Thanks to suggestions from several colleagues, I have recently begun exploring some of the ways Toronto is imagined through art (especially painting) and photography. My knowledge of art is quite limited, and so discovering the ways Toronto has served as an artistic subject and muse has been a real revelation.
Yesterday two books came in the mail: Edith Firth's wonderful Toronto in Art: 150 Years Through Artists' Eyes (Fitzhenry & Whitside in cooperation with the City of Toronto at its sesquicentennial in 1983), and A Few Acres of Snow: Literary and Artistic Images of Canada (ed. Paul Simpson-Housley and Glen Norcliffe, Dundurn, 1992). Firth's book offers reproductions of nearly 200 artistic works interpreting the city, along with short interpretive commentaries of each. A Few Acres of Snow is a collection of geographical essays on representations of place and landscape, and while many of the essays focus on the rural or wild aspects of Canada, Jon Caulfield's essay, "Augurs of "Gentrification": City Houses of Four Canadian Painters", explores how painters have represented Montreal and Toronto: I was most taken with Caulfield's discussion of painter Albert Franck (who is also discussed in Firth's work). [If you are interested in further commentary on the ways artists have defined Toronto, you might want to read the text of Robert Fulford's 1996 William Kilbourn Lecture, "The Invention of Toronto: A City Defined by its Artists".]
I also picked up several Toronto novels and some poetry yesterday at the annual Vanier College Book Sale at York University (a good book sale that gets a little larger each year and offers titles across subjects and genres, including plenty of scholarly work and a surprising quantity of detective fiction, almost all available for much less than $5):
A hardcover first edition of Morley Callaghan's A Fine and Private Place (Macmillan of Canada, 1975), whose jacket describes it as filled with "tantalizing hints of autobiography" and literary obsession. A number of Callaghan's novels are set in Toronto; indeed, his 1928 novel Strange Fugitive has been described as "Canada's first urban novel." For reading soon.
Ted Plantos' The Shanghai Noodle Killing (stories; Seraphim, 2000). This collection seems to pick up where one of his earlier works, The Universe Ends at Sherbourne & Queen (Steel Rail, 1977), leaves off. Dereliction for the next generation, in other words. I've been reading Plantos' work on and off (including on the subway on the way home from teaching late last night), and while I find his vignettes moving and compelling, they seem to lack development and tend to stop abruptly in the middle of the page. However, Plantos' portrayals of Toronto's Cabbagetown ring true and are essential accompaniments to literary explorations of this neighbourhood (alongside, of course, Hugh Garner's novel Cabbagetown, as well as Juan Butler's Cabbagetown Diary (Peter Martin, 1970).
I also picked up Eric Wright's A Sensitive Case (Doubleday, 1990; one of Wright's Inspector Charlie Salter novels), Maureen Jenning's Vices of My Blood (McClelland & Stewart, 2006; one of her Detective Murdoch mysteries), and a sizable pile of books unrelated to Toronto.
These and many hundreds of other Toronto titles are listed in the Imagining Toronto library. And if you're wondering where to get Toronto literature for your own library, check out the Guide to finding Toronto literature I've compiled.