Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Time to Update your Bookmarks

I'm writing a final post here to let readers know I have migrated the Imagining Toronto blog and all posts to the Imagining Toronto domain. Please feel welcome to join me there, as I'll continue posting updates and commentary on Toronto literature and the forthcoming Imagining Toronto book.

I will not be making any further posts here, but you can visit the new blog at its new location.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Narrating the Crash: Reading Hugh Garner's Cabbagetown

As major corporations stumble and jittery investors dump failing holdings amid a widening economic crisis, we find our warning in literature. In particular, Hugh Garner's Depression-set Toronto novel, Cabbagetown (Collins/White Circle, 1950; restored edition published by Ryerson in 1968) probes deeply into the effects economic downturns have on ordinary working people.

Cabbagetown is a multi-faceted exploration of the effects of the 1930s Depression of working-class Torontonians, and his analysis seems timely now that another historic economic shakedown seems inevitable. Early in the novel Garner invokes the slowly dawning recognition of the extent of the downturn. At first, Cabbagetown's residents seem dismissive, even smug:
One evening in October the newspapers printed extra editions reporting a stockmarket crash. Of all the city's neighbourhoods Cabbagetown probably took the news most quietly. In the wealthier districts, and even in the middle-class neighbourhoods, the citizens were shocked or sloughed off the news as merely a temporary halt to the inevitable spiralling of the economy. .... Cabbagetown went on its serene way, not caring whether the stockmarket crashed or didn't, such things being as far away and as alien to Cabbagetown as an aeroplane crash in Peru. With millions of dollars worth of investors' paper profits blowing away on the autumn breeze Cabbagetown knew that its hard-earned wealth was safe. Come Friday night or Saturday noon the same familiar pay envelopes would be carried out to the shipping platform by the foreman or handed through the timekeeper's wicket as usual. Whether some stock-market plungers lost their fortunes or whether a particular stock was worth this or that was of no particular interest. As a matter of fact most Cabbagetowners felt rather smug about the whole thing.
Soon, however, Garner's protagonists -- none of whom have stocks or substantial savings, most living paycheck to paycheck -- begin to experience the spiralling effects of the crisis:
The panic wasn't over as soon as the optimists predicted, and over the next few months its results began filtering down through business and industry, and even into Cabbagetown itself. Business said it had to retrench, and it began to cut its staffs relentlessly, and cut the pay checks of those who were retained in their jobs.
Before long they too are struggling profoundly, confronting not only joblessness but ultimately homelessness and privation. Garner's protagonists resort to a variety of strategies of survival: manual labour, domestic servitude, prostitution, public welfare, crime. These efforts are accompanied, inevitably, by a dawning awareness of the political implications and class dynamics of the Depression.

And this is perhaps Garner's most remarkable achievement with Cabbagetown. A staunch defender of the working class and a harsh critic of the excesses of industrial capitalism, Garner nonetheless rejected dogmatic Marxism. His socialism was fierce, principled, and entrepreneurial. His advocacy for the vulnerable invited state involvement only to correct the economic disparities it engendered; other than that, Garner's ethic demanded that the state stay the hell out of everyone else's business.

At a time when an economic crisis -- perhaps of Depression proportions -- seems inevitable, and moreover seems to have been brought about by the most culpable excesses -- it seems especially instructive to re-read Cabbagetown. The novel might not help anyone avoid struggling during the coming hard times, but at least it reminds us of what we might expect.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Word Made Flesh

Appearing to the left is the reason for my long silence and the absence of recent Imagining Toronto updates. Our little daughter, Katherine Aurora, was born five weeks early at the beginning of August. It seems she had not received the memo coordinating her due date with the book deadline (apparently not everything crosses the placenta). Despite spending several days in an oubliette Isolettetm tethered unnecessarily to electrodes, IVs and a gavage feeding tube in a hospital neo-natal intensive care unit, Katherine emerged vividly alive, and now provides astute critical commentary on my efforts to finish writing the book. She's curious and clear about what she wants, and evidently (see image) enjoys giving the finger to the paparazzi. World be warned.

