Kensington-Chinatown: Sanderson Library

There’s nothing like the combination of a pandemic and a “Fifteen Minute Neighbourhood” to limit a person’s travel even when they enjoy exploring. It’s been almost a whole year since I’ve visited another library as a part of this project. At first, of course, we stayed close to home because of the pandemic and limiting travels to only those places I needed to go. Library books went from being things I chose in a building during the day to something I chose from my e-reader at night. Lately I go to the office 1-3 days a week, stop for groceries or cat food on the way home, and otherwise do my shopping in the neighbourhood. This has been great in many ways – certainly our transit spending has diminished. On the other hand, I haven’t seen so much of the city and there are whole areas of the city that I haven’t seen in years.

Last Saturday, I decided it was time to get out and start this project back up. Sage and headed out into the chilly day – winter is very reluctant to leave us – boarded a bus, a subway and then a streetcar that dropped us off at the corner of Bathurst & Dundas.

I swear the weather is always more outside our neighbourhood. If it’s a hot summer day its hotter downtown. Today it was colder and windier. As you can see above, Sage is dressed in only a hoodie – no coat. I was cold in a coat and hoodie. She always feels warmer than I do when we go out but today it was even a bit much for her and she tells me she regrets leaving her long wool coat at home. So for us the walking was punctuated by stops related to getting warmer. First, to a pen store where we picked up some coloured pencils for Daegan.

Then to a drug store where partly we were picking up a few things we needed but mostly to warm up. We also took advantage of our need for warmth by stopping at a Robo Cafe. The idea simultaneously feels futuristic and cool but also a bit dystopian in light of the pandemic. There are no humans involved.

Pretty cool, like I said. But thanks to the cold, the streets were mostly empty and so it felt more like we were still in lockdown and this was how we get our coffee fix. “Leave a post-it with greetings for your neighbours!”

In 2014-2015 we used to live a few blocks from this neighbourhood. In that time it felt a bit up and coming. New buildings were going up, stores and restaurants were bustling and rents were high thanks to the desirability of the neighbourhood. There were vulnerable people there living in projects and on the street nearby but it still seemed like a positive space.

These days, however, there are more storefronts marked “For Lease” but rents continue to rise even as you can see more people are living on the streets. I remember the last time we came down to this neighbourhood together. Sage was to be performing at a storytelling show nearby and we stopped at a burrito restaurant. It was in late February of 2020 for an event where Sage was to tell a story at the Royal Cinema. COVID was in the news enough that when I swallowed wrong and had a coughing fit at the restaurant, people looked at me with a bit of worry. That night Sage was given two passes for free movies at the cinema that would expire in February 2021. As the lockdown went on we moved these passes from the fridge to a drawer when it became clear we were unlikely to get to a movie any time soon. Today, the theatre still exists but no longer shows films, renting its space out for events.

I did notice one hopefully positive change:

I remember the first time I saw this building. I had just started doing deliveries for the Bike Brigade and passed by with a trailer full of fruits and veggies. Outside the building was a huge lineup of people waiting to be tested. Now they are no more. While we’re still dealing with the pandemic and its aftermath (no doubt the cause of many of the shuttered buildings I passed), the fact that we now have a vaccine, some treatment and the severity has gone down for many is a positive development. (Though we’re not out of the woods yet.

We arrive back at the intersection of Bathurst and Dundas to see that you can no longer see the library at all:

The library itself is behind a hoarding wall covered in posters for albums and pedestrians walk in the street, protected from traffic by Jersey barriers. It takes us a bit to find our way in, though:

The area is also the home of Scadding Court Community Centre whom I also volunteered with as a tutor via Zoom during the pandemic, helping one person practice for their citizenship exam, another improve their writing in English (their second language), and a third person build a website for their translation services.) They do a lot of fantastic work around the neighbourhood especially during the pandemic, connecting learners with tutors and each other by using tablets and Internet and even hosting online cooking classes and meetup groups.

The library also does a lot of help in the neighbourhood. Like all libraries in the city they provide a space for people to warm up during the winter and cool off during the summer. This is especially important for people without housing or with inadequate heating or cooling at home. The library also helps connect people to vital social services, providing computers for use in connecting with others, doing research or searching for a job. Most recently they’ve even set up a few “Virtual Interview Rooms” for people to use to have a private and quiet space to have online job interviews via video.

