Toronto in Fiction

Selected Quotations

Selected by Margaret Fulford
With thanks to Winona McMorrow for suggesting several of these quotations.

Please see also: U of T in Fiction.

Our stretch of old brick duplexes and townhouses on Baldwin between Huron and Beverley Streets in the area bordering Chinatown is only a block away from the trendy section east of Beverley. But it's a whole different world here, with its own sublime magic. Beneath the shabby deterioration exists an unconventional beauty. Unbeknownst to many, our street name, nicely transliterated into Chinese characters, means "Precious Cloud."
-- Pulse, by Lydia Kwa (2010)

Slabs, obelisks, wonky Celtic crosses. Alphas and omega, crosses and crowns -- Matt's always loved checking out the monuments here at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, and the doleful little inscriptions they bear. Back In The Arms Of Jesus. Sleep On Dear Daughter. Greater Love Hath No Man. Daddy. "Glenn Gould's here someplace," he says.
-- Seven Good Reasons Not to Be Good, by John Gould (2010)

I crawled along Lawrence Avenue, the water knee-deep in places, to where the road crossed the Humber. The river had risen markedly. Trees planted along the banks fifty years ago were being swallowed up. The road resembled an aqueduct. Along the rail two young women in white stockings and black shoes, floral kerchiefs tied tights around their chins, clung to the edge and marvelled at the animal that seethed beneath them. Alice said, "Look at that, the sky is green. It feels like the end of the world."
-- The Carnivore, by Mark Sinnett (2009)

The morning passed quickly. According to the schedule, it was my lunchtime. I walked to Allan Gardens. The park is a huge sigh, a deep breath. The venerable age of its trees, the generous arrangement of its criss-crossing paths, the fragile domed presence of the greenhouse at its centre -- all these suggest forgiveness.
-- The Incident Report, by Martha Baillie (2009)

Dry seedheads broke through the snow at his feet, and the invisible city stretched out on every side. In front of him, the Don River, the slope upwards to the east side, the plane trees and small brick houses, and behind him the wetlands, and the landscaped sloping enclaves of Rosedale. To the south and west somewhere was most of his life, his apartment at College and Grace, the osprey on the wall in Kensington Market, the little brick church, the woman in the rooming house on Bathurst and the man being held hostage by terrorists, the new Sneaky Dee's on College that would always be the new Sneeky Dee's although it had been there for more than a decade; to the north, his office in the hospital, the operating rooms where he moved quietly among the surgical teams, the burned man in the isolation ward. The girls falling down on the subway, the Don River running past him and away into landfill, where the shore of the lake used to be. All dark.
-- Girls Fall Down, by Maggie Helwig (2008)

For our parents, Palmerston Avenue was "back home." Nothing had ever really changed. There were always eyes behind curtained windows, like those of Senhora Gloria, who saw and heard and thrived on all things seen and heard. Fados sifted through screen doors, the smell of barbecued sardines wove through the chainlink fences, and colourful clothing and bleached towels flapped in the warm wind until they were hard and crunchy on the clothesline.
-- Barnacle Love, by Anthony De Sa (2008)

She has become an old woman. She looks out from the doorway of her own home but seems puzzled by the scene, the bruised evening sky and the crab scurry of leaves on the shoreline below. These are the bluffs at the lakeside edge of Scarborough. This is the season named fall.
-- Soucouyant, by David Chariandy (2007)

For Salma, her Canadian honeymoon barely lasted three weeks and she remembers it like a summer vacation. She felt like a tourist in Toronto, carrying an open map everywhere she went, marveling at the new things that delighted her: the huge selection of shampoos in the Shoppers' Drug Mart, the rows and rows of books in the quiet of the Lillian H. Smith Library, the Music Gardens by the lake. Then, homesickness descended upon her slowly, manifesting in ways she didn't understand. At first, she found herself growing irritated by silly things, like the cost of a ten-pound sack of Basmati rice or the unfamiliar quiet outside her window at night. Later, she found herself criticizing nearly everything that was different from home: the smells of Toronto pavement after a rain, the slow pace of the downtown pedestrians, the way she had to repeat her name three times before the Canadians seemed to be able to hear it.
-- Stealing Nasreen, by Farzana Doctor (2007)

A man is standing by the lakeshore at the Hanlan's Point ferry dock. Cicadas in the grass near the roadway, cars passing behind the hotel. The ferry rush hour is over already at 8:15, and the Hanlan's Point ferry is the least frequent of them all, as it takes passengers to a buggy, unkempt part of the Toronto Islands. But is the most peaceful ride, ending close to wilderness.
-- Consolation, by Michael Redhill (2006)

