Five Things Literary: Yonge & Dundas, with Mike Strobel
One of the best things about Toronto's literary scene is that if you asked 100 people to name their five favourite things about reading and writing in the city, you'd probably end up with a master list of 500 different sights and scenes. Toronto Sun columnist Mike Strobel zeroes in on the unlikely literary legacy still humming along the streets where Dundas and Yonge meet. His book Bad Girls and Other Perils (Dundurn Press) collects his wildest, wittiest and most thought-provoking columns. (Warning: The content of this book may not be appropriate for some Habs fans.)
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Five Things Literary: Yonge & Dundas, by Mike Strobel
Dundas Square and environs is the last place in Toronto you’d expect literature. Strippers, sure. Hookers, hustlers, crackheads, creeps and bums. Plus kids with iPhones in their ears, buzzing to and from the Eaton Centre. But Marshall McLuhan? Robertson Davies? Hemingway? In this stewpot?
Yessir. Have a sniff. Catch a whiff of their lingering cigar smoke (what’s with famous writers and cigars?), mingled with the beery mist, the hot dog carts and the shawarma joints.
McLuhan and Davies schmoozed at the Arts and Letters Club on Elm Street, a tributary of Yonge. So did the Group of Seven. I wonder how Lismer would paint Dundas Square. Neon of the north? Hundred-foot screens in place of Jack pines?
Or Ernest Hemingway, who lived at the Selby a few blocks over on Sherbourne in the 1920s. I bet he traversed Dundas Square enroute to his job at the Star. The Selby soon became a brothel. Today it is a boutique hotel. You can stay in the Hemingway Suite.
How would the great man describe this neighbourhood in this city he hated? Something like this?
The window of the hotel is open and, as you lie in bed, you hear the firing in the front line seventeen blocks away. There is rifle fire all night long. The rifles go tacrong, carong, craang, tacrong, and then a machine gun opens up...
Come off it, Papa! Sure, Dundas and Sherbourne is statistically the most criminal corner in Toronto. But machine gun? What do you think this is, the Spanish Civil War?
Let’s head for shelter, at the World’s Biggest Bookstore, on Edward Street. Indigo owns it, surprise, surprise. The World’s Biggest Bookstore is more like the World’s Third Or Fourth Biggest Bookstore, but that’s still very big. They say that while it trails in floor space, it makes up for it in titles. Including mine, which is very big of them, thanks.
If I fell out my loft’s window in October, I’d land in the middle of Wordstock, at Ryerson University. It’s run by my fellow hacks in journalism, but writing is writing and the latest Wordstock featured bull sessions on all sorts of literatewwwer from erotica to mysteries.
Now, last stop, join me in the Imperial Pub’s upstairs library. Suck back a $6 Moosehead and tuck into hundreds of volumes lining this soothingly seedy room. It is a refuge for Ryerson students and staff from nearby Citytv. Every Friday, a dozen or so jazz men reminisce at a corner table.
Man, every library should have its own bar. Staffer Kristin Evans pauses at the taps to explain a key method of collection since the library opened in the 1960s: "People drink a little too much and forget their books." Her favourite? A tome about the 12-step program. Construction of Dundas Square nearly killed the Imperial in 1998, but the clientele squawked and stopped demolition. So its library survives in a sea of chain store sharks and panhandling piranhas.
I recently fled to this industrial loft at Church and Dundas, from Queens Quay, land of pink poodles, tour boats and Tilley hats.
Down on those swishy piers, they’ve all read Ulysses. Or claim they did.
Mention literature in the streets and lanes around Dundas Square, and they think you’re complaining about all the scrap paper on the ground.
Mike Strobel is a Toronto Sun staff columnist. His mission? To find the funny in politics, sports, showbiz and daily life. Usually, anyway. Sometimes his columns make you weep or rage. Strobel is a 30-year veteran of newspaper wars in three cities, including 14 years as managing editor or editor-in-chief of the Sun. His up-front column was launched in 2001 and runs at least four times a week.
For more information on Bad Girls and Other Perils please visit the Dundurn Press website.