Katherine's unexpectedly early arrival has necessarily postponed the publication schedule for Imagining Toronto, and as a result the book will now be released (Mansfield Press) in the spring of 2009. Exciting details of the launch schedule will be released as they are finalized.

Speaking of the book, writing proceeds apace. Fortunately by longstanding habit I rise at or before dawn to write in the stillness of early morning,which coincides these days with my care-giving shift. I still try to find time to read in the afternoons, sprawled on the chesterfield with Katherine like a pair of laconic beasts, but for some reason these days there seems to be less time for leisure (or even research) reading. My backlog of unread Toronto novels grows inestimably large.

By pleasant coincidence our little daughter shares a name with several well-known Toronto authors, including Catherine Bush (author of several novels engaging with Toronto, including Minus Time (1993), The Rules of Engagement (2000) and Claire's Head (2004); Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer (novelist and literary editor at Bookninja) and Katherine Govier (whose Fables of Brunswick Avenue, 1985, who has also engaged extensively with Toronto in Going Through the Motions (1982) and Hearts of Flame (1991).

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Imagining Toronto Book News

I am extremely pleased to announce that Imagining Toronto will be published by Mansfield Press. Assuming the universe unfolds as it should, the book is scheduled to be released in the fall of 2008.

Mansfield Press is a Toronto-based publisher of poetry, literary fiction, and books about city culture. Some of Mansfield's most notable titles include Toronto Poet Laureate Pier Giorgio Di Cicco's Municipal Mind: Manifestos for the Creative City (2007), College Street -- Little Italy: Toronto's Renaissance Strip (2006), and Red Silk: An Anthology of Women South Asian Poets (2004; edited by Rishma Dunlop and Priscila Uppal).

I am very grateful to publisher Denis De Klerck for taking on this project, which I hope will be a credit to Mansfield's City Building Books imprint.


And now, to clear my schedule and lay in a supply of Bailey's to steady me through a winter of writing. I'll still be teaching at York one day a week, but the bulk of my time and energy will be dedicated to completing the book. Afternoon invitations to escape for hot chocolate, however, will be welcomed warmly.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Last Leaves: One more book sale report

On Thursday I evaded the week's responsibilities and biked downtown to pick up warm-from-the-press copies of GreenTOpia: Towards a Sustainable Toronto (Coach House, 2007; I'm a contributor) and stopped by the St. Michael's College book sale. A smaller sale than the others, but still offering its own treats and treasures.

My special finds:

Gwendolyn MacEwen's The T.E. Lawrence Poems (Mosaic, 1982). The brilliance and beauty of MacEwen's poetry takes my breath away.

Former city councillor Jane Pitfield's Leaside (Natural Heritage Books, 2000: second edition). The writing is a little wooden, but this book seems thoroughly researched and is richly illustrated with archival images and addresses a part of Toronto often overlooked by other historians.

Jeffrey Miller's Toronto novel, Murder at Osgoode Hall (ECW, 2004). Chatty but amusing.

Charles Foran's The Story of my Life (So far) (Harper Collins, 1998), a Toronto-based memoir narrated as if by a young boy, and featuring the Don River and its ravine.

Also some books for pleasure reading and/or gifts, including David Larkin (with Julek Heller, Carolyn Scrace, Juan Wijngaard and Sarah Teale)'s Giants (Abrams, 1979), a classic illustrated anthropology and archaeology of the giants the authors suggest once strode the earth; Catherine Sheldrick Ross' Alice Munro: A Double Life (ECW, 1992); Beatrice Culleton's April Raintree (Pemmican, 1984); John Metcalf's edited anthology, The Bumper Book (ECW, 1986), a collection of essays about Canadian writing and publishing and a follow-up to Kicking Against the Pricks (1982), which reportedly raised a fuss when first published for its expose of Canadian literary politics.

And then I sped over to Ben McNally Books (366 Bay, a block or two south of Queen) and bought a copy of Mark Strand's New Selected Poems (Knopf, 2007). Strand is my favourite poet, period. Pity he's never written a word about Toronto.

