Chinatown East: Riverdale Library #1

Even after fifty years there are some habits I’m still trying to shake. One of them reared its head late Sunday morning when Sage asked “What library are we going to today?”

I’d booked the time to go but hadn’t figured out any more of the details. There I am, doing minute planning and flying by the seat of my pants again. We looked around the Google Map I created showing where we have been. Finally I found one: Riverdale Library. It was close enough that we could be there in just a few minutes and I hadn’t been back to the Chinatown East neighbourhood near Broadview and Gerrard in years.

When we first moved to Toronto I would often go down to this neighbourhood to shop for ingredients when I’d cook Thai, Vietnamese or Chinese food. I liked walking past the markets through the crowds of people, hearing many different languages. Some of the foods I recognized and others I didn’t. On the corner was Cai Yuan supermarket with fruits and vegetables displayed outside and crowds going in and out all day.

Image from August 2012 Google Streetview

And then in 2013, a fire above the market destroyed the entire building. After that the neighbourhood seemed to lose a lot of its vitality. Not long before that we moved to the west end and the Chinatown on Spadina was more convenient to get to for shopping.

Sunday was one of the first times I’d been back since then. So just around lunchtime we headed out.

In about half an hour we were there. The corner of Broadview and Gerrard looks a little different now.

The market is now an A&W Burger restaurant though you can see a number of the older businesses further down Broadview are still doing well. There’s a different feel, though. Broadview north of Gerrard used to have a few local businesses including a donut shop that always felt a little sketchy.

It’s since been replaced with a nondescript grey storefront.

There was some nice art on a phone box on our side of the street, though:

Before there seemed to be many more Chinese and Vietnamese businesses here. Now there are still many, but other more trendy shops like the framing store and chocolate shop are moving in to the neighbourhood.

But it feels really lively and interesting here – a pleasant place to be. It’s almost as if the corner building defines the neighbourhood. One of the last times I went there was in 2015 when the building itself was missing and the neighbourhood felt sad and almost abandoned.

Photo via Google Streetview – 2015

Sage and I were really hungry so we went straight off in search of food. A few blocks down Gerrard we found Lamoon cafe, a restaurant serving coffee and tea but also Thai drinks and food.

Inside the space was comfortable, sunny, and not too crowded. We put in our order and went to sit down on a couch in the back. Soon our drinks arrived:

Sage got a Thai iced tea with tea and sweetened condenced milk. I was intrigued by the “Lychee Butterfly” which may have been the most beautiful drink I’ve ever had. In it was lychee juice, lime juice, soda water, butterfly pea flower extract and I think a bit of coconut milk. It was sweet, sour and perfectly balanced. I had a hard time not just drinking it all at once. The lychee on the top was a nice touch also.

My meal arrived first: basil pork:

It was absolutely fantastic with a good degree of spiciness, some sauteed basil leaves but also some crispy fried ones for texture. On the side was a mixture of white and blue rice. (The blue from peaflowers) and a poached egg. A perfect lunch.

Sage’s arrived soon after, Tom Yum Shrimp Fried Rice.

This was also really tasty – Sage said it tasted literally like they made tom yum soup into fried rice – a flawless conversion. When I tasted it I also agreed. When she’d finished and as we left she stopped and told the owner that we’ve lived in Toronto twenty years and this was one of our favourite meals. It’s true. The food was fantastic. The menu is here. What would you order?

After that, inspired to cook more Thai food I stopped at a market to get some Thai basil of our own and some curry paste as I was getting low on it.

And off we went to the library.

The Riverdale Library is one of Toronto’s Carnegie libraries built back in 1910 and it sits on the opposite side of the intersection from the corner that burned down in 2013.

We crossed the street and one of the first things we noticed was a bit of a sign of the times:

We went to the door, pulled the handle and… It was closed.

More and more in the city we see needle drop boxes. The Sanderson library also had one outside. With increased opioid use this is becoming more necessary. As libraries are part of the social safety net giving people in need a warm place to stay and often to find resources: jobs, computer time, personal care products, connection with humans and social services, this just feels like part of taking care of the vulnerable people in our neighbourhood. I’d be glad if we didn’t have these problems but as we do, I’m also glad that the libraries are helping out as much as they do.

When we got to the door of the library, though, we were in for a surprise:

They’re closed on Sundays. A clear sign that that bad habit I have of last minute planning needs to be addressed if I’m going to accomplish the things I set out to do.

Watch for another trip to this library in the future. No doubt, with a bit more planning ahead.

8 thoughts on “Chinatown East: Riverdale Library #1

  1. Oh gosh I’m so jealous! But what a neighbourhood. I feel as if I’m walking the streets with you.

    Libraries being sanctuaries and resources for the disadvantaged is such an important yet overlooked thing. In Malaysia, unfortunately, libraries are politicised … even thinking about it makes me a little mad. They are shiny, beautiful, but you have to be decently dressed or you won’t be admitted. There are books, but they seem more like decorations than anything else … I can go on.

    I miss how libraries are run in the West. I hope they’re not in danger of dying out like some people say. Society needs it.

    1. Thanks for commenting. Toronto can really be quite a bubble sometimes. We might well have the best library system in the world: 100 branches, last year’s budget was $228 million and people are really loyal to it. So I think mostly we’re OK. But elsewhere in North America libraries and books are under attack and that’s very disturbing.

      That same bubble made me really shocked when I visited my first libraries outside North America – in India. One in Mumbai was members only and I couldn’t even get past the lobby. Another was more inclusive but I had to sign in, leave my bags behind and basically couldn’t touch anything. (I was happy to see that there were cats living in the library though). A third library I visited in Jaipur was more open but also was definitely not kept up to the same standard. (That one you can see here:

      I know the trend is going the wrong way for libraries in the world these days but I do hope to see them become more inclusive and accessible. It really benefits everyone.

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