Downtown Toronto Neighbourhood: City Hall

A few days after I got back from India my phone rings. The caller tells me they are from the Toronto Public Library and want to know if it was Todd on the line. I can’t think of what they could want and assume the worst. Did I forget to return something for a long time? I’ve never had such terrible fines that they called my house. (OK, maybe not in the last 15 years anyway)

But no, as it turned out they were calling to let me know that another patron had found my immunization records in a book I had returned. They had them behind the desk at the City Hall branch where the patron had returned the book. I took this as a sign – the next library would be City Hall. (also: How much do I love that someone was thoughtful enough to bring my records to the library to ensure I still had them?)

The trip to the library is coloured with thoughts of New York City. I had just read the Beastie Boys Book along with Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City – an awesome graphic novel about New York City. If I could have boarded a bus for Brooklyn right that moment I would have. Instead I contented myself with listening to a Bowery Boys podcast about the history of Automats, Luncheonettes, and Diners in NYC. It was a good day to go to one of the more densely populated parts of our city, the downtown core.

Queen Station – and a drawing of Toronto City Hall

I get off at Queen Station. From here you can get to one of the busiest malls in the country, Eaton Centre. I end up going here a few times a year and only when I can reasonably avoid it. Somehow it always seems to be during the holiday shopping season when I am there – shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of other grumpy shoppers. Today, though, I head outside the mall and on to Queen Street.

The city hall is a short walk west from the subway station. To get there you first must pass the old City Hall which served the city from 1899 to 1966. I love the old gothic details including gargoyles and even grotesques representing members of city council from the time as well as one for the architect himself.

You can see three of the gargoyles on the clock tower

Now most of the city hall functions have moved to the new city hall next door. The old city hall still has courthouses in it, though.

The building of the new city hall was not without drama. Much of Toronto’s Chinatown was in the area that was to be the building. Demolished along with it was a neighbourhood called “The Ward” where a lot of new immigrants had lived for decades before.

The Ward in 1910 – via Wikimedia Commons

Year round there is a lot of activity near the city hall. Tour buses pull up to drop people off at the hotel across the street or the shopping mall. Along the street some of the only “allowable” street food in the city may be found: hot dogs, sausage, and french fries – the rules are too strict to allow any other foods: no satay, no gol gappe, no tacos for us!

Grab a pair of skates or bring your own and you can spend the day skating and go inside the library to warm up.

Does our city hall look familiar to you? It might be if you’re a Star Trek fan:

From Star Trek the Next Generation – “Contagion”

As I stood there I realized how glad I was to have left the house. On a day like today in the winter I am very likely to just stay inside and avoid the cold and wind. But in doing that I also avoid seeing other people, breathing fresh air, having new experiences and eating new food.

Just inside the building is the library. It’s one of the smaller branches with hours limited by the hours of City Hall itself. I walked inside and they found my immunization records. Wandering through the library took very little time as it was simply one large room:

The design is very nice. And like most of the libraries in our system it is well used and a comfortable place to spend time. This one, however, is like many of the smaller libraries in my opinion: a spot to pick up your holds if you happen to live or work nearby. The browsing here was pretty limited – find a bigger branch for this.

Other than French, I found very few materials in other languages.

They demolished much of Toronto’s Chinatown to build City Hall but left a few books (and to be fair, Chinatown does continue to exist to the north and west of the building)

I didn’t find anything that spoke to me so I left with only my records in hand. On the way out I did find this section which many visitors might find interesting:

I’m not a huge fan of poetry – or maybe I’m really fussy about what I do like, so I didn’t pick up any of these. However, before leaving, I did wander through city hall to see their public art.

I really like this sculpture. The sign says:

Ekow Nimako in collaboration with Director X- Cavalier Noir: “If Scarborough was to commemorate its own heroes, what would the monument look like? Who would it represent? Using more than 0,000 lego pieces, Ekow Nimako proposes his vision of a monument for his community – a black child warrior astride a dauntless black unicorn.”

To get anywhere else in the building requires a security screening and bag check. As Council wasn’t in session at the time I didn’t go upstairs to the chamber. It can be both very interesting and discouraging to see your city at work and I highly recommend it. When I went there was a huge turnout. It was one of the earlier sessions while Rob Ford was mayor and there was a concern that as his brother is currently doing at the provincial level, he would gut social and progressive initiatives so many of us went to show our support for those councillors working toward taking care of the more vulnerable in our city.

After I left the library it was time to get something to eat. Not wanting a hot dog, I headed north to Chinatown. There are a number of new restaurants and stores in that stretch and I was interested in trying one. The one I chose that day was one that Daegan and I had been to once before but I wanted to try a different dish.

Gyugyuya is a restaurant that specializes in Japanese curries. The British brought the idea of curry from India to Japan and then, like most countries do with dishes new to them, they adapt it to their local tastes and ingredients.