And now, with the book sales ended and the season cooling as the sun turns away from the hemisphere, I turn inward. I've made considerable progress on the intellectual underpinnings of Imagining Toronto despite taking on too many other projects at the same time, and would like now to return to it on a more full-time basis with the aim of finishing it off as a coherent manuscript rather than simply whoring bits and pieces of it out to magazines and journals.

[Old books image by David Pritchard and used under the aegis of a Creative Commons license.]

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Beware of Falling Leaves

Yesterday errands and a strong wind blew us downtown, where Peter and I spent a couple of hours at the Trinity College book sale (it's on until Tuesday in case you're interested in some good deals). Peter bought an armload of science fiction, and I picked up a few treasures, including:

Margaret Avison's Momentary Dark (McClelland & Stewart, 2006), the last collection of Avison's poems published before she died this past summer.

A collection of Diane Schoemperlen's stories, Red Plaid Shirt (Harper Perennian, 2002), which I'll look forward to reading in the bathtub as soon as I can afford an afternoon break from Toronto literature. Schoemperlen's stories are not only good; more importantly, they come across as true. Homey without being domestic, they interweave the mundane (recipes, photographs, trips to the A&P) with the meaningful (meditations on love, morality, finitude). I also like Schoemperlen's invocations of Kingston, a city I loved living in.

Austin Clarke's The Bigger Light (originally published in 1975; my copy a 1998 Vintage Canada trade paperback), the third volume of Clarke's 'Toronto Trilogy' interrogating the experiences of West Indian immigrants in Toronto and their impact on the city's culture. See also: The Meeting Point (1967) and Storm of Fortune (1971).

Charles Sauriol's Remembering the Don (Amethyst, 1981), a kind of episodic memoir of the river and the ravine.

Oh, and other books of course: Irving Layton's memoir, Waiting for the Messiah (McClelland & Stewart, 1985). Alden Nowlan's Bread, Wine and Salt (Clark Irwin, 1973; originally published 1967), an amusing (and sometimes perplexing) collection of his essays, Double Exposure (Brunswick Press, 1978), and An Exchange of Gifts: Poems New & Selected (Irwin, 1985). Jay Macpherson's Poems Twice Told (Oxford, 1981; a reprinting of The Boatman and Welcoming Disaster). Derek McCormack's The Haunted Hillbilly (ECW, 2003); a novel/writer whose alleged cult status I might believe in if not for the stylistic/grammatical errors marring the text. Rob Budde's The Dying Poem (Coach House, 2002), which looks really interesting: bombed out libraries, dismembered poets -- how can you go wrong? Also New Canadian Poetry (ed. A.F. Moritz; Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2000), a decent if brief overview/anthology of contemporary Canadian poetry. And, for good measure, Coles paperback editions of Catharine Parr Traill's The Backwoods of Canada (reprint of a volume originally published in 1836) and the diary of Elizabeth Graves Simcoe, circa 1792-1976 -- which I've long since tired of consulting in their electronic versions.

I have to admit that Trinity isn't my favourite book sale. It's usually appallingly crowded and busy with book scouts too busy chatting via cell with their dealers to get out of anyone else's way. Also far too many master's students loudly and self-consciously reviewing theorists they appear never to have read. As at University College, the gems are mixed in with a lot of trash (dated anthologies and multiple copies of the same title should not be taking up valuable real estate on the tables). The prices are higher than the other sales, as well as uneven: some decidedly third-rate poetry anthologies were marked at $6 while I picked up my copy of Avison's Momentary Dark for only $2. In its favour, Trinity has a great selection of Canadiana, lots of science fiction, and masses of history, military, philosophy and political science titles. For the most part they manage to weed out the marked-up textbooks. And the volunteers are helpful and efficient.

Biking toward home I was nearly run down by a well-dressed middle-aged woman plowing her late model black Mercedes through the intersection of Harbord and Spadina. Her approach to making the left turn was to play chicken with the pedestrians and other vehicles who actually had the right of way. Sadly, Peter and I failed to pull our usual box-phalanx formation in time and she got away with it despite coming close to crushing me under her left front tire.

