Old East York Neighbourhood: S. Walter Stewart Library

We are heading in to the cold months so once again I’ll be doing some of my library visits in the evening. Tonight’s library is in the old borough of East York not far from my house. It’s also about a 20 min walk from the home that the actor, John Candy lived in. For some reason I always think of him whenever I am in this part of town.

While much of the city is becoming quite trendy and self-conscious, what I like about East York is that it feels quite down to earth. Much of it consists of small post-war bungalows on quiet streets. While some of them are being leveled and replaced with huge homes as is happening in many other parts of the city that’s not the case here. In some ways it feels like a step back in time.

The bus drops me off a short walk from the library and it catches my eye from a distance. When it was opened in 1960 it was considered to be very unusual and at the time was one of only four circular libraries in the world.

Inside it is lovely. As soon as I enter, I find a seating area with floor to ceiling curved windows. While there is nobody here at the moment, I can see it being very inviting on a sunny afternoon.

When I get inside I’m reminded of when we lived in the yurt. The centre of the room has beautiful windows and beams.

Even at ground level in the middle of the library the round shape of the library makes itself evident.

There is a small section to cover foreign languages. Here there are a lot of Greek materials available. We’re just a few blocks north of Danforth Avenue in a neighbourhood that was once called “Greektown” but is becoming much more diverse than that.

There are all sorts of programs available here throughout the month. There is truly something for everyone.

As it happens, I’m also here for a program that is part of the library’s series: On Civil Society which is described as follows:

We are in the midst of tremendous political upheaval around the world. The rise of extremism and nationalist rhetoric presents a serious test to the democratic values that open societies stand on. On Civil Society explores these complex issues through the lenses of democracy, the media, wellness, urbanism, equality, security and more.

There are talks on human rights, the impact of technology on society, gentrification of neighbourhoods, “Could Trump Happen Here?”, Gender and Queer Identity in Great Outdoor Spaces, and the one I’m going to “How Creativity Builds Stronger Societies”

I admit I came expecting a more academic talk – a “Watch and learn” experience. What I got was something different entirely. When I get there, though, I see tables covered with craft supplies: glittery foam, googly eyes, tape, markers, paper, and pom poms. Now I’m nervous. Crafts are not a thing I do. The author, David Gauntlett, started with a short discussion of the idea of creativity as a right. We moved on to a discussion about the impact of the Internet on creativity and its nature as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, social media has done a lot to fragment society lately. On the other hand, it’s connected us to so many other people who create the same things as we do and appreciate our creations. So where when I was a kid I might never meet someone in my neighbourhood who likes creating (or looking at), for example, polymer clay sculptures made of characters from my favourite books, come on the internet and you’re bound to find many people who love the idea. (I don’t create those – it was only an example – but now I kind of wish I did).

Then we dive right in to creating. We’re told to take whatever materials we like and told to take a few minutes to create something that represents the thing we love to create and how we feel when we do it. David is really good at making the group feel unselfconscious about creating and so we dive in without worrying too much about what we’re creating. One person is still really self-conscious, though, but David encourages him well and before long even he is creating something as well. I’m surprised that I no longer feel worried about doing poorly at this. I’m just going to have fun.

We go around the room and explain what we’re doing and learn about each other. There’s a teacher wanting to inspire his students, a woman who is there to “add some colour to her life”, someone who manages an art space but says she’s not an artist, and several others. When I tell my piece someone comments that they really like it. I’m am truly shocked.

When we’re done going around the room we do a second exercise – to add to or change our piece to document how we share our creativity and what stops us. I open the book and add a few pieces.

For this I use more foam to turn the yellow square (that gave the face it’s bright smile) in to a representation of a blog with a golden header graphic, green photos, and orange navigation sidebar. I add a representation of a keyboard and mouse to round it out.

I’m really lucky in that at the moment I don’t face the same challenges that other creators do. I don’t lack time – work is slow and I don’t have a lot of outside commitments. Generally speaking I also have a good amount of inspiration. And so, above the blog on the computer rests a 1,000 kg weight. This represents inertia. A 1,000 kg car is really hard to get moving. It takes a lot of energy. Of course once it’s moving it stays moving. The same is true for my life. I often have trouble leaving behind whatever else I’m doing to move on to, say, writing or whatever the next thing might be. In some ways I’m like that kid who doesn’t want to leave the park and just wants “one more slide and then we’ll go.” endlessly before leaving to go do something else fun. 

An interesting thing happens as we go around the room to talk about what we’ve done and why. Two people who said “I don’t really create anything.” said that it just occurred to them during this exercise that they did. One remembered that every week they go to a musical jam, and another shared that she was a writer but that she didn’t share her work with anyone but herself.

We end the workshop grouping ours together in to a few different groups. Mine ended up in a group that was loosely based around the idea of transforming discomfort in to art. That’s definitely where I want to be creatively – to have experiences outside my comfort zone (like doing artwork as a group) and then writing about it later.

The workshop was right at dinnertime so I am hungry when I leave. There’s only one restaurant listed on the map that is immediately in the neighbourhood and it’s a bit pricier than I want to spend (entrees in the $20-30 range) and so I make a bit of a detour to the southeast near Victoria Park station. My transit luck is good tonight so I barely have to wait before I am on a bus to the subway.

In this part of town there’s a large population of people who moved here from Bangladesh. While our city doesn’t have as many Bengali speakers as are found in other North American cities like New York, we can find many signs in Bengali in this part of town.

I head over to Gharoa restaurant, a place that got very high ratings on Google and Yelp.

It is warm and cozy inside and it smells wonderful. I look at the menu. There are a few things I recognize, particularly in the sweets section (though they’re transliterated a bit differently). A few others, like fuchka, I recognize as the same dish I know by another name (in this case pani puri / gol gappa). 

I’m really hungry so I order khichuri with chicken. The woman behind the counter gives me a concerned look. “You know it’s very spicy, yes?” I tell her I’m definitely OK with that. When it comes out, she offers me salad with it and as she assembles it from the ingredients she has (onion, green pepper, cucumber, lemon), I notice she passes over the green chillies. I ask her to give me some and she’s further surprised. 

The entire meal costs $10 – 1/2 to 1/3 of what I would have paid for simple pasta near the library and I’m very satisfied. The chicken itself isn’t as spicy as she led me to believe and so I’m happy that she gave me green chillies to have as well. The food is delicious and hearty. It feels like it was designed for a cold late-autumn day like today. It is a great way to end tonight’s library visit.

6 thoughts on “Old East York Neighbourhood: S. Walter Stewart Library

    1. I’m pretty sure it is. I remember playing it as a kid. Or more accurately, getting bocce balls at our little town’s recreational centre and rolling them on a lawn. I don’t think we were playing by any particular rules.

  1. How fun that you got to do an arts & crafts project! Your happy book is so cute– I love your little bicycle you drew 😀 & your representation of blogging!!

    I’ve never trier Bangladesh food but, it sure does look hearty & delicious! She totally shouldn’t have just skipped over the green chiles like that… how rude! 😛

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