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Excavating TO's Alexandria - Branko Gorjup speaks with Greg Gatenby
by Branko Gorjup

In addition to being a formidable literary impresario-known to most people at home and abroad as the Artistic Director of the famed weekly Harbourfront Reading Series and the annual International Festival of Authors in Toronto-Greg Gatenby is also a passionate and devoted cultural historian. This latter activity he has carried out, for the most part invisibly, offstage. While hosting some of the greatest writers from all over the world, Gatenby was also diligently digging and reconstructing-the way only an archaeologist would--the discarded fragments of Toronto's literary past. In his latest hefty volume, Toronto: A Literary Guide (McArthur & Company)-the first such guide to Toronto ever published-Gatenby presents Canadians and others with a compelling composite image of the city. He has painstakingly constructed from Toronto's forgotten past, a trove of names and stories that slid from view along with the correct data on authors and legends most readers thought they already knew.

A brief portrait of the sizeable Gatenby wouldn't be complete without mentioning his legendary wit, which has left some gaping, others gasping. Although his ecstatic love for the opera is less known, his obsession with collecting books has been well documented-those who have seen his library say that Alexandria is now looking over its shoulder. In the interview that follows, he told me that he grew up on Pluto-I think he really meant Etobicoke-but took a cosmic voyage toward the very heart of Toronto, which he nowadays wears on his sleeve. He studied at Glendon College, and as a younger man, published two collections of poetry, The Salmon Country (1978) and Growing Still (1982), followed by an interactive, international, cross-generic anthology, Whales: A Celebration (1983), the proceeds from which went to Greenpeace and its Save The Whales Campaign.

As a by-product of the research for the guide to Toronto, Gatenby put together two anthologies, The Wild Is Always There (1993) and The Very Richness of that Past (1995)-alleged to be but the first two in a series-which document for the first time how creative writers from around the world have viewed Canada and Canadians.

The interview was held in Gatenby's Harbourfront office on April 10, 1999, under heavenly special effects, including thunder, sleet, and whitecaps crashing in from Lake Ontario.

BG: To most Canadians, your name is associated with the ongoing Harbourfront Reading Series and the annual International Festival of Authors. But you are also a published poet, anthologist, and literary historian. In this interview, I would like to discover Gatenby the literary historian. So my first question is how and when did you start thinking about Canadian literary culture as an archaeological artefact worthy of excavation and preservation?

GG: It started in a high school History class when I asked my teacher why we were going to spend yet another term studying the American Civil War. I felt there was something very unusual about this, especially since we never studied any Canadian history. The teacher seemed embarrassed, and mumbled something about the school system being at fault, and that it was the Ministry of Education that set the rules. So I've always been surprised by people who dismiss Canadian history as boring. In order for them to make such a claim, I expect that they have studied Canadian history extensively, that they have a great deal of knowledge on the subject. Yet I find that those who are the quickest to disparage are the ones who have difficulty naming the second Prime Minister of Canada. (I'd do them a favour by assuming that they knew the first.) Of course, almost inevitably, those who pontificate about the alleged boringness of our history are the ones who know it least.

So it was in high school that I first became really aware that there was something rotten in Canada. In grade thirteen, as I was becoming interested in our authors, I would visit the Toronto Central Library to browse among the stacks of Canadian literature. One day I came across a book by a man whose name I was unable to pronounce but had heard about-it was Michael Ondaatje. I remembered my shock when I looked at the colophon, at the back of the book, where it said that the book was printed in an edition of something like 350 copies-and five of those were sitting there on the shelf right in front of me. They were all wrecked from frequent use. I did some quick arithmetic and figured out that it wouldn't take too many libraries having similar numbers of copies before there were going to be no copies of the first edition left, after these have been destroyed. That was the time when I began collecting Canadian books-to preserve them for posterity. That experience also made me aware of how fragile the artefacts of Canadian literature were and of how little respect or interest there had been for books as artefacts, which in other cultures were treated seriously.