But we had fun fighting the wind all the way home, stopping in at a great (tawdry, flashy, fun) Hallowe'en store at the Dufferin Mall to pick up a mask for Peter and a few costume bits for me for a party next weekend. Then back to work (still working on a long story about dwelling, homelessness and the im/permanence of objects ... set in Toronto, of course).

[Photo by Dan LaMee and used here under the aegis of a Creative Commons license.]

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Pillage Report: Fall Book Sales

Ah, fall book sales, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Just as garage sale season ends, the University of Toronto holds its annual book sales. Here's my summation of the line-up.

Peter and I swung by the annual September Woodsworth College book sale on the last day this year and didn't pick up too much, but the Woodsworth sale is usually pretty good for Toronto poetry, popular paperback fiction (including genre novels set in Toronto) and signed first editions. While books are sorted into sections (philosophy, literature, etc.), they are not alphabetized and many good books never make it out of the boxes crammed in under the tables. A related problem is that not much effort is made to separate really good books from the chaff, meaning that browsing can be fatiguing and a little frustrating. A third problem is that the auditorium is not quite large enough to hold the bounty of books included in the sale. More diligent book sorting would solve all of these problems and would probably ultimately mean less work during the sale itself for Woodsworth's wonderful volunteers. I would also like to see more effort to separate Canadian literature and poetry, which deserves its own section(s).