Every four years, June in the city is crazy. Cars speed about flying emblems of various nationalities. Resurgent identities are lifted and dashed. Small neighbourhoods that seemed at least slightly reconciled break into sovereign bodies. It's all because of soccer.
-- What We All Long For, by Dionne Brand (2005)

They walk together down the Darling Building stairway, and out onto Spadina. It is eight o'clock and the street is filled with people: men coming home from the factories on the outskirts of the city, from the slaughterhouses and soap factories, still in their work clothes; sleek men with slick pale faces; and loud boys heading to the poolrooms and dance halls. Ruthie and Lucio walk quickly through the crowd, preoccupied and not speaking, and at the corner of College and Spadina, while they are waiting for the clang of the traffic signal, Lucio reaches out and takes Ruthie's hand in his.
-- The Secret Mitzvah of Lucio Burke, by Steven Hayward (2005)

On the departures concourse of Union Station, Mona moistens her lips so the paper of her cigarette does not stick. She walks and smokes, walks and smokes. Passes three swells bossing around a redcap, then a dame and her poodle and, finally, a big cop alert in the middle of the tip. Mona keeps moving. By the time she has smoked the cigarette down, Chesler has given the office. She reverses position and comes through, just to the right of an old bates. Chesler steps in from the left, on a sharp angle, and comes away with a flat wallet from the breast pocket. Their first score in weeks.
-- The City Man, by Howard Ackler (2005)

Normally I take the Dundas streetcar to Gladstone Avenue and hike to work from there. Today, though, I've got time to walk so I do, make a fresh path of footprints through the tundra that's Sorauren Park in January as a short cut to Queen Street. It's deep freeze time, even the sound of the wind shoving the bare branches of the trees around is cold, but a kid and his dad with their toboggan are out here in the fading sunlight anyway, giving Old Man Winter their firmest middle finger.
-- Gently Down the Stream, by Ray Robertson (2005)

In March of 1980, near the end of the school year but only three weeks after our arrival in Toronto, I was enrolled in Charles H. Best elementary. Each morning, with our house key hanging from a brown shoelace around my neck, I kissed my parents goodbye and, along with my cousin Jana, tramped across the ravine -- I to the first grade, she to the second. At three o'clock, bearing the germs of a new vocabulary, we tramped back home. Together, we then waited until six for our parents to return from George Brown City College, where they were taking their obligatory classes in English. In the evenings we assembled and compiled our linguistic bounty.
-- Natasha and Other Stories, by David Bezmozgis (2004)

We had arrived at Toronto International Airport in the autumn of 1971 to a wonderful welcome. I was fourteen, my grandmother a voluptuous woman of forty-seven. We had packed fried fish, roasted yam and breadfruit, cassava cakes and baked goods for everyone, as well as fever grass, dried cerasee, leaf of life and other herbs for medicinal purposes. Mama was happy and proud that night; there was no trace of the unhappiness her face had held at the Palisadoes Airport when we left. We sat in my mother and Sid's living room and talked and talked, catching up on people we knew who lived abroad.
-- The Heart Does Not Bend, by Makeda Silvera (2002)

Across Queen Street, the two women arrive, laughing again, as if they never stop, gleaming at each other, locking up their second-hand bikes with the single chain pulled through both front wheels, intimate bindery. The bakery door swings wide as they conjoin shoulders and step inside.
-- Charisma, by Margaret Christakos (2000)

The alien's shuttle landed out front of what used to be the McLaughlin Planetarium, which is right next door to the Royal Ontario Museum, where I work.
-- Calculating God, by Robert J. Sawyer (2000)

Paula and Pavel had set up their awning at the corner of Carlton and Sherbourne, next to the shack from which Bruk-Foot Sam sold reconditioned bicycles. Braces of skinned, gutted squirrels were strung up under Paula and Pavel's awning. Ti-Jeanne could smell the rankness of the fresh meat as she walked by. It must have been the morning's kill. The couple had claimed the adjacent Allan Gardens park and its greenhouse, which they farmed. In the winter, Paula and Pavel were the Burn's source of fresh vegetables for those who lacked the resources to import them from outcity. And the overgrown park hid a surprising amount of wild game; pigeons; squirrels; wild dogs and cats for the not too particular.
-- Brown Girl in the Ring, by Nalo Hopkinson (1998)

One night I walked up Grace Street, a summer tunnel of long shadows, the breeze from the lake a cool finger slipping gently under my damp shirt, the tumult of the market left blocks behind.
-- Fugitive Pieces, by Anne Michaels (1998)