The most important epiphany happened in 1976 when a Canadian author died. At that time, I had been already running the Reading Series at Harbourfront for over a year. I listened to the obituary on the CBC Radio and remember that apologies were uttered because there was no known recording of the author's voice. I thought that was silly-they had tape recorders then, like this one we're using now. It instantly occurred to me that this person who had just died, if there were no known recording of his voice, had disappeared just as Chaucer or Shakespeare had, whose voices we don't know. But in their cases it was forgivable because at that time there was no recording technology available. It's absurd that a culture such as ours has so little respect for the members of its own cultural pantheon that it wouldn't even record their voices for posterity. The next day there was a reading at Harbourfront and from that moment on we started recording. Since that day in 1976, we've recorded every onstage event by every author and by now we have one of the largest archives of authors' voices in the world.

BG: So your interest in literary history developed as a by-product of collecting-beginning with books, then recordings, and finally authors, bringing them from all over Canada and the world to Toronto to take part in your Reading Series or the International Festival of Authors. But when you started out, in the 1970s, wasn't that also the time of intense cultural nationalism in English Canada? Did that have any effect on your growing interest in the Canadian literary culture? Do you consider yourself a cultural nationalist?

GG: I did then and I do now. But not according to the orthodoxy, which too often defines cultural nationalism as anti-American and, increasingly, as protectionist. I'm at odds with those who espouse this orthodoxy because I don't think that, at this time, we still need to keep ourselves closed in. In the last thirty years, but especially during the 1970s, probably the most important years in our 200-year-old literary history, cultural nationalism has transformed Canadians in fundamental and splendid ways-in the ways they perceive themselves and in the ways by which they represent their country in writing. But I believe that the kind of nationalism that was right for the 1970s is not sacrosanct, and our refusal to embrace the world is a mistake.

BG: During this same period, wasn't there another transformation taking place in Canada? Wasn't cultural nationalism reshaping itself to allow for multiculturalism, which, in turn, released those voices that had not been Anglo-Saxon. Earlier you mentioned your first encounter with Michael Ondaatje's "unpronounceable" name. Since that time, we have seen many names like Ondaatje's become pronounceable, and comprising a significant portion of the present English-Canadian literary production.

GG: I don't believe this is the result of official multicultural policy.

BG: I didn't say it was the "multicultural policy" that facilitated this transformation. What I meant was that Canada, in the seventies, was rapidly becoming a much more racially diversified society than it had been in the first half of the twentieth century. I used the word, "multiculturalism", to indicate a shift in Canada's consciousness toward accepting cultural pluralism, toward articulating a more complex representation of itself in the national literature.

GG: I said earlier, I don't feel I am a Canadian nationalist in an orthodox sense. There is a difference between the circumstances that made cultural nationalism necessary in the 1970s and the circumstances that exist in the country today. I'm really fatigued now with the Canadian nationalist belief that says that Canada is a fragile orchid which cannot take any outside change in temperature. The time for that is now past. Canadian literature-the best of it-is more than able to stand on its own with the world's best. To say that the best Canadian literature needs ongoing protection from the outside is to show disrespect for it.

Let me give you an example of how this attitude is costing us. We boast as a country all the time about how many Canadian writers are published in Italy, for instance, or Sweden-about eighty Canadian writers at last count in Sweden alone. Yet next to nobody in Canada has asked the reciprocal question: how many Swedish authors are published in Canada? When I ask that question of my Canadian compatriots, the answer is: "Oh well, economically we can't afford to do it." But I say that we should become mature cultural partners with other countries. At this point in Canada, not only is there no sense of obligation to such an exchange, there isn't even a desire on our part to discuss the benefits which might accrue from opening our publishing programs to other literatures. I say this as a cultural nationalist. Unfortunately, we still have the garrison mentality, erecting barriers and keeping the world out. Yet when I travel to these countries which have been welcoming to Canadian authors, I certainly encounter their bristling at the immaturity of the Canadian attitude which believes it's OK to sell but never to buy.

That said, I think Canada can rightly swell its chest with pride at the openness with which it has embraced immigrant writers. No other country in the world-not one-can boast a better record in this regard. Yet sometimes it seems to me that the incessant bleating and condemnation of Canada's treatment of immigrants (that has become the mantra of some) drowns out any attempt to celebrate positive achievements of our past, including the fact of our singular acceptance and celebration of immigrant writers.