The place is relatively small but cozy with brightly coloured walls. I’m a fan of bold choices like this.

I sit at the bar with other people eating alone and order what appears to be a signature dish – a beef curry. It arrives within five minutes.

I must say I was hugely disappointed. The meat was fairly dry, there wasn’t a lot of gravy or rice beneath it and the cabbage was pretty bland. There was some seasoning but it was fairly mild, eclipsed by the dry meat. I ended up shaking tons of chilli powder on to it hoping to add some flavour but somehow it managed to not even make the food spicy.

The curry flavours themselves are are less bold than an Indian curry. There seems to be less cumin and coriander and more warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg and even a bit of sugar. It was just OK. I feel like perhaps another restaurant might do it better.

On the other hand it may also be something else. I’ve noticed in recent years that my desire for meat is fading rapidly. It has gone from being something I crave to something that I eat if it is there but if it isn’t there I’m fine. Compare that to our time in India when it seemed that every day someone would serve us a new vegetarian dish each more delicious and interesting than the last until I began to look forward to dinner as I was taking my last bite of lunch. At this rate I might end up vegetarian again soon.

Watch for more entries coming soon. After coming back from India, getting to a routine has been challenging. However, I’ve managed to wrangle my schedule a bit and will soon be back out to a few more libraries and writing a few other things – especially as the weather warms. (And catching up on many of your blogs as well).

22 thoughts on “Downtown Toronto Neighbourhood: City Hall

  1. When I was a child we would visit Toronto in the summer. I remember China town because of the ducks hanging in the windows, loved shopping at the Eaton Centre, it’s a great city

    1. Yes – the ducks (and pigs and balloon-like squid) still hang there. And mostly the Eaton Centre is good – but I need to stop accidentally going there on Boxing Day!

    1. But joking aside, I think in the end it is all about flavour for me. Whether the food is Thai, Mexican, Italian, Chinese, or Indian, meat is a texture element for me. If the flavours are interesting I am happy. I guess the flip side is that much non-veg food, at least here, is often very boring: Roast meat, boiled/steamed veg and potatoes with minimal seasoning. There are so many more tasty things than that.

  2. The old part and the new are so different. I suppose it will be the same anywhere. Thank you for the photos and the description, it brought the places nearer. Regards

    1. Yes for sure. I was surprised by how different. On the one hand, most of the libraries I’ve visited in India (a couple in Mumbai, and the one in Jaipur) are architecturally beautiful and make me think fondly of the past. On the other hand I was surprised to see how many cost money. Here sometimes old libraries might have a name like “Fletcher Free Library” and I never understood it. But there from what I’ve seen libraries have membership fees and sometimes rental fees. Here it’s all completely free. The exception is when you’re doing something that uses consumables: printing on paper or using the 3D printers. Of course there’s a cost. Our city’s library budget is almost $190 million USD.

      1. wow! that’s a whooping sum of money. I guess the ones in your city are far better organized and have lots of resources.

      2. Yes – even I was surprised. There *are* 100 branches but still that’s an enormous commitment. At the same time, it’s one of the items on the budget that if city council ever talks about cutting, people push back, call their councillors and go to meetings to prevent. It is also one of the few city services that people don’t complain about but instead are really proud of.

  3. That meal looked awful. You have made me very intrigued to visit Toronto since I haven’t been there since 1967. Now that you are back home I want to repeat my recommendation that you read Susan Orleans’ book “The Library Book.” I know you would love it.

    1. AH! I actually started it and then we had to go to India before I finished it and there’s a bit of a queue for the library holds. I’m going to put it on hold again and wait for it again.

  4. How did your immunization records end up in a book? Lol were you using the paper as a bookmark?! I am glad you were able to get it back easily. 🙂

    The beef really does look dry! & I have been feeling the same way about cheese as you do about meat. I guess the less you eat something, the less you enjoy it?!

    1. Oh right – I never even mentioned that. I think they were in my backpack together and the records just found their way in to a book when I returned it.

      Yeah – it was dry and mostly tasteless. Not good. I’m not so sure about dairy, though – I shouldn’t eat it and rarely do but I crave pizza several times a week. (but rarely give in)

  5. I have to put on my pedant hat here to note that Old City Hall is not gothic in style, but Romanesque Revival. I know only because doing local history tours is turning my in to an architecture wonk (we have a couple of RR style buildings here, and usually I tell people to think of Toronto’s Old City Hall as a stellar example of the style.)

    1. Thanks for the clarification! I clearly shouldn’t believe everything I read on the Internet. Now I’m trying to remember where that was written so I can pass on the pedantry! 😀

      1. It’s a specific style of RR, too — also called “Richardsonian Romanesque” after an American architect, Henry Hobson Richardson, who developed a kind of signature RR style that others (including E.J. Lennox, who designed Old City Hall) tried to emulate. It’s a very distinctive and lovely old style. 🙂

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