Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Five Things Literary: Eglinton West with Sue MacLeod

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Sue MacLeod

In our Five Things Literary series, we bring you into the literary life of individual authors and the communities that nurture and inspire them.

Today we hear from Sue MacLeod, who lives and writes in the Eglinton and Bathurst neighbourhood of Toronto. A little bit Forest Hill, a little bit Cedarvale, this stretch of Eglinton West has a flavour all its own.

Sue is the author of Namesake (Pajama Press), which follows the story of Jane Grey, a contemporary teen who finds herself whisked back to the era of her namesake, Lady Jane Grey (who was Queen of England for a little over a week in the sixteenth century). The famous story of Lady Jane's marriage, reign and execution gets a modern twist as twenty-first century Jane becomes obsessed with travelling back to spend time with the doomed young queen.

Read on to hear from Sue about the literary life of Eglinton West, from bookstores and libraries to the erstwhile residence of one very famous writer.


Five Things Literary: Bathurst and Eglinton

I lived near the corner of Eglinton and Bathurst from 2009 to 2011 and found some great haunts — literary and related — in the Eg West neighbourhood and near Eglinton further east.

— Sue MacLeod

  1. Mabel's Fables, 662 Mount Pleasant Avenue
    • This independent bookstore is a few blocks south of Eglinton. It brims with personality and stock, all presided over by a resident orange cat, Mabel (the second). Walking in, you know you've found a place where books are more than products. In business since 1988, Mabel's focuses on children and teens, but also has a small, well-chosen selection for adults. The two-storey bookstore hosts programs, too: lullaby and story times, multilingual events for kids, and (through George Brown College) classes in writing for children.


  2. CANSCAIP, CCBC and the North District library, 40 Orchard View Blvd.
    • 40 Orchard View — near the corner of "Young and Eligible" — is home to three literary gems. Downstairs is the Canadian Children's Book Centre. Its reference library (available by appointment) has almost every Canadian children's book published since 1976. Also downstairs is CANSCAIP, a national association of authors, illustrators and performers of children's culture. This friendly organization hosts meetings and discussions for its members (both professional and pre-published).

      Upstairs, the spacious and inviting North District branch of Toronto Public Library has a good-sized collection, an art exhibition space, and programs for all ages. This month, the line-up is nothing short of incendiary: it includes firefighters reading to children and a talk entitled, "Remembering Ray Bradbury."


  3. The Mad Bean Coffee House, 519 Eglinton Avenue West
    • The Mad Bean — funky, gorgeous and spotless — is a place I've missed since leaving the Eglinton area. Owners Brian, Lisa and Cody serve up great organic fair trade coffee, snacks, and an atmosphere conducive to chatting or quietly mulling things over. Lisa, who has a gift for hosting, sometimes introduced me to people at other tables, whose interests I might share.

      A real neighbourhood place, The Mad Bean hosts musical events and chocolate-making workshops (!) and its walls are lined with works by Toronto artists and photographers. (The displays change every month.) It supports local writers, too, and has been known to host readings. Secondhand books are available to purchase — or to read while you sip.


  4. Kay Gardner Beltline Trail
    • Of the various entrances to the Belt Line Trail, the one I've used most is a wooden staircase leading down from the south side of Eglinton, just east of Spadina. (And not far west of The Mad Bean.) This walking/cycling trail has everything a writer needs for mental refreshment: It's green and leafy; smells great (except for one small bit with a sewer odor; just hold your nose and you'll soon be past it); and is alive with birdsong.

      From Eglinton West, the Belt Line leads to Mount Pleasant Cemetery.
      You've probably seen the name in large letters on the foot bridge over Yonge Street near the Davisville subway station. The trail was made in the 1890s for a commuter steam railway line that ran from Union Station to what was then, I presume, the northern edge of Toronto. And it's been named for a woman who sounds worthy of a biography.

      According to Wikipedia, Kay Gardner (born 1927) has been a municipal politician, public library worker, union organizer and tenants' rights advocate. In the 1970s, she was involved in the campaign to save the Belt Line from development.

      Today, the historical trail provides a sense of solitude in a natural setting. But, at the same time, it's well-populated with people walking (with and without dogs) and bicycling — so it doesn't feel creepy or dangerous. You get a great view of some swanky backyards. And — critical point — on hot summer days, it feels about 10 degrees cooler down there.


  5. The Hemingway, 1599 Bathurst Street
    • I used to wonder if the lovely old vine-covered apartment building on Bathurst near the Cedarvale Ravine was called The Hemingway for any literary reason. Sure enough, I learned from Shawn Micallef's book, Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto, it was named after Papa himself. He lived there in the early 1920s, writing for the Toronto Daily Star. It's a condo building now, with a green awning proudly declaring its name. A quick shot of literary history as one flies by on the Bathurst bus.

Sue MacLeodhas filled her career with the written word, working as a writer, an editor, a proofreader and a library assistant. Born in Kingston, Ontario to a military family, Sue moved many times throughout her childhood but always felt rooted in Nova Scotia, where her family returned each summer. That rootedness is apparent in her two books of poetry, That Singing You Hear at the Edges, and The Language of Rain, which was shortlisted for the Milton Acorn People’s Poetry Award. Sue wrote Namesake, her first novel, out of a desire to honour Jane Grey for "who she was — not only a victim, but also courageous, strong and full of life." Sue now lives in Toronto, Ontario.

For more information about Namesake please visit the Pajamas Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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