BG: Why did you decide to write your latest book in the form of a literary guide-a form that most obviously straddles the literary and the commercial aspects of writing and publishing?

GG: My first visit to Europe when I was eighteen was a pilgrimage to all the James Joyce shrines in Dublin and Paris. I was living the writer's life vicariously by trying to experience it through the eyes of Joyce. When I came back to Toronto, I had hundreds of slides of places where Joyce lived, worked, visited or even had a coffee. I thought of those places as holy ground. I thought they were holy because, when I was growing up, I felt I was living on Pluto. Everything culturally important happened close to the Sun, and the Sun was generally Europe. The place where I lived was at the edge of the solar system where nothing important ever happened-at least that's what I was led to believe. Real writers were like oranges: they were wonderful but grew elsewhere-and everyone knew they could never be grown in Canada because our climate was inadequate. And there was no shame in this. It was just a fact we had all accepted.

My revelation to the contrary, however, happened in 1978. I had dinner with Morley Callaghan during which he casually mentioned to me that he had shared reminiscences with W. B. Yeats during one of Yeats's visit to Toronto. When I learned from Morley that Yeats had been in Toronto not once, twice or three times, but four times, I was stunned. Later on that evening, he also mentioned others, like John Dos Passos and Edmund Wilson. During that one dinner, I discovered that all these famous writers had come to Toronto, to a city I was led to believe was closer to Pluto than to the Sun.

That's how the idea of a literary guide came to me: having had wonderful experiences in Europe, using literary guides that walked me through Paris, London, Dublin, and other places, and after that extraordinary encounter with Morley, I wanted to create something similar for Toronto. What I had in mind at first was a much smaller book that was going to tell the reader when exactly Yeats and such other prominent writers had visited, and why, and what they had thought of our city. Researching those aspects of our past led me naturally to questions about where native Torontonians had lived. Over the past twenty-one year period the book grew in size and is now ready-though my research will continue-to be shared with those who, like myself, are interested in Toronto's literary and cultural history.

Why did I choose the guide format? At some point, I was going to write a literary history because I thought I was going to have difficulty fleshing out the book. I was still afraid, in the early stages, that the city lacked sufficient incidents and people of note. With a literary history, I could include what every proper literary history cannot ignore, a history of publishing, bookstores, writers' organizations, as well as the history of the writers themselves. After about three years of research, I concluded that a proper literary history of Toronto would take one fanatical scholar a lifetime. So I had to abandon the idea of a complete literary history and opted instead for a literary guide, which by and large focuses just on the writers.

Another reason why I settled for a guide was my frequent experience with foreign authors who came from all over the world to read at Harbourfront. Many of them wanted to discover the literary face of Toronto. So I would take them out of their hotel and show them around. Since I had been doing all this research-part of which meant that I also had to learn about the social, architectural, and other histories of Toronto-I was able to share, as part of a normal conversation, my discoveries with them. At first, I was taken aback by the genuine curiosity that these foreign authors had for Toronto's literary past. But with their help, I came to see that my city was just as suitable a subject for a literary guide as was any major city in Europe or the States.

You can also say that the idea of a guide had a lot to do with my desire to share what I learned about Toronto's literary history with as large a number of people as possible. In fact what you get is a kind of acoustic guided tour of the city, which allows me to establish, I hope, a more personal relationship with the reader.

BG: Is its purpose also didactic?

GG: Yes, I want to grab people by their lapels and shake them awake; I want to say, look where you are standing! There are all these wonderful stories right under your feet, in front of your eyes! Yes, without question, there are great stories in Europe, but hey, there are also great stories to discover right where you live. I'd like to urge people to put down their T.V. remotes and come out to some of these spots where important writers lived and wrote their extraordinary stories, stories that are the city itself. I settled on the epigraph for the book very early, sic transit gloria mundi, which means the glory of the world is fleeting. Doing so much research, I became painfully aware how quickly tastes change and how quickly writers who are celebrated in their own time become forgotten by the next generation, or vice-versa, how writers who are ignored in their own time reappear in the future. Because so many marvellous authors and anecdotes have fallen off the literary radar, I wanted to bring them to the attention of today's readers who are unaware of their existence.