I biked to the Victoria College Book Sale the day before Word on the Street and bought so many books the box barely fit onto my rack. The Vic sale is very well organized; while not really alphabetized, Canadian literature has its own section, and Canadian poetry is further categorized, making it easier to find Toronto titles. Prices are good (although not as good as at Woodsworth) and the halls are large enough to alleviate claustrophobia even among the crowds. Saturday morning seems to be the best time to hit this sale, as the opening night crowds have dispersed and the afternoon browsers are still having brunch somewhere else. A few of many special finds at the Vic sale:
  • Stuart Ross' Wooden Rooster (Proper Tales Press, 1986).
  • I am Watching (Anansi, 1973), a collection of poems by Shirley Gibson, apparently about the end of her marriage to Graeme Gibson. One might be forgiven for reading this collection alongside some of the stories in Margaret Atwood's Moral Disorder (2006).
  • The Story So Far 3 (ed. David Young; Coach House, 1974), including a detective story of sorts by bpNichol, a picture of George Bowering looking suspiciously like Boy George and (among numerous other contributions) work by Matt Cohen and ... William S. Burroughs. A letter from Buckingham Palace rejecting a requested submission is included. Overall, a snapshot of Coach House (and local writing) circa 1974 which joins a bookshelf-length row of similar volumes I've picked up over the years. Neat stuff.
  • Plush, selected poems by Sky Gilbert, Courtnay McFarlane, Jeffrey Conway, R.M. Vaughan and David Trinidad (Coach House, 1995; ed. Lynn Crosbie and Michael Holmes). An anthology I've wanted for quite a while but have never managed to pick up.
  • Grammar of Dissent: Poetry and prose by Claire Harris, M. Nourbese Philip and Dionne Brand (Goose Lane Editions, 1994; ed. Carol Morrell). Interesting as a retrospective of these women's work on identity and exile.
  • Kim Moritsugu's Old Flames (Porcupine's Quill, 1999), a Toronto novel and, if it's like Mortsugu's other work, a great fun read.
  • Sylvia Fraser's The Candy Factory (McClelland & Stewart, 1975; my copy a mass market paperback reprinted by New American Library), a salacious novel set in what appears to be a fictional Hamilton.
  • Sketches of Old Toronto (Frank N. Walker; Longmans, 1965).
  • And at last, a hardcover copy of Hugh Garner's autobiography, One Damn Thing After Another (McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 1973)
Yesterday I visited the University College book sale (which runs until Tuesday). Again a meticulously curated book sale with sections clearly distinguished and, in some cases, alphabetized. Prices are good here, too. The selection of poetry is quite limited (or was by the time I got there), but there was plenty of good Canadian literature, including new and old hardcover first editions, almost all priced under five dollars. Again I biked home in a high wind with a huge box acting as a sail. Some of yesterday's good finds:
  • Raymond Souster's Selected Poems (Oberon, 1972). Okay, so I paid $8 for this in the 'special books' section. It's a great anthology concentrating (for a change) some of Souster's best work, and is highly evocative of Toronto represented across the decades referenced in the book. There's also a thoughtful essay by editor Michael Macklem, making this a good introduction to Souster's work up to the 1970s.
  • Graeme Gibson's Communion (Anansi, 1971). I don't care for Gibson's work especially (Five Legs perplexed me so deeply in high school -- when I sought it out specifically because it was referenced in Atwood's Survival -- that I never went back to it), but this appears both interesting and strongly written. It's set in Toronto, and so goes onto the subway reading pile.
  • A nice first edition copy of Morley Callaghan's Our Lady of the Snows (Macmillan, 1985)
  • Barry Callaghan's Black Queen Stories (Lester & Orpen Dennys), likewise a nice hardcover (apparent) first edition.
  • Poetry Toronto (Number 46, February 1988), a neat little photocopied magazine (an early zine, really, or a precursor to Word) including work by Rosemary Aubert (well-known author of Toronto-based thrillers) and a bunch of other people I've never heard of.
  • Variable Cloudiness: New Poems by John Robert Colombo (Houndslow Press, 1977)
  • Alana Wilcox's A Grammar of Endings (Mercury, 2000). A beautiful and haunting novel, but perhaps with a surfeit of metaphors. A good book to read alongside Stephen Marche's Raymond and Hannah.
And some neat other finds.
  • I went through a large pile of the journal Canadian Literature and was pleased to find no. 22, with Louis Dudek's essay on Raymond Souster (one I've put off photocopying at the university library) and no. 35, a special edition on Wyndham Lewis.
  • I also picked up an astonishing volume called The Urban Experience, part of a 'Themes in Canadian Literature' series (including other volumes such as The Maritime Experience and The Frontier Experience) published by Macmillan in 1975. The Urban Experience is an anthology of Canadian city writing, including Earle Birney's 'I Think You Are a Whole City' and Miriam Waddington's 'Toronto the Golden-Vaulted City' , as well as Toronto-focused work by Margaret Atwood, Hugh Garner and others. Other Canadian cities are represented here, too, but the unusual thing about this book is that it appeared at a time when Canadian writers were not widely acknowledged to write about cities. Indeed, neither Hal Niedviecki's Concrete Forest (1998) nor Downtown Canada: Writing Canadian Cities (2005) (both excellent books) references this much earlier anthology.
I also picked up Double Exposures (Coach House, 1984) a book of images and texts by one of my favourite non-Toronto-centric writers, Diane Schoemperlen; Patrick J. Kearney's A History of Erotic Literature (Macmillan London, 1982); artist Ronald Woodall's Magnificent Derelicts (J.J. Douglas, 1975), paintings of abandoned rural buildings; and Heather Robinson's A Terrible Beauty: The Art of Canada at War (James Lorimer, 1977). All in beautiful editions.

This coming weekend I'll be checking out the Trinity College book sale (October 19 to 23) which, if last year was any indication, will have a very good selection of Canadian poetry and literature. Last year I went on a very busy and crowded Sunday, but this year I think I'll go earlier. Right after that I'll visit the St. Michaels' College book sale (October 23 to 27), which I've never been to before.

After that it's a long wait until the Vanier College book sale at York University.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11, The Tower

Nobody sees it happening, but the architecture of our time
Is becoming the architecture of the next time. And the dazzle
Of light upon the waters is as nothing beside the changes
Wrought therein, just as our waywardness means

Nothing against the steady pull of things over the edge.
Nobody can stop the flow, but nobody can start it either.

Time slips by; our sorrows do not turn into poems,
And what is invisible stays that way. Desire has fled,

Leaving only a trace of perfume in its wake,
And so many people we loved have gone,

And no voice comes from outer space, from the folds
Of dust and carpets of wind to tell us that this

Is the way it was meant to happen, that if only we knew
How long the ruins would last we would never complain.

(Mark Strand, “The Next Time”, from Blizzard of One. New York: Knopf, 2000.)
The city wakes up, almost surprised to find itself still there. All night it has felt the deep rumblings of buildings collapsing, has choked on the smoke of their descent.

