
There’s also a pretty extensive menu when compared to the days of 3-4 different kinds of tacos.:
We order and the food arrives fairly quickly:
Sage ordered chorizo (sausage) tacos. They came out looking gorgeous. Gone are the days when they would bring you a container of fresh, hot tortillas, a bowl of meat, and containers of lime, cilantro, salsa, and onions. Still, Sage said these were delicious.
I ordered pork in salsa morita – a salsa made of small, smoked jalapeno chillies. served along with refried black beans and rice.
In the end, my dish was too big, and Sage’s too small so I gave her half of mine. We were out of tortillas so when the waiter came over she asked for more. He looked a little confused for a second then turned to me and said “mas?” (more) and I said “si”. I’m not sure why he thought I knew Spanish but I knew enough to know what he was asking so it was all good.
Our next stop was Dufferin Grove Park, the park which we used to live next door to. This is a magical public space in the city with a weekly year-round farmer’s market, excellent playground and arts events from time to time and a whole bunch of other things as you’ll see.
Right now this rink is set up for ball hockey, but in the winter it’s packed with people skating, playing hockey, and racing bikes. Racing bikes you ask? You bet! Have a look (it’s fun to watch and not just for cyclists – you really haven’t seen anything like this.)
Racers modify their tires by putting screws through them from the inside so they grip the ice and then race flat out for several laps. A special round is set aside for people racing with normal street tires. It’s slow, there’s lots of falling and laughing.
In the winter the building you can see just behind the rink (the rinkhouse) is a cozy place with a wood fire going every winter night and warm beverages for sale. Admission is free, and skate rental is relatively cheap so it’s an excellent winter family activity.
Tonight is Friday Night and so it’s time for the Friday Night Supper. Every week people prepare a vegetarian meal to share in the community using as much produce from the previous day’s farmer’s market, bread baked in a brick oven in the park, and a dessert. A donation of $7 is suggested.
Onward we head in to the park…
Soon we come to the firepit. This is available for booking and is a great way to spend a summer night. There is a suggested donation of $20 to book it for the night and it is lovely way to spend an evening in the middle of the city.
Across from the firepit is a new addition since we lived here:
In 2011, a woman riding her bike a few kilometres from the park was hit and killed by a truck. I remember reading around that time that her dream had been to create a “reflexology footpath” someday. She never got to see it in her lifetime, but on this trip I saw that one had been created.
When we arrived, a child of about three was very solemnly and mindfully walking around the path. When they finished, I took off my shoes and tried it also. I liked how it felt. Some of the rocks pressed a bit hard and I had to be careful or use the railing to reduce the pressure while others felt great. Still others made some of the bones of my feet crack like my knuckles might.
A bit to the east of here is the playground. Many of the structures are what you might expect: swings, things to climb on and the like. But the most popular thing isn’t any of these and there’s a great story I heard about it some time ago:
In the early days of the park the kids wanted a sandbox but getting the permits and so forth to get it done was proving nearly impossible. And then, one night, under cover of darkness, someone drove a truck in to the park and dumped a huge pile of sand in the edge of the playground. With a wink, friends of the park said “Oh dear, I don’t know who ‘vandalized’ the park with all of this sand but it will be too hard to remove. We’ll have to leave it, I guess!” Soon after, many child-sized shovels were added. And then hoses with spigots were added to that. Now you can see kids creating sandcastles, rivers, bridges made of found sticks, with “rivers” underneath.
Further to the south is a project that Sage and Daegan helped with a few times. An artisan engaged the community to make a cob (clay) kitchen to serve the nearby playground. In the summer weekends, they sometimes sell snacks and hot dogs from here though when we came in there was nothing being sold. Still, it’s a magical, almost hobbit-like space.
On the other side of the cob kitchen is our old house. It was a wonderful place to live. Our landlord was amazing and we’d probably still be there today were it not for one thing: he wanted to simplify his life and move with his family to a small village in Ontario. We had the option to buy but for a lot of reasons, it was not to be.
From here we head onward to even more adventures (it was a busy night!). But those will be in another entry.
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.