BG: Your other two books-The Wild Is Always There and The Very Richness of that Past-explore the way foreign writers represented our country in their writing. Were those books a side-product of your research for a guide to Toronto?

GG: In the late 1980s, an old friend, Patrick Crean, an editor in the book business, suggested to me that I put the literary history of Toronto aside and do the two books you mentioned. That research went hand in glove with my existing research because many of the same authors came to, or passed through Toronto.

BG: The logistic of putting together a book like your Guide must have been daunting. Tell us something about its actual construction, about some of the problems you encountered and the ways in which you solved them.

GG: In terms of formal research, I began by reading biographies of the authors I knew or suspected were in Toronto. Then I looked through indexes of every biography I could get my hands on. Even at airports, I would go to bookstores and browse the biography section, just to see if there were connections with Canada or Toronto. If I found one, I would pursue it once I was back home. If it turned out that X had been to Toronto, but the Toronto visit wasn't discussed in a biography, then I would check X's published correspondence, journals, or any other material that was available. I would look for confirmation that X had been in the city. Or even better, that X had written something about his or her time in Toronto. If that process yielded material about Toronto, eureka! But usually it didn't. Then I would write to the biographers, academics-the usual specialists in the subject-and wait for their response. And I'm pleased to say that almost every one of them proved to be helpful. Most of the time they confirmed what I had had already discerned, but anyone who has done research knows the value of having a specialist tell you that you need go no further down a certain path.

Then the time came when I started systematically to examine the Toronto newspapers. When I found out, for example, that Charles Dickens had stayed in Toronto for about forty-eight hours in 1842, I was curious to see how did the newspapers at the time respond to his visit. I was interested in conveying to my readers the responses of the people of Toronto to such a gigantic literary figure as Dickens. This part of my research meant spending thousands of hours reading the microfilm versions of Toronto newspapers. But if you spend thousands of hours as I did, combing through every page of every local newspaper, you also stumble across news coverage of other famous authors you had no idea had also been here, and that, of course, sets you off on another research trail.

You asked me about other difficulties. Let me give you an example. I wanted to find out if the American poet, James Whitcomb Riley, quite famous in his time, ever came to Toronto. His biography indicated that he had made a lecture tour of the northern U.S.A. and I had learned that some authors ducked across the border and sometimes came to Toronto as part of such a tour. But the biography made no mention of a visit to Canada-it only gave the year of his lecture tour. Well, this wasn't very helpful. So I knew that I would have to look at all of newspapers from January 1st of that year and, page by page by page, hope to find newspaper coverage or, at the very least, an advertisement for Riley's lecture-a lecture which I wasn't even sure had taken place. In this particular case, I was lucky because he visited in March, so my quest took only a few days. Sometimes, though, I had to go through a whole year to find out that the author I was tracking down came to Toronto on the 28th of December!

Another thing I hadn't realized when I started my research was how political the newspapers were in those days. Much more so than today, which meant if an author who was visiting Toronto had taken the wrong side in a political debate, his visit to the city would often be completely ignored. So, if I found out that X visited Toronto, let's say in May 1915, I would first examine the Globe for that month, looking for coverage. Not finding a word about the visit, I would go on to the Star, or the Tely, or the World, and so on. It frequently happened that at the end of a long day of reading microfilm, after having devoured five newspapers and found nothing, I would wonder why bother with the sixth. But sure enough (and almost every time my luck seemed to come at the end of the day) in the sixth newspaper, not only was there coverage of X, he was on the front page-with a photo. That huge amount of reading is one reason the book took me so long to complete.

Probably the most difficult tasks was finding women authors. Up until the 1970s, most women authors published under their maiden name but lived their legal and otherwise public lives under their husband's name. And often the only way to make the connection, to find out where they lived, was on book jackets. That's where you would find that "Mary Smith, Mrs. Roy Jones, was born..." I spent a lot of time establishing these connections and feel particularly proud of this aspect of my guide. The reader will find a record amount of information about women writers, straight biographical data that cannot be found anywhere else.

