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Sister Susan Moran, Co-founder of Out of the Cold Program, Has Died

December 21, 2016 | Bill V. | Comments (2)

Sister Susan Moran, co-founder of Out of the Cold program, died of a heart attack Sunday night, Dec. 18. She was 78 years old.  She was a member of the Roman Catholic order Our Lady’s Missionaries.

Along with staff and students of St Michael's College School, Basilian priest Rev. John Murphy and Anglican priest Rev. John Erb she helped found the Toronto Out of the Cold program in 1987 in response to a homeless man who died near the school (it took me a long time to find his name - which is George - he was beaten to death over a drug dispute).

Did you know that there is an online resource called the Toronto Homeless Memorial Official List that goes year by year listing the names of those who died? Did you know that Holy Trinity Church also keeps an up to date list as well?



Out of the Cold (OOTC) is a free informal service for marginalized and homeless people, particularly those who do not wish to use the formal hostel system. Overnight shelter is provided in a different church, temple/synagogue or centre each night (mats or cots serve as beds). The services are run by volunteers.

OOTC sites offer a warm, safe place for guests to spend the night, a nutritious evening meal, as well as additional supports such as clothing rooms, legal clinics and laundry facilities.

Sister Susan Moran was awarded the Order of Canada for social services for her work with the homeless in 1996.

Sister Suan Moran

copyright the Toronto Star Archives

Below is a current list of various faith groups and others who are providing space and organizing volunteers and services to help the homeless in Toronto via the Out of the Cold program. There is a calendar here as well that shows the various locations and times/days when they provide services.

If you're interested in reading about Out of the Cold, then author Michael Swan, the Associate Editor of The Catholic Register, has written a close-up account that you can borrow from the library.

Out of the Cold a History of Caring by Michael Swan

If you are interested in the issue of homelessness in Toronto, there is a wide variety of material including many government reports that might be of interest. It is both sad and ironic that report after report has been written, going back as far back as 1960 with the Social Planning Council of Metropolitan Toronto's Report of Committee on Homeless and Transient Men. There are also many other reports written all through the 1990s and 2000s.

As well, there are several titles below that are more community based:

 Street People Speak by Ruth Morris In recent years we have become more aware of the plight of the homeless. Street Peopl are an increasing phnomenon in all major cities in Canada and throughout the western world. Street People Speak is about the people who live on the streets of Toronto. they are the voices of the sick, the abused, the lost, the forgotten. They tell of their hopes and their dreams; their familes and friends; their loneliness and their humour; of their survival, and philosophies. Based on over 80 interviews with street people, the book portrays vividly, in the words of street people themselves, what life on our streets is like. Their stories are painfully haunting, of waster lives and shattered dreams. Memories are all they have and their words portray their gripping anguish and cold dispair.


  StreetCities Rehousing the Homeless StreetCities charts the development of an alternative communal housing model for chronically homeless men and women in downtown Toronto. In her recounting of the stories and narratives of residents and staff at the original "StreetCity" and the second generation "Strachan House," Bridgman explores how living on the street (something often viewed as negative) has the potential to become a powerful emblem of community growth, tolerance, and caring. The histories of these two supportive housing projects are embedded within larger currents of governmental responses to homelessness in Canada, and the incorporation of photographs, interview narratives, and handwritten fieldnotes brings Bridgman's ethnographic research to life. StreetCities also includes a discussion of the architectural design and operation of the two housing projects, and the eventual closing of the original "StreetCity."  StreetCities is written for those who want to learn more about the work being done to help chronically homeless women and men. The book will be useful for researchers, policy-makers, service-providers, teachers, students, and activists working in the fields of homelessness and housing studies, social work, urban and applied anthropology, sociology, urban studies, and qualitative research methods.   Bent Hope a Street Journal by Tim Huff  The winner of 3 book awards as best book in it's category, Bent Hope was born out of Tim Huff’s first twenty years of unique and extensive work among homeless and street-involved youth and adults, in one of North America’s largest urban centres—Toronto, Canada. Bent Hope is a collection of thoughtful narratives birthed beneath crumbling bridges and in the hidden alcoves of darkened alleyways after midnight. These gripping true-life stories surface quietly from unforgiving corridors of fear, hurt and uncertainty—and unexpectedly and supernaturally transform them into fascinating places of intimacy and godly anticipation