Or it imagines it has.

We dream of claustrophobia, of hurrying down endless stairways, of secret pockets of escape. We fall endlessly in our dreams, but are caught up in the end in an updraft of our own awakening. We think that the human spirit cannot so easily be crushed, cannot be reduced to a pocketful of dust and ash. We cache the memories of those events in secret crevices of our soul, like the shards of bone and flesh sifted and collected for identification.

We cringe at jet planes.

We imagine ourselves to be pigeons, feet stained red, wings heavy with dust but still lifting us in startled flight. We chortle and mutter and weep in the low shelter of underpasses, and leave curious sigils at the edges of fountains, entrails of grief.

It was not just their city: it was our city, too.

We are frightened of this knowledge. We do not want to think the worst, or if we do, we flee from it like rats.

But there is a hard truth in it, something we cannot afford to turn away from. And like all important truths it is a difficult one, riddled with unbearable alternatives. We hold it in our hands like a dove or a grenade, knowing that carelessness with either will make us killers.

In this city we are enthusiastic about shawarma. We remember to say Shalom to one neighbour and Al salaam a'alaykum to the other. We attend cultural festivals and acknowledge each other's holidays.

But in reducing culture to cooking, sometimes we forget to ask the harder questions about whether and how we can dwell together. We shy away from difference, and deny the hard truths of the things we do not like about each other, failing also to see the things we might appreciate most if only we were prepared to talk about them.

Even an unpleasant truth is better than no truth at all.

The people in this city come from Romania and Israel, from Vietnam, from Kenya, from Argentina and Portugal, from Trinidad and Jamaica, from Persia and Iraq and India and China and England. They come from places that no longer exist, or from places that exist only in the imaginations of their dreamers. Some of them even come from Toronto.

In this city we talk, separately and sometimes together, about the weather, about traffic and the price of oil, about the housing market, about elections here and elsewhere, about our work and families and pets, about whether objects in motion really tend to stay that way.

Much less frequently we also talk about who we are, and explore the parameters of our differences. Sometimes those differences seem too great to bridge; sometimes they are, especially if a hockey team is involved. But if we might learn unpleasant things about each other, at least we would have been open to learning.

Because in the end, sometimes all that remains is a single opening, and at this aperture we might have time to pause for only a moment, to truly recognise each other before we hold hands and leap.

[This commentary originally appeared at Reading Toronto. CN Tower image by rsambrook and used here under the aegis of a Creative Commons license.]

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Redhill's Consolation Wins Toronto Book Award

Consolation, Michael Redhill's haunting historical novel connecting Toronto's cultural amnesia to its shifting topography and lost archival history, has won the 2007 Toronto Book Award. Redhill received the news and an $11,000 cheque just one day before the Man Booker Prize (for which Consolation is already one of thirteen longlisted works) announces its shortlist.

If there is a single theme linking the finalists for this year's Toronto Book Award, it is history and the persistence of memory despite the erosions of time. Consolation, for example, pairs neatly with the wonderfully chosen archival images and fascinating historical texts of Sally Gibson's excellent Inside Toronto: Urban Interiors 1880s to 1920s (Cormorant). Similarly, Geoffrey James' photographic book, Toronto (Douglas & Mcintyre), captures a Toronto that seems almost to flicker and vanish even as it appears on the page. Uptown Downtown (Battered Silicon Dispatch Box) reads like a swan song for Toronto's eighty-something unofficial poet laureate Raymond Souster, its poems celebrating the present even amid its philosopher's shrewd perspective on the past (how greatly and yet how little we have changed, the poems seem to say). Vincent Lam's Giller Prize-winning story collection, Bloodletting & Other Miraculous Cures (Anchor) is perhaps the odd book out, although its comingling of ambition and mortality suit it to the list ("Gravity shapes everything," observes one of the characters, a comment suited equally to architecture as people).

Since 1974 the Toronto Book Awards have accumulated a valuable archive of Toronto's literary heritage while (at the same time) underscoring our city's cultural amnesia. Indeed, it is possible to trace the development of this city as vividly through its literature as by transformations in its architecture. In many cases the words have lasted longer than the buildings.