They also help in smaller ways too:

The library is calm and quiet with a few people sitting at various tables reading and relaxing. Elsewhere another person dozes quietly in a chair. I feel comfortable here too. The decor feels delightfully dated – from the 80s or 90s when I remember enjoying libraries the most. Sage sits at a table and reads while I browse.

As someone from a small, very monolingual town in the US, I love to see what other language materials are available. Here are a large number of Chinese lanugage materials as well as some in French, Portuguese and Spanish. What I also notice is that here you can also find a section for English as a Second Language (ESL) studies and a large section for adult literacy with books designed not only for teaching but books in simple English but with topics of interest for adults. While I was learning to read Hindi, I would often pick up children’s picture books, sometimes even the basic word readers (“A is for Apple”) but after a while that became boring especially as I could read a bit more competently. But being seen on the bus reading a Hindi picture book as an adult has little or no stigma attached. Reading a children’s picture book or even a young adult book can make a person feel self-conscious – especially when the plots are a reminder that they’re reading something that’s targeted at children. Thus came about the genre of books in simple English talking about adult relationships and experiences.

On this trip I’m attracted to the graphic novel and poetry sections and check out a few books to bring home.

Now we’re hungry and I know of one nice feature of this neighbourhood. Outside the library is a cluster of shipping containers that have been turned into restaurants:

Sadly, though, there is bad news here. They’re all closed. A couple have notes to their customers:

I have made a note to come back in June.

We head toward Chinatown, with a plan. On a cold day like today, a hot bowl of ramen sounds excellent. We head for Ajisen, a favourite of ours.

When we look inside, though, the place is packed. While we feel safe enough pandemic-wise to eat in a restaurant, we aim for ones that aren’t very full. Even in mid-afternoon, though, there’s a wait. The same is true for one of our favourite spots for pho down the street. Finally, though, we decide on Korean food – something I haven’t been able to have since the pandemic started and a favourite of mine. We’ve eaten at this location before but haven’t been back in years as it was closed for quite some time due to a fire upstairs in the building that shut them down. Fortunately they’re back and still seem to be doing a decent business – not so packed as the other places but still clearly enough to keep in business. I order one of my favourites: pork with kimchi that I’ve been craving for literally years. Sage gets a kimchi and pork soup and of course it comes with side dishes which we love.

Now fed and happy we only have a quick errand to take care of before heading home: pick up scallions for that night’s dinner. So off we go to T and T market, an Asian supermarket that opened in Chinatown during the pandemic. When we arrive I realize that just coming here for one thing was a mistake. It’s completely packed with people buying not just groceries but prepared foods, baked goods, sushi and other things. We grab a bunch of scallions and head for the exit, carefully avoiding the chips and snacks aisle which I always spend too much in, sampling new flavours we can’t find in our own supermarket. The line, however, is a “common feeder” – one line that leads up to all the checkouts and this one goes almost to the back of the store. Cleverly it slowly moves past the sweets, baked goods, and some of the prepared foods giving ample time for us to consider buying Pocky snacks, fresh mochi, Japanese cheesecake or freshly made dumplings to cook on the way home. We make it past it all without any impulse buys and find our way out having spent less than $2.

And then it’s back to the streetcar, and into the house where Sage finally got to warm up with a hot bath, and I curled up on the couch with a good book.

3 thoughts on “Kensington-Chinatown: Sanderson Library

  1. YAY a new library post!!! My best friend lives near this library location, I’ve probably passed it a few times over the years when I would visit her and never noticed it. Moved back to Edmonton several years ago and the pandemic closed a few of my favourite family owned restaurants here in Edmonton. One of which was a Vietnamese eatery which had been in business over 30 years, they had closed for renovations prior to the pandemic then made the decision to close for good two years ago. Prefer when the eating places are not as full but I do still eat out and do occasional takeout meals.

    1. So glad to see you here! Thanks for reading and commenting! That’s really sad they closed after so long in business. I think that happened to a number of folks here as well – they might’ve gone longer before retiring but the pandemic sped up the plans a bit. Then there were other places here that *opened* during the pandemic and still seem to be doing well. That’s a brave and bold move!

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