For several years now, Google has been tracking my every move. If I want to know where I was on a summer day in 2014, I need only go look back to find out. But there’s another excellent use for all of that personal data. You can use it to find places you’ve never been.
And so, following the instructions on this page, I build a heat map of all the places I’ve been over the past few years. I zoom in and look closely at Toronto and see whole swathes of the city I’ve never visited before.
I then compare that to my map of Toronto libraries and find somewhere I’ve never been before:
Sage and I head for the subway and head to the penultimate westbound stop, Islington, almost an hour away from home. And then, once we’re there we get on a bus for another fifteen minutes or so. We pass through miles and miles of suburbia: big houses from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s with large lawns with their address fully written out in script on the front of them. The trees in the area are as tall as the streets are wide here, and the streets are filled with racing traffic. We’re dropped off at the intersection of Eglinton and Islington. The streets are an interesting combination. On one side of the busy street they have not even bothered to put in a sidewalk. On the other side, not only is there a sidewalk, there’s a dedicated bike lane.
The side we’re on is the side without a sidewalk, and our first destination, lunch, is on a side street behind it so we follow a path worn through the grass to a suburban back street. There are no trespassing signs prohibiting passing through the apartment complex to where we’re going. Another sign warns us that the sidewalk is narrow and we should walk single file to avoid injury. Instead we walk on the street itself since not only are there no people walking, there aren’t even any cars. We seem to be the only people out in the world today.
We find our way to a more public street. The houses here look to be just about as old as we are. The 1960’s and 1970’s were very good to Richview, it seems. I like the style as it feeds my nostalgia. Sage likes the style because the houses are filled with windows. However, one thing we have both noticed about Canada – or at least the part in which we live, is that nobody ever keeps their curtains open. Even at the tops of highrise buildings where no neighbours can see anything but the presence of light or darkness, people pull their curtains shut. Forget you, sun!
Eventually, we find our destination, a strip mall hidden away in the suburban neighbourhood. Inside this strip mall is the Richview Bakery and Bistro. From the outside there is nothing striking: an older sign, a couple of guys drinking espresso at tables outside.
It turns out that this is an Italian bakery and it has something I am always happy to see: a hot table. Normally a buffet restaurant is nothing special: food that has been sitting under heat lamps for far too long getting older and drier. Most hot tables somehow magically avoid that. In most you will find a selection of Italian meats and pastas, vegetables and bread. If you want a sandwich you can get that, or you can sit down with a plate the likes of which I haven’t had since my Sicilian grandmother passed on over 40 years ago.
I order a piece of chicken parmesan, green beans, and some spicy pasta. Sage orders lasagne. Immediately after her a man orders a sausage sandwich and she second-guesses herself, wishing she’d ordered a sandwich as it it looked so good when it was done.
Whenever I go to a hot table I always have a Brio, a chinotto drink. It’s a bit like cola with a bittersweet taste. Looking it up I see it’s made from the fruit of the myrtle leaved orange tree. I don’t drink chinotto anywhere else.
I shouldn’t eat too much cheese as I have a bit of an allergy but I decide to have a little anyway and suffer the consequences later. The sauce tastes perfect – almost homemade and I am just so happy to have a little cheese. Sage enjoys her lasagne but still dreams of the sandwich she could have had.
We head out after lunch and explore the strip mall. There isn’t much of interest here though we do overhear a guy outside the restaurant talking in to his phone.
“Well then, Paulie just needs to stop playing the horses so much!”
We head back in to the depths of suburbia en route to the library. As we walk by we pass a small park.
Other than walking in the strip mall we have not yet seen another pedestrian. There were trash cans in the park but no sign of their having been used. Even the path in to the woods appeared to have been used – but by whom?
Eventually we arrive at the library. I generally don’t look up much about the library before going – this allows me to be surprised and surprised I was. Despite our being in a small suburb where if there were people, they stayed in their houses behind drawn curtains and blinds, this was a huge library.
At the bus shelter outside the library, also empty of humans, I come across signs of habitation. But considering the phrasing of this graffiti, I wonder if it is not from decades long gone.
The library itself is split across two floors. The first was much more used.
I like the colour scheme on the first floor. I know that green is polarizing but I’m a fan. But more importantly, this was a library I enjoyed browsing. There were so many books on everything from gender studies to travel to cooking to things as seemingly obscure (and useful to me) as Hindi grammar.
One aspect of the collection was a surprise, though. Looking at the demographics for the neighbourhood, it doesn’t seem to be particularly diverse language-wise:
However, there are tons of really good options for materials in other languages.
So many materials in so many languages. And if you want newspapers or magazines they have that covered also:
Of course I, of all people, know that materials in another language aren’t just for native speakers. People like me who are learning a new language also appreciate them. And the library has you covered for that also:
I follow a sign reading “Second Floor Now Open” and check out what’s on offer there. At first glimpse I’m not impressed. The area is awash in harsh, fluorescent light last seen in a government office in 1986. I flash back to the horror of taking my drivers test before I am brought back to happy reality by what I see. Row upon row of books and comfy places to sit.
I dig deeper and see that there’s not only all this but a digital innovation hub with audio-visual editing workstations and this month a “Innovator in Residence”, Canadian musician and producer Moon:and:6 who is offering free courses in things like recording and remixing your own songs. Nearby I see a poster for another great looking event:
I walk to the other side of the upper floor and come across a room dedicated to local history. I pass files filled with microfilm of old newspapers and come to a cabinet filled with maps and archived information. I pull out a file devoted to notes on a local cemetery. There I find over 150 years of meeting minutes and even receipts like this one. Did Mr. William Clarkson have any idea I’d be reading his receipt almost 100 years after he wrote it?
As I walk around it occurs to me that there’s something different about this library versus many others in the city. While this one is quite busy with lots of people throughout the library, there is almost no sound. People are here but they are quiet. There are no boisterous teens, no loud children (to be fair, the children’s section seems to be physically separated from the rest of the library – so much so that I only saw a sign pointing to it.). The only voices other than Sage’s and mine that I heard was that of a woman who walked to an empty corner of the library to whisper in to her phone. I didn’t even hear anyone ask a librarian a question. In this sense, despite the modern surroundings with everything from computers to 3D printers, it felt like it could’ve been 1986. Maybe there was a point to that bad lighting after all.
There was so much to see in this place that I found myself wandering for at least an hour, looking in files, taking photos, and logging book titles for future reading. Though it may be almost 90 minutes away from my home by transit, it would be very much worth the trip were there not already several other great libraries in the system nearby.
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.