[This commentary first appeared at Reading Toronto.]

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Tanya Huff's Blood Ties Slashes at the Small Screen

A few months ago I enjoyed the guilty pleasure of reading Tanya Huff's (mostly)-set-in-Toronto vampire novel series (Blood Price (1991), Blood Trail (1992), Blood Lines (1993), Blood Pact (1993), and Blood Debt (1997)). Last night I had the equally guilty pleasure of watching Huff's novels translated into the television series Blood Ties (Insight) when its two-hour pilot aired on CityTV. CityTV's description:
Blood Ties follows the misadventures of Vicki Nelson (Christina Cox), a feisty, attractive, 29-year old ex-cop turned private investigator, who seems destined to sit on the sidelines until fate intervenes, turning her life upside down. After witnessing a terrifying murder, she finds herself on a collision course with a stranger who is also investigating the case. He is Henry Fitzroy (Kyle Schmid), a 450-year old vampire who just happens to be the bastard son of King Henry VIII. After solving the murder, Vicki finds her forays into supernatural crime are anything but over. Week after week, Vicki's relationship with Henry draws her into baffling cases involving a terrifying pantheon of occult adversaries. Forget fraud investigations and cheating spouses - she's squaring off against ghosts, goblins and ghouls. Vicki and Henry's unlikely alliance soon progresses beyond a purely professional arrangement, complicating her relationship with her long-suffering ex-partner in policing and love, Detective Mike Celluci (Dylan Neal) and pretty well everything else in her life.
The complete first season will reportedly air on the network this fall.

The trailer (click above to view) zeros in on the characters -- Vicki, her sometime lover (and former police partner) Celluci, and the vampire Henry Fitzroy -- but many of the scenes are stolen by the show's greatest recurring character: the city of Toronto itself, which gleams and flashes and sometimes wails in the background, always a crucial part of the action. The lens lurches between scenes set in clubs, condos, alleyways, greenspaces, and underground parking garages that are always almost recognisable, set against the streaming lights of traffic and the CN Tower set apart in the distance as if watching over the city.

The Toronto Star's Vinay Menon gives Blood Ties a decidedly mediocre review, citing its clumsy plotting, occasionally facile logic (Menon writes, bitingly, "At one point, Vicki leaves a voicemail for Mike: 'This is going to sound crazy, but I've plotted the locations of the three murders. And they make up the first three points of a pentagram.' Lesson No. 8: What appears to be the first three points of a pentagram could, in fact, simply be a triangle."), and unoriginal love triangle. And it is true that some of the acting seems wooden, the narrative a little disjointed. I was disappointed, too, that the pilot, while true to the novels in many respects (perhaps too true at times), abandons scenes Huff set at York University's post-industrial campus and environs and filmed them instead at the University of Toronto and Annex neighbourhood. Nonetheless, as Menon acknowledges, Blood Ties is an adequate addition to the vampire canon. Apart from the setting and the camera's evident love for Toronto, my own favourite part of the pilot is Vicky Nelson, a powerful, brash, independent ex-cop who takes on her own battles and who, when attacked, fights back with fists and blade rather than shriek and flail helplessly. This is a welcome departure not only from cinematic convention but also from the vampire genre, which generally narrates women as helpless or insatiable.

Blood Ties is not the first vampire television series set in Toronto. Between 1992 and 1995 Forever Knight aired for three seasons on CBS television, and was arguably a more sophisticated exploration of the shades of darkness manifested in all vampire narratives. But as this hot summer slips into fall and bright days begin to fade into twilight, it seems wholly appropriate that we might look forward to another chilling season, on television at least.

[In conjunction with the Imagining Toronto project, Amy Lavender Harris writes regularly about the imaginative qualities of cities. Lately she has been collecting and watching television series set in Toronto, including the courtroom drama This is Wonderland (strikingly similar to Harry Wodson's 1909 book, The Whirlpool: Scenes From Toronto Police Court) and Twitch City. She's still hoping for a DVD release of King of Kensington. This commentary first appeared at Reading Toronto]