Grace, seemingly unaware of Willa's movements behind her, brings the plane over the city. Willa buckles her harness on again, looks down. Being in the rear cockpit she has the best view of the ground. The forward cockpit is simply a nest between the wings. From the air the city is all shape. Horseshoe of the roundhouse train station. Piano keys of ferry and steamship docks. Flat dinner plate of Maple Leaf baseball stadium. Straws of chimneys from the factories and refineries. Buildings as squares or oblongs, the steel roofs of dockyard warehouses glinting like metal teeth in a jaw of concrete. Rail trucks like stitches, sewn sloppily across the bottom end of the city.
-- Leaving Earth, by Helen Humphreys (1997)

At last we reached Toronto, which was where they said the free land could be obtained. The city was not in a good situation, being flat and damp; it was raining that day, and there were many wagons and men hurrying, and quantities of mud, except for the main streets which were paved. The rain was soft and warm, and the air had a thick and swampy feel to it, like oil clinging to the skin, which I was later to learn was usual for that season of the year, and productive of many fevers and summer illnesses. There was some gas lighting but not as grand as Belfast.
-- Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood (1996)

It seemed odd that the apartment where my grandparents had lived still existed, while the house where my parents were living when Paul and I were born did not. It had been torn down to make room for a skating rink. Sometimes I even insisted that my father drive us down Robert Street, past the big Dominion store on the corner of Bloor, just so I could see where the house used to be, past the pale green boards and high fences around the rink, the light, swift skimming of the skaters' heads, no sign of any houses at all.
-- Minus Time, by Catherine Bush (1993)

On a winter's day, while a blizzard raged through the streets of Toronto, Lilah Kemp inadvertently set Kurtz free from page 92 of Heart of Darkness. Horror-stricken, she tried to force him back between the covers. The escape took place at the Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library, where Lilah Kemp sat reading beside the rock pool. She had not even said come forth, but there Kurtz stood before her, framed by the woven jungle of cotton trees and vines that passed for botanic atmosphere.
-- Headhunter, by Timothy Findley (1993)

His father's city was a staid and musty place, rundown and fraying at the edges, a place of the aged and the marginal where a future was nothing more than the faint traces of yesterday's fantasy. But his city -- the new city -- was a bright and shining arena. It sparkled with glass and chrome and spinning, multicoloured lights. It surged forward to a symphony of cars and trucks and heavy machinery.
-- The Innocence of Age, by Neil Bissoondath (1992)

The bridge goes up in a dream. It will link the east end with the centre of the city. It will carry traffic, water, and electricity across the Don Valley. It will carry trains that have not even been invented yet. Night and day. Fall light. Snow light. They are always working -- horses and wagons and men arriving for work on the Danforth side at the far end of the valley.
-- In the Skin of a Lion, by Michael Ondaatje (1987)

Salter's home was in an Anglo-Saxon ghetto off Oriole Parkway in an area that not so long ago had been North Toronto. But with the expansion of the city after the war, accompanied more recently by the building of the subway to the perimeter, his neighbourhood found itself at the heart of the city. When they first moved to the area, Salter had driven to work like everyone else; now he left his car at home for Annie and took the subway. Once, for a month, he had tried cycling to work long before it became fashionable, but the city sloped the wrong way for him, so that while the ride to work was easy, the sweating uphill return came at the end of a long day.
-- The Night the Gods Smiled, by Eric Wright (1984)

On Yonge Street I found myself part of an indeterminate crowd. They will, I know, finally go into Simpson's or Eaton's or Woolworth's for something to do. I stayed on the east side of the street in order to avoid the same temptation. I crossed only after I got to Elm Street, although I did linger in front of Loew's Downtown to look at the stills of movie stars about to make love. At the corner of Dundas a sudden chill wind came up. The United Clothiers showed overcoats and parkas in their window.
-- Basic Black with Pearls, by Helen Weinzweig (1980)

Elizabeth is sitting at the black-topped table in Fran's. Opposite her is William. In front of her is a waffle with a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting on it, and on top of the ice cream is a tentacled formation of partially congealed cinnamon-coloured syrup. She watches the syrup run down and hopes the waitress won't comment on the untouched waffle when she brings the check.
-- Life before Man, by Margaret Atwood (1979)

Shore's picture had appeared in the paper on the first really warm day after the April cold snap. That was the way it was in this city: cold, then suddenly everything was green in the hard sunlight, as if there were only two seasons. At the roof bar of the Park Plaza the doors to the terrace overlooking downtown had been flung open. In the new, bright sunlight the city seemed to be all trees. The terrace looked down on the university campus, the museum, and the park, although farther downtown were the towering new tombstone slabs and then the lake.
-- A Fine and Private Place, by Morley Callaghan (1975)

Later that year, and for years thereafter, I walked along our street looking carefully at the shapes of things. [...] If I were to sum up Toronto living in the early thirties, I'd have to think through the phenomenon of the small one-family home of six or seven or eight rooms, often with an attic, rarely with a recreation room. If there were four or five bedrooms, a pair of grandparents and a maid might live in the house; if only three, a sunporch might serve as guest bedroom in warm weather. I understand how the native domestic architecture shaped our choice of ways to live, and was in turn shaped by them, until a consensus was reached.
-- The Swing in the Garden, by Hugh Hood (1975)

