Willowdale Neighbourhood: North York Central Library

After coffee, breakfast and a shower, Sage and I head out of our building and catch a northbound bus almost immediately.  Forty five minutes and two subways later we arrive at North York Centre Subway station


Up the stairs we go and in to to the mall that houses the library. I’ve been to this library many times and even have a bit of a fantasy in which we live in a high rise apartment connected to the subway line. If we were to do that I could go to the library and the grocery store (several stations including this one have a supermarket attached) and never go outdoors during the winter.

This library is the second-largest public library in the city. The largest is the Toronto Reference Library but most of the books at that library can’t be checked out. So this has, for a long time, been my favourite library. That said, it’s been closed for renovations for some time and I’ve missed it. Even today, it’s not fully open. Only three of the seven floors are open. But I couldn’t wait to take a look.

The first thing we do is check our books back in. This library does have a normal book drop bin, but it also has one of the new style ones that check your books in as you return them and can even give you a receipt proving that you took your books back. Check it out – it really looks like the future to me.


The first thing I notice is that the renovation included adding more windows and lowering shelves so that the library gets flooded with natural light. The 1980’s style wall to wall carpeting was also removed.

The carpeted stairs are now wooden and split. On the right side are stairs. On the left you can see are double-height “steps” for people to sit on. Each step has a power outlet for those wanting to recharge their devices while they wait.


Note the big windows and ample natural light throughout this section. I noticed a particularly cool thing on one of those shelves:


These are Playaway audiobooks. I hadn’t heard of them before this visit but they’re a neat idea. They are individually packaged audio books that require only a AA battery and a pair of headphones. The player is built in. Patrons don’t need to download anything or even own a CD, Cassette or MP3 Player.

In the back of the first floor is the Children’s section. It used to be fairly dark as it was two rooms. The front room had no windows but lots of books. The back room had books for younger kids and a few windows.

There are a couple of new spaces there as well. The next two photos are from the library’s website because when we were there the space was filled with kids and I especially avoid taking photos of kids without permission (and getting permission from that many parents could be a challenge as more come and go).


In this area kids were playing with wooden blocks and it was very noisy. The design of the space was such, though, that there was little noise carrying outside of the immediate area. Kids got to be kids without anyone being bothered. It was delightful.


I made my usual attempt at finding Hindi children’s books. They used to have them here, at least for older kids (chapter books). But I didn’t see any at all this time. It’s unfortunate. There were some in Russian, Chinese, Korean and several other languages, though. I shouldn’t complain – after all, the Hindi books are available, I just have to choose them without seeing them and put a hold on them.


Before we went upstairs, Sage found the book she was going to take home and talk about here:


From Goodreads:

In her bestselling memoir North of Normal, Cea wrote with grace about her unconventional childhood—her early years living in a tipi in Alberta with her pot-smoking, free-loving counterculture family. But her struggles do not end when she leaves her family at the age of thirteen to become a model. Honest and daring, Nearly Normal reveals the many ways that Cea’s unconventional childhood continues to reverberate through the years.

Sage says:

I picked up this book because not only did my mom live in the woods in a tipi, Todd and I lived in the woods with our own son. I’m very curious about the author’s experiences.

As for me, I have to admit I have a huge attitude about this given our similarities to the parents she talks about. We might never smoke pot, but we moved to the woods and instead of a tipi, we lived in a yurt, but I have a feeling I might be a bit more judgmental of her leaving that behind to become a model than I should. I’ll be curious to see what Sage says.

Edited on August 6 to add Sage’s additional notes:

Verdict: Sage didn’t like the book. Interesting story, but the author’s obsession with happiness equalling suburbia and a minivan was ghastly.

The second floor has a lot of technology in it. There are the usual computer workstations as well as the Digital Innovation Hub with graphic workstations and 3D printers. All of this is free to use but consumables (3D resin, paper for printing, etc) must be paid for.

There’s an excellent new surprise in store here – the first I’ve seen in our library system:


They’ve got several things on offer:

  • Singer 9985 Quantum Stylist sewing machine features 13 button hole styles, 960 built-in stitches and 6 lettering fonts.
  • Juki MO-735 Serger offers a 2-needle, 2/3/4/5 thread overlock with coverstitch and chainstitch modes.
  • Brother Persona PRS100 is a single needle embroidery machine.
  • Roland VersaSTUDIO BN-20 is a desktop printer with a cutting function. It can be used to create signage, stickers, labels, transfers for apparel, POP displays, window stickers, posters and more.

They also have other sewing machines and even a button maker to use there. It’s pretty inspiring and exciting to see.

There’s lots of space on the second floor for relaxing and studying as well along with many more windows and lots of natural light.


Sage looks like she’s on a really comfy train trip. She says the chairs are quite comfortable.


On the top floor we find most of the fiction and non-fiction stacks. Here I notice the limitations of opening a 6 story library (plus basement) with only three floors operational. The fiction and science fiction sections were good, but the non-fiction section which used to go over 3-4 floors was clearly compressed too much on one floor. Some of my favourite materials – Dewey Decimal 900+ with travel and history were completely missing as were many of the 300’s with sociology, politics and social commentary. I can’t fault them, though. They’re doing their best to serve the community while they’re renovating. I will be glad to see it when it’s finished, though.

Across the hall from the main entrance is the Teen area. There’s a large collection of teen fiction, lots more DVDs and CDs, and something new that I hadn’t seen before:


They have a gaming area. I’m not sure if it isn’t working or if nobody wanted to use it but it is empty and off. By this point, though Sage and I are getting hungry, though, so off we go. Sage has done a bit of up-front scouting and we head over to Satay Sate, a new restaurant that advertises Indonesian Street Food.