BG: How did you select? In your introduction, you say that writers who are now forgotten are also in the book because "our time has no monopoly on good taste". Is that a disclaimer of an evaluative approach? Did you actually read all or most of the included authors, or you find this question irrelevant to the character of a guide?

GG: After having done all the research, I had a good feel for where the good stories were to be found. Since I had set out to write a book that I hoped would sell a respectable number of copies, I wanted to find a balance between a text that has scholarly accuracy and yet would be interesting to the layman and laywomen. When I was deciding on as to what to include and what not to include, I probably erred on the side of including more material rather than less-although I left a lot out. The reason for this was that I wanted people to be able to decide for themselves as to what is important and what is not. There were, of course, strong reasons to put in extensive information about the authors who are currently popular, who are considered the highlights of Canadian literature. But, to my mind, it would have been a very odd and thin book if those were the only authors included. As I mentioned earlier, one of the things that became obvious to me working in the field of literary history was how quickly excellent writers for unexplainable reasons disappear from view-sometimes even before they die. I also found out the opposite to be true: authors that were ignored during their lifetime are in vogue now.

The question of inclusion is always problematic. There are, of course, many authors that people think are obscure-and justifiably so. But I took the following attitude: if a writer were considered a serious professional and his books were reviewed by his contemporaries as significant literary contributions, then that writer deserves to be remembered in this guide.

BG: So inclusion was not based on your personal evaluation?

GG: No. Not at all. Although I didn't read the complete opus of each author, I did at least sample the work of almost every author included. There are many writers in this guide whose work, in my opinion, is quite dreadful. But then I can say the same thing about some contemporary writers who are praised by many colleagues in the business but who I think are terrible. I do have my firm opinions about aesthetic merit. But as a literary historian, I felt an obligation to convey to the present and the future reader that while I may not like the writing of a specific author, other people-whose opinion I respect-do. I also tried to put myself back in the mindset of the critics and the readership from, let's say, fifty years ago, to figure out why they praised someone like Nathaniel Benson. Nat Benson was once spoken of critically in the same breath as E.J. Pratt. If you mention Benson's name today, people would say, who? But most will know E.J. Pratt as one of Canada's most important poets.

Let me give you another example that relates to this book: religious verse. We now live in a predominately secular age, one that I personally feel very comfortable with. But there was a time when the opposite was the case, when people regarded religious writing seriously-and I don't mean religious doggerel, I mean serious, spiritually engaging religious writing that addressed Jesus Christ the saviour. At that time, it was normal, almost expected, that a respectful artistic writer would wrestle with certain moral questions within the framework of organized religion. Nowadays, those questions would seem irrelevant to most writers. But I'm willing to believe that the pendulum might swing back, and some of that work and those writers might return to the pantheon.

BG: The tone in this book is very personal, immediate-it is both celebratory, especially when you share with the reader the excitement of a new discovery, and elegiac, when you lament the loss of so much of our cultural history because of our indifference, ignorance or carelessness. Are we being chastised?

GG: I feel that most people prefer a tour given by an insider, so the first person singular seemed inevitable to me. In writing this book, there wasn't any "we"-I did it, so why pretend? Since I am a native of this city, I felt that I would proudly pass along my knowledge to the reader. The first person singular also allowed me some personal asides.

For example, when I take you through Parkdale, I cannot hide my sadness for what happened to that part of the city, how the disastrous urban planning wounded it. Although on the surface that may have little to do with literary history of Toronto, I still wanted people to think about why writers had once lived in the area but no longer do-solely because of the greed of developers and collusion of planners and politicians. I find the hortatory tone, that sense of outrage, even in small doses as in my guide, missing from most books.

A more obvious example has to do with the portrayal of the Family Compact in our history books. The Family Compact was made up of fools and self-satisfied English twits who couldn't get a proper job anywhere else and inherited lucrative jobs and thousands of acres of land solely because of daddy's connections. And, at the same time, William Lyon Mackenzie is described in flaming radical colours as a wild Scot. As a reader, I am fed up with this apotheosis of the Family Compact members, and mystified as to why so many historians cannot call a spade a spade. Even Dickens, when he came to Toronto, commented on how appalling the rabid toryism of Ontario was. I wanted to be able to say this in my book, even if fleetingly, because it is important to me to say it, and I could say it by adapting the first person point of view.