But she liked Spadina Avenue most. It was a beautiful street: it anchored her to something grand, something solid, something there in her past. And now that it was autumn, with the colours of dresses and skirts and blouses and shirts and trousers matching the colours of the leaves falling in that paused stage of overripeness and rot; and because there was space on Spadina Avenue, space and a feeling of freedom, on the jousting ground of immigrants and ambitions, Spadina Avenue was one of the few places left where people behaved as if they were loving and living and enjoying the thing called life ... Spadina Avenue was after all, the street on which she and Henry had made their first date.
-- Storm of Fortune, by Austin Clarke (1973)

They left the small lunchroom and walked down the streets that were still warm from the afternoon sun, through the Parliament Street crowds and past the families sitting on their verandas and front steps. Streetcars hurried along Gerrard Street, and the neighbourhood was alive with its noises of a summer evening. A group of children played Hide-And-Seek with a lampost as Home, and carried on a slight breeze was the momentary sounds of a bugle band from downtown. To the northwest could be seen intermittent flashes of lightning as a summer storm bore down on the warm and dusty city.
-- Cabbagetown, by Hugh Garner (1968)

Nowadays, seeking distraction, he walked about midtown Toronto a great deal. Emmy was too slow (and too boring) for a companion and Martha too crippled; he walked alone. Daily he visited the excavations for the city's first subway where a deep trench extended a mile up Yonge Street. Railed wood sidewalks bordered it, bays led into every doorway. A temporary Yonge of Douglas Fir beams perhaps twelve-by-twelve was creeping north.
-- Sherbourne Street, by John Cornish (1968)

The early spring evening bore the smell of upturned earth and of growing things and the cars passed him with their windows open, so that he could hear brief snatches of conversation from inside them. From Bloor Street, the main east-west street two blocks to the south, came the brake-grasps of buses, the clang of streetcar bells, and the raucous noise of speeding traffic.
-- The Silence on the Shore, by Hugh Garner (1962)

Some of the men in Rick's office had moved into the new apartment houses they were putting up downtown. These men, Rick had told her, were able to get from home to office in something under twenty minutes. Toronto, unlike New York and Chicago, had been slow in accepting the concept of downtown apartment houses, and in general Torontonians had yet to get used to the idea. In Toronto, the word home was still spelled h-o-u-s-e, and anyone who lived in an apartment by choice, and more particularly an apartment downtown, was considered eccentric if not unstable.
-- The Torontonians, by Phyllis Brett Young (1960)

He walked over to Bathurst and College to take a streetcar down to the factory. When he got to this corner early in the morning, there were always crowds of people waiting to get on, and the streetcars were always jammed, so that it was often necessary for him to let several cars go by before he could squeeze his way into one. But now there were only two or three people waiting, and when the streetcar stopped, Jacob noticed, with a certain amount of satisfaction, that it was half empty. The car went past the Western Hospital, past Dundas Street, past Queen Street, and Jacob decided to get off and walk the rest of the way. He grew somewhat apprehensive and fidgety as he came closer to the factory.
-- The Rich Man, by Henry Kreisel (1948)

He was on his way to the Windermere Hotel, going up Spadina, the wide street running through the garment-making centre of the city. Garment workers on strike had gathered outside one of the buildings. Policemen on horses were holding the crowd back. Puddles of water were still on the pavement; great light blotches had dried after the rain, but the sun still glistened on pools of water.
-- A Broken Journey, by Morley Callaghan (1932)

Coming out of Massey Hall late in the evening after hearing Sophie Braslau sing, they were slowly walking the short walk to the corner, still holding some of the agreeable feeling they had experienced listening to the contralto. On one side of the street in the short block were old houses with narrow lawns. In the damp ground and mud on the lawn a line of fresh footprints was firmly marked. In the light from the streetlamp edges of the footprints were firmly outlined and hardening in the wind.
-- It's Never Over, by Morley Callaghan (1930)

The street was quiet, no lights in the houses. It was nearly two o'clock and a milk wagon turning the corner swayed, the bottles rattling loudly. The horse jogged up the street, hoofs beating steadily on the pavement. "I'm glad I'm not going home," Harry thought, watching the milk wagon go up the street. They turned another corner, and the neighbourhood was poor, now mainly ramshackle old houses, fifteen blocks west of the centre of the city. Along the street the city-hall tower and the big clock stuck up over the roofs of houses and small stores downtown.
-- Strange Fugitive, by Morley Callaghan (1928)

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