Unique side of Toronto on display in three new novels

Find out what it was about their fave locales that inspired these writers to put pen to paper


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Giller Prize winner Michael Redhill was inspired by Kensington Market

Toronto has a long history of literary works that celebrate the city, from Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion to the more recent Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis. This fall, three very different novelists were inspired to use three unique Toronto settings in their new works. We asked them why and what they loved about these neighbourhoods. 

DAVID CHARIANDY, BROTHER, SCARBOROUGH'S ROUGH VALLEY
I tried to capture the beauty of the Rouge Valley, and this is the thing about Scarborough. It’s often understood to be a very dense, almost urban space, but snaking throughout Scarborough is this extraordinary valley of green. And it’s just incredibly beautiful. You can walk down there and imagine for a moment that you’re not in the Scarborough of traffic and congestion and all of these sorts of things. And for the brothers in the book, it is very important that there is this other Scarborough that exists within walking distance of their homes.… I think, in certain ways, it’s a place of escape from the streets of Scarborough, and for them, the streets are at times dangerous or places where they have to perform certain identities or postures of toughness, and in the Rouge Valley they can simply be, differently. 

LINDEN MACINTYRE, THE ONLY CAF´E, 972 DANFORTH AVE.
I started going to the Only in the early ’90s because it was a cool place. It was casual and, in those days, a little dark for reading, just a beer parlour, and it was noisy with music and stuff. I liked it, the sort of weird ambience, and it was the kind of place where you actually got to know the person behind the bar.… There was this young Israeli-Canadian fellow that showed up there and for many years was a fixture behind the bar, and we became friends. I wasn’t a habitué. 

I would go there periodically, and I just found it a comfortable place. And then I noticed a strange anomaly: this funky 1970s bar in an area that was becoming increasingly Islamic and in fact was a half block away from a large and growing mosque, and I just found that all interesting, and chatting with the Israeli bartender, things started to jell in my mind. 

It turned out he’d been in Lebanon. I had been there a lot. He had served in the Israeli defence force, and he was an intelligence officer at one point, a highly unlikely intelligence officer who was deeply into mysticism and philosophy and stuff like that. I then realized, at one point, the very best intelligence officers are the ones that seem the least likely. The whole thing started to jell, and so I started to write. 

MICHAEL REDHILL, BELLEVUE SQUARE, KENSINGTON MARKET
I set Bellevue Square in Kensington Market because that was where the story came to me, and the setting was a huge part of the inspiration. It also allowed me to return over and over to the same space and deepen my connection to it while imaging the story. My Toronto is a crossroads as well as a vanishing point, and it’s a logical setting for ghost stories. 

Kensington Market is layered with history and phantoms. I still love being in the market, although they closed and dug up Bellevue Square recently, and I’m a hopeless coffee addict, so every visit includes a stop at either Jimmy’s or Pamenar. 

And I’m crazy for pupusas and empanadas and arepas.…

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Ron Johnson is the editor of Post City Magazines. Follow him on Twitter @TheRonJohnson.

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