The celebratory tone is really important. I speak as someone who grew up in a culture that never celebrated-still doesn't celebrate-its heroes the way I think it should. And while I'm always quick to curse the darkness, I'd like to think that I'm just as quick to light a candle and cast some light onto our past-and quick to convey the joy that comes with a knowledge of one's own history.

At the same time, I cannot escape a sense of loss. The elegiac tone is an expression of my bewilderment as I stand looking at the buildings that have disappeared, and the lives and the stories that have vanished with them. No traces left and no plaques to commemorate those who helped us shape our sense of this city. Instead, what we have are gaping parking lots and ugly replacement buildings. We live in a city that has been a literary capital of Canada for 150 years and after all that time the only literary people it has commemorated with statues are Robert Burns, Winston Churchill, and Peter Pan. There isn't a single statue paid for by taxpayers anywhere in Toronto commemorating a Canadian literary figure. If it hadn't been for private initiative there wouldn't even be the modest Gwendolyn MacEwen parkette, the b.p. Nichol lane or the Morley Callaghan footbridge over the Rosedale Ravine. So, yes, we are being chastised. Our culture is being chastised. I hope this book will shame the authorities into putting up some plaques to commemorate men and women whose stories are our inheritance. But I'm under no illusion that in my lifetime Toronto will become sophisticated enough to celebrate its literary past as it should.

BG: I was astonished to discover in your guide so much that is new about Toronto's cultural past. The city comes alive; it assumes a different profile from the one I carried in my mind-with fascinating literary lives, some predictable, others totally outrageous. Tell us about one of your discoveries that made your heart skip a beat.

GG: One example that leaps to my mind is the life of Edgar Selwyn. Again I was looking for information about another author in the newspapers when my eye was caught by a headline along the lines of "Toronto-Born Playwright Returns to the City". As I started reading about this Edgar Selwyn, I said to myself, he can't be all that important, I have never heard of him-after twenty years of research. I almost didn't follow it up. But some little voice at back of my head urged me on, just in case. So I started digging and discovered an extraordinary story of a man who was raised in Toronto at the end of the nineteenth century. He was an actor and at the age of twenty was advised to go to New York if he really wanted to have a career in the theatre. Through a combination of talent and good looks, he soon became a matinee idol. But he was smart enough to realise that the real money was to be made in writing the plays, not in acting them. His next step was to produce the plays he had written. And then he even began to buy the theatres in which the plays he had written were produced. So Edgar Selwyn was able to control the whole cycle of production.

What most people don't realise is that the motion picture business did not start in Hollywood, but rather among the theatre crowd of New York. That's where the actors, directors, and producers were. Along with many in this New York crowd, Selwyn went to a village called Hollywood where movies could be made cheaply all year round-because of the weather. That is where he developed his skill as a film director and producer. By 1915 he was rich and established enough to be able to hook up with another great producer, Sam Goldfish, with whom he shared the idea that a feature film should be ninety minutes long. The two men founded their own company and named it by taking one syllable from each of their names: Sam Goldfish gave "gold" and Edgar Selwyn gave "wyn". And that's how Goldwyn as in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was born. So, one of the greatest movie companies in the world, with its logo of a roaring lion, has its origins thanks to a Toronto boy.

As I was uncovering these details, a moment came when I said to myself: but this is such a great story, how come I had never heard about it before? One of the reasons, I thought, could have been that Selwyn himself carefully covered his traces. Later, trying to find where he lived in Toronto, I discovered this to be true. I couldn't find anything about his whereabouts, which was most strange. Then it occurred to me that he was probably a Jew who was passing as a Gentile. Selwyn was not an obviously Jewish name, and perhaps not his real family name. What I did eventually find out was how skilful he had been in covering his tracks. In the end, I discovered that, indeed, his real name was not Selwyn. I also discovered that his father was a rag picker. It became clear to me why he reinvented himself-in the world of the theatre in those days a Jew could not be a matinee idol. And very likely, I suspect, he was also embarrassed about his father's lowly job.