Ravenous, we take no time to make our decisions and put our orders in. It’s ready in only a few minutes:


I get the Beef Rendang – a coconut milk based curry that is called “spicy” but is fairly mild. Still, it’s delicious. The salad on the side is really good. Even though it’s using iceberg lettuce, it’s especially fresh and crispy and the cucumbers, carrots, and tomatoes are really high quality. The rice is good and the fried shallots on top make it extra tasty.


Sage orders chicken satay and gets two good sized skewers. The sauce is delicious and nutty. This is definitely a place worth returning to.

We finish and head out again with dessert on our mind. Though we are well outside of the downtown area of Toronto, this area of North York is rapidly growing and is almost as urban as many parts of downtown with several more lots being converted to high rise condos.



Soon we arrive at Tsujiri, a teahouse specializing in matcha-based drinks and desserts. The offerings look delicious and we take far too long to decide.


Finally we decide on a drink and dessert to share. Sage chooses the yuzu tart. Yuzu is a citrus fruit that’s a bit tart and some describe as being a bit like grapefruit and a bit like mandarin. I find it a bit lemony, myself.


It tastes really good with the drink I chose: an iced black sesame matcha latte made with soy milk. There was a great balance of bitterness and sweetness and the matcha flavour blended nicely with the soy milk. It was also really pretty.



After that we headed north, stopping for a moment to look at a bit of graffiti that caught my eye:


I think this is in reference to the van attack that killed eight women and two men on the street nearby (the one I photographed above) back in April. Between this and the mass shooting that recently happened a short distance from our house it’s been a tough year for Toronto.

I just looked to see if this and some other messages of “Love” written on the sidewalk had to do with the attack and found that something I had noticed in the mall near the library but didn’t go see. Several quilters around the world worked together to stitch together messages of hope, peace, and love. These are now hanging below a skylight in North York Centre. I’m sorry I didn’t get to look closer. I will have to go back to see it. Thanks to Berene Campbell for coming up with the idea and helping make it a reality.

We continue north and the streetscape starts to change. While originally there were many Korean businesses, restaurants, and shops, you can see a few Iranian ones start popping up.


Soon there are many more stores with Persian script than Korean.


Here are several small groceries, jewelery and art shops, and a couple more cafes and dessert shops. I wish we’d not eaten so much lunch as I want to try these too.


I love a good pun!

Soon we come to the Khorak supermarket. When I used to work in North York many years ago, I would pass this on the way to work every day and was always curious but never stopped by. Today we head in. It’s a big place – the size of a small town supermarket but the offerings are so different.


There are dried fruits and nuts of all types.


The baked goods look amazing and I adore baklava.


One cabinet seems to hold nothing but rock candy. I am quite curious about the saffron rock candy on the right side. Saffron is such an interesting spice. It has the potential to really overpower a dish but when used well, it can make both savoury and sweet dishes sing.store5

In the back is a bakery. There are two separate activities happening. On one side there’s a oven where fresh pita bread is made, a man loads dough on to a conveyor on one end and his colleague unloads it from the other end. The bread disappears in to the baskets of the customers as quickly as it comes out.me

Here is the fresh pita:store6

Meanwhile, behind where I stand in the photo is another bakery where men are working in a large oven making several different kinds of bread. As it is finished, it’s placed up on the shelf in front of me where customers grab it, many laughing as they burn their fingers on the hot bread, and pop it in to a brown paper bag.


We are literally mesmerized by the scene of bread coming out of the oven, being snapped up by customers and repeating. I put on some plastic gloves and go burn my own fingers on a large rectangular piece of bread about half an inch thick and about two feet by 1.5 feet wide. It’s golden brown and crispy on the outside and covered in black and tan sesame seeds. It is so big I have to fold it twice to even get it to fit in the bag. I barely wait to get outside before I tear a piece off. It’s a little bit of heaven. Eventually I have to force myself to stop eating it as I will spoil the next three meals eating nothing but this delicious bread. (I am eating more as I write this even though I shouldn’t be. It’s to help me return to the moment. That’s what I’m telling myself)

I am literally so distracted watching them make this and then eating it that it isn’t until just now that I finally took a photo of the tiny bit that’s left.

By this time it’s quite warm outside – almost 29 degrees with a heat index of 37. Though I don’t mind the heat that much, Sage is as miserable in heat like this as I am when it’s cold and snowy outside. I would have begged to go in two hours before had it been -15 outside. And so, it’s time for us to find some air conditioning and the best opportunity for that is the subway. We walk back through the heat to the subway and ride home. On the way I lose not one but two games of Upwords on my phone. It’s a good thing we’re not playing for chores!

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.

5 thoughts on “Willowdale Neighbourhood: North York Central Library

  1. Cool! I’ve never seen double-height steps for people to sit on before nor have I ever seen those Playaway audiobooks! The kids area, the sewing room, the furniture — all of it is so nice!!!

    The Indonesian food & matcha tea both look soo freakin’ tasty! Those messages of hope, peace, and love are so pretty & colorful! Hope you get a closer look someday!

    That Khorak supermarket is out of this world! There is so much there!!

    I’m really hoping you’ll revisit this library for us when the renovations are complete! 🤞🏾

    1. I’ll definitely be back. When we first lived in Toronto we lived in the building next door to the one we live in now and I would go out of my way to go to this library because it was so packed with stuff. So once it is fully stocked, I’ll likely be going there often and will be sure to write about it.

  2. That library looks awesome, loved those high red chairs! They’d have to chase me out of this library every week if I lived nearby. Never heard of those Playaway audiobooks prior but I think they are a great idea even though I don’t listen to audiobooks. My eyesight is terrible so I mainly read digitally on an ereader. Note to self, do not read Todd’s library posts when hungry as now I crave satays and baklava along with that matcha latte!

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