You may also be interested in Home Safe Toronto, a 2009 DVD documentary that focuses on family poverty and homelessness locally. It features well known street nurse and activist Cathy Crowe. There is more information about it and a preview at this site

During the recent cold alert in December 2016 in Toronto, Crowe was one of the people calling for the local armories to be opened as temporary shelters. The Toronto Star just wrote an editorial about this issue: Find Emergency Shelters for the Homeless.


Home Safe Toronto - DVD Home safe Toronto focuses on the children and families who experience poverty and homelessness in one of Canada's most prosperous cities. Researched and produced with the children and parents who appear in the film, it reflects their experience and thoughts about what it will take to end poverty and homelessness. It shows how the housing crisis in Canada is an expression of the increasing economic and job insecurity that has devastated the manufacturing sector in the Greater Toronto Area and throughout southern Ontario.

 Cathy Crowe was also associated with the book Dying for a Home: Homeless Activists Speak Out.

Dying for a Home  Homeless Activists Speak Out:  Cathy Crowe always wanted to be a nurse but she never planned to be a street nurse-a title she continues to use to evoke the horror of homelessness in a rich country like Canada. In "Dying for a Home" Crowe brings us the voices of ten homeless activists advocating for change. The word homeless conjures many stereotypes, but rarely does it suggest bravery, courage, charisma, or intelligence, qualities demonstrated by each of these determined individuals. The contents of Crowe's nursing bag reveal the hard truth of her specialty. Her vitamins will not prevent the white plague of tuberculosis from taking another life. The duct tape to fix a cardboard shelter, or the bus ticket to get an elderly man to a hot air grate, will not ensure a peaceful night of safety and sleep. Crowe's experience has taught her that the only thing homeless people have in common is being de-housed and forced to live in conditions of poverty. It is this first-hand experience with the disgrace of homelessness that turned her into a housing advocate and introduced her to the ten contributors to "Dying for a Home." - Sarah Polley

Cathy Crowe presented the The Fifth Annual June Callwood Lecture "Dying For A Home: Fighting For Our Social Programs (Kitchen is the Heart of the Home)" at Toronto Public Library as seen below - this is part two (part one is here):


There are many online resources available that look at homelessness in Toronto. I was surprised to see the number of videos on YouTube. I found this one "What it's like to be Homeless" set under the columns of Toronto city hall to be very realistic.

Poverty, hunger and homelessness are not new problems. Toronto has a long history of religious and secular organizations as well as governments trying to grapple with this problem. I think the approach of religious groups is much less heavy handed now and the motivation has moved from charity to social justice. Below are some vintage photographs from 1912 of the Yonge Street Mission where the link between food, service and listening to a sermon were deeply linked. You may also be interested in reading The Fred Victor Mission story: From charity to social justice (and more information about them from their website).

Going into the Mission for Sunday Morning Free Breakfast 1912

"Going into the Mission for Sunday Morning Free Breakfast and to hear the Gospel afterwards", 1912 Yonge Street Mission


Sandwich Department 1912 vintage photo Yonge Street Mission

"Sandwich Department - where 3000 sandwiches are made each Saturday morning, 1912 photo Yonge Street Mission."


Feeding Over 350 Men at the Sunday Morning Free Breakfast 1912 vintage photo Yonge Street Mission

"Feeding over 350 men at the Sunday Morning Free Breakfast", 1912 Yonge Street Mission

Remembering Hank Snow: December 20: Snapshots in History

December 20, 2016 | John P. | Comments (1)

On December 20 and beyond, take a moment to remember Canadian-born country music artist/singer/songwriter Clarence Eugene “Hank” Snow (