Since the 1950s, the population of the Greater Toronto Area has grown from around one million to well over five. With this expansion, the city and its inhabitants have experienced significant changes. The shaping and transformation of the city’s identity has led to a healthy breeding ground for literature about the city itself. Explore some of the favorite haunts of the city’s famous writers – a must visit for every bookworm in the city.
“I have a deep and meaningful relationship with Toronto, not always positive. It’s a rich, complicated and troubled place. But it is the city of my heart and my imagination.”
— Maggie Helwig
Margaret Atwood & the Park Hyatt Hotel Rooftop Bar
The Park Hyatt is actually featured in Atwood’s 1988 novel Cat’s Eye, a semi-autobiographical novel about the search for identity and childhood memory. In Cat’s Eye, Elaine and Josef share a drink here, and as they drink “Manhattans and [look] over the stone balustrade…” Atwood perfectly articulates a summer evening in Toronto through the character of Elaine: “This is one of the tallest buildings around. Below us Toronto festers in the evening heat, the trees spreading like worn moss, the lake zinc in the distance.” The site offers panoramic views of the city’s skyline and is a near perfect location for an author – and her characters – to reflect on both themselves and Toronto.
The Park Hyatt, 4 Avenue Rd, Toronto, ON, Canada, +1 416 925 1234
Michael Redhill & the By the Way Café
Author of the brilliant novel Consolation, Michael Redhill was quoted as saying that the By the Way Café was somewhere that he felt he could write, read or even just settle his soul. Located on Bloor Street with a mixed Mediterranean and Middle Eastern identity, it is clear why it was such an inspiring spot for Redhill to write his novel on legacy and the struggle to survive. These themes perfectly mirror Toronto’s questioning of its identity.
By the Way Café, 400 Bloor St. West, Toronto, ON, Canada, +1 416 967 4295
Dionne Brand & the St. Lawrence Market
With a focus in her poetry and novels on the multiculturalism of the city, it’s easy to see why Dionne Brand was inspired by St Lawrence Market with its array of food and people from across the planet. She describes looking out over the market as being like, “a frame of a book, a frame of reality,” which is something that comes through most vividly in her novel What We All Long For. It’s a great spot to go and soak up the energy at the heart of Brand’s work.
St Lawrence market, 92-95 Front St. East, Toronto, ON, Canada, +1 416 392 7219
Bryan Lee O'Malley & Sneaky Dee’s
Bar, Restaurant, Mexican, Canadian, Gluten-free, Beer, Wine, $$$
Bryan Lee O’Malley & Sneaky Dee’s
Whether you love literature, music or film, Sneaky Dee’s is a famous landmark in Toronto. The bar is celebrated as an indie hangout and garnered international acclaim after it was used as a setting in Scott Pilgrim vs the World. The film was originally a graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley and ‘Sneaks’ is a must for anyone who loves the counterculture movement that is perfectly represented in O’Malley’s work.
Sneaky Dee’s, 431 College St, Toronto, ON, Canada, +1 416 603 3090
Maggie Helwig & the Anglican Church of St. Stephen-in-the-Fields
The Anglican Church of St. Stephen-in-the-Fields finds itself on this list not through literary references or even a direct source of inspiration for the author. Rather, it’s because Maggie Helwig, author of the breathtakingly good Girls Fall Down, actually serves as the rector of the church. The church, located on Bellevue Avenue, is often home to literary readings and book launches. Helwig’s work and social activism make St. Stephen’s a must-visit literary haunt.
St. Stephen-in-the-Fields, 103 Bellevue Ave, Toronto, ON, Canada, +1 416 921 6350
Robert Rotenburg & Old City Hall
Having stood since 1899 Old City Hall is one of Toronto’s most iconic and historic landmarks. However, Robert Rotenbury’s novel Old City Hall uses the building’s courthouse as its main setting. Rotenburg captures the feel of Toronto’s history in its setting whilst also highlighting modern day corruption that he feels is rife within the city. Old City Hall is a beautiful landmark and an ideal location for anyone who wants to experience Rotenburg’s novel first hand.
Old City Hall, 60 Queen St West, Toronto, ON, Canada, +1 416 338 0338
Margaret Atwood & Queen’s Park
Atwood may have already been featured on the list, but it would be impossible to give Canada’s most celebrated writer just one spot. Queen’s Park is pure city escapism: away from the noise and day to day drudgery, it is a place to quietly reflect, and – for Atwood – a place to be inspired. Three of her novels; The Robber Bride, Life Before Man and Lady Oracle all have passages set in the famous park, and in Lady Oracle there is even a wedding proposal over hamburgers and milkshakes.
Queen’s Park, 111 Wellesley St West, Toronto, ON, Canada, +1 416 325 7500
Michael Ondaatje & the Bloor Street Viaduct
If you are able to find a list of the greatest novels about Toronto that doesn’t feature Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of the Lion it would be both a travesty and a surprise. The novel centers around the construction of the Bloor Street Viaduct (or Prince Edward if you prefer) and it gives a voice to the working class immigrants of the early 20th century who were responsible for building it. Although the viaduct has long been completed, it is an absolute must for any literature lover as you let your imagination take you back nearly 100 years into Toronto’s rich history.
Site of the Bloor Street (Prince Edward) viaduct, Bloor St E, Toronto, ON, Canada