BG: The fascinating side to the guide is how it releases a portrait of Toronto as a city in continual process of transformation, and all that is achieved mostly through the telling of anecdotes by the authors who lived here or visited. My favourite one is that of Leopold Infeld who said, commenting on Toronto's mythical lack of joie de vivre, that he would pray to God if he chose for him to die in Toronto to let him die on a Saturday because he "dreaded another Sunday". However, you also dug up some more sinister aspects of Toronto. Was there a sinister Toronto?

GG: Yes. There was a sinister side to Toronto. One of the most unpleasant discoveries was the depth of anti-Semitism. You see it in the personal biography of novelist Gwenthalyn Graham. Her own father wouldn't talk to her, practically disowned her, because she was involved with a Jew. And her father was a leading member of the Toronto legal world. That's a family example as opposed to a public one. Another example I uncovered thanks to novelist Scott Young. When Young was living in the Beaches and wanted to sublet his apartment to a Jew, he discovered that the city had an unofficial but real quota on the number of Jews who were allowed to live in the Beaches. This was not a written law and yet it was enforced. The city, though, was only responding to the demands of influential people who lived in the area.

What is also disturbing about this aspect of Toronto's past is that it is not acknowledged as part of the city's official history. If it is mentioned at all, it is mentioned only in specialized histories, not in general books about Toronto. Now, I don't think we should harp on every incidence of racism in the city's past as if this were all there were to a discussion of Toronto. But the absence of references to anti-Semitism does give one pause.

Another sinister aspect of our past was the influence of the Orange Order, which provided an early example of hate in Toronto. There were no banners saying Kill the Catholics, but they came awfully close. And certainly no tears would have been shed if that actually happened. And again, the official histories say nothing about the control of the Orange Order and the negative influence it had on our society. This unbalanced view of our past obviously needs to be corrected. There must be occasions for reasonable adults to look back and shudder at how easy it was for our ancestors of recent vintage to behave disgracefully. The worse thing we could do is to deny that these things ever happened or are happening now. Yes, there are examples in this book to show that it did happen, that there was-and probably still is-a sinister side to Toronto.

BG: When you set out to write this book, what was your intention? What did you set out to achieve?

GG: My goal has not changed much since that dinner with Morley Callaghan in 1978. Certainly after all this research I feel much as Champolion did-the great French archaeologist who deciphered the Egyptian hieroglyphs-when he made all that hidden knowledge and mystery, locked inside a language that no one could understand for over a thousand years, suddenly available to all. Certainly, for me, the greatest pleasure is to be able to share with others all my discoveries about this city: to be able to go to people and tell them, look, you've gone past this corner hundreds of times without stopping. Now I want you to stop for a moment and hear a wonderful story about what happened at this corner.

Let me give you an example. When Ernest Thompson Seton was a young boy, some adult played a trick on him because he knew how much he liked animals. He said to Seton that at a corner near where he lived, he could smell a skunk on a wet night, years after the skunk had died. Being susceptible to animal stories, young Seton would stand at that corner on wet nights, inhaling, luxuriating in the smell of a skunk and the lingering power of animals. Only years later did he discover that the smell at the corner was from sewer gas. That corner is still there, though the smell, fortunately, is gone.

I want people to look out in any direction from wherever they stand in this place-whether they are from Toronto or Tokyo-and know that the city is full of great stories, and the histories of hundreds of authors who matter. I know from conversations with my compatriots that many of them still find the idea of equating the literary history of a large Canadian city like Toronto with that of Paris or London or New York to be outrageous, and an example of indecent pride. But while people who think that way may never have their colonial minds changed, their numbers are decreasing. And people in this country, I find, are more and more willing to celebrate their past if only given the information. With this book I've tried my best to give such people a ton of new information, expecting their reactions to range from a small frisson of pleasure to loud exclamations of wonder. 

Branko Gorjup teaches Canadian Literature at York University. He is the editor of a series of bilingual (English-Italian) volumes of Canadian poetry published by Longo Editore Ravenna.


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