Sage has been planning a library visit in secret for some time and today she gives me the first clue as to where we’re going:
“Can you not wear jeans today?” she asks.
“No, I’d prefer not to if possible.”
“OK, then, well wear something nice anyway.”
And so we leave the house just before lunch. Unlike previous trips, this one is quick. We get off at Bay station and surface in the Yorkville neighbourhood.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Yorkville was what Kensington Market is today. A somewhat bohemian atmosphere not unlike Greenwich Village of the same time played host to budding musicians like Neal Young, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Gordon Lightfoot.
Today, however, things are a bit different. The public space on one of the main streets, Cumberland Street, has benches that look inviting. Until you look closer:
Metal “blades” are installed ever few feet to make the space uncomfortable for anyone who might try to sleep there. The message is clear to those who might live on the streets, move on.
We visit a shopping centre where we stop at a Whole Foods supermarket. We had visited it some years ago and never went back. There’s a reason that many people here have nicknamed it “Whole Paycheque” – prices are very high. Signs outside announce that they had just reduced their prices and we see that they are now comparable to middle of the road supermarkets but still much more than the discount supermarket we go to. And they are definitely still catering to a different crowd than most.
For example, the small tiffin above is selling for $17.99 + tax. For my readers in India, that’s over Rs.900!
We find a lunch that was not too expensive – at a vegetarian restaurant specializing in “rice bowls”. Lunch prices here for a modest meal are on par with what we might spend elsewhere for a dinner.
The Yorkville library was opened in 1907 and is one of Toronto’s Carnegie libraries. Its only listed renovation was in 1978 where an addition was made to the building and a month-long “revitalization” in 2009. But as you can see, the building is in very nice shape with beautiful character.
Years ago I remember many people joking about how ubiquitous Starbucks were. At one point I remember sitting in a Starbucks at Yonge and Eglinton in Toronto and seeing two other Starbucks out the window. I never thought I’d see the same with libraries but today I do.
As I am standing here outside the Yorkville library, I can see a large brick building at the end of the street. That library is the Toronto Reference Library. Despite the very close proximity of the two libraries, there is a vastly different atmosphere in Yorkville’s library versus the Reference Library.
The Reference library is packed with people of all backgrounds and ages. There are students, elderly, wealthy people doing research or grabbing a coffee in the cafe, and homeless people having a nap while they watch the news on the TVs or check their email on one of the public workstations.
Yorkville is quite different. The average age seems much older, and I see no obviously homeless people. A couple of people are using computers. Most are sitting and reading. In both libraries, though, there are few children.
I am very curious about these differences and how they’ve come about. I don’t believe it is something the library has actively pursued. It makes me think about what it is that makes a library draw who it draws. Other libraries I’ve visited don’t make me ask this question because there is so much distance between them and their nearest neighbouring library. In those cases, the neighbourhood demographics change as much as the library does. But here two libraries nearly next door to one another seem to have a totally different patron profile.
Maybe I need to look at my own preferences here. After all, that’s the only one I can really fully know. I prefer the Reference Library to the extent that even though I have a neighbourhood library a 10 minute walk from my house, I still go to the Reference Library to pick up my holds and spend time. I had never been to the Yorkville library before but as comfortable and nostalgic as it was to visit, the Reference Library feels better for me. It feels warm and inviting – like a place for everyone. I am always able to find somewhere to sit – sometimes somewhere really lovely even. If anyone reading this prefers the Yorkville library to the Reference Library I’d love to hear the reasons for your preference.
Sage always packs our visits full of fun stuff. Our next stop is Cafe Bora. I’ve never visited here before and have no idea what I’m in for.
The only thing that could have been a clue would be the purple splotch on the sign. Once I go inside I find out what it means. This is a Korean dessert chain specializing in desserts made with purple yam – ume. The menu is overwhelming.
Sage advises me, though, that she has another food-related event planned and that we should eat something small. And so we share a “Purple Yam Tiramisu”
The dessert is tasty, a cookie is on the bottom topped with cream and ume powder. The powder has a little bit of flavour but it seems its biggest contribution is the beautiful colour and appearance – and one more side effect. You need to be careful as you eat. If you inhale at the wrong time, the powder will cause a coughing fit.
We head out from there to our final stop. I get a bit nervous when I see a Rolls Royce parked outside.
I get even more nervous when we are greeted by two liveried doormen. Where am I being taken? Now I see why she wanted me to dress better than my usual jeans and t-shirt. But am I going to be in one of those places I’ve heard about where I will be condescendingly offered a loaner sport coat because every man is expected to wear a jacket? The men open both doors and we find ourselves in the opulent lobby of the Windsor Arms Hotel. Sage tells me we’re here for high tea.
We tell them we have a reservation and are seated together on a beautiful purple couch. I’m relieved that not only does nobody insist on my wearing an ill-fitting blazer, I see other people as informally dressed as I am.
We are given tea menus and each choose a pot of tea for ourselves. Sage gets a simple black tea but I have something called “Tibetan Tiger” with Chocolate Bits, Vanilla, Organic Rooibos & Black Tea and it is delightful.
The waiter asks us where we are from and we say that we’re from Toronto. Sage goes on to describe this project. The waiter is intrigued by how many different neighbourhoods it takes us to and how easily it breaks us out of our routine. “My girlfriend and I go to the same places, eat at the same restaurants, do the same things. We should try what you do and go to different neighbourhoods in the city.” I agree. Seeing libraries is wonderful, but discovering the city is by far the best part of this project.
Finally the food arrives. We are literally given a tower of food. In addition to two kinds of scones, two kinds of jam and clotted cream we get two plates of desserts and several tiny savoury sandwiches including Cheese and Caramelized Shallot Quiche, Smoked Turkey and Gouda Cheese, Prosciutto and Roasted Cauliflower with Herb Boursin, Citrus Poached Shrimp with Spring Pea Puree, Smoked Salmon, Cucumber and Cream Cheese on Mini Croissant, and Classic Egg Salad Roulade. Each one is better than the last.
This is, without a doubt, the most food-filled library visit yet and I’m absolutely stuffed as I return to the house. Sage always plans the best library visits.
Have I visited your neighbourhood yet? Which library is yours and what should I see when I go to your neighbourhood? Click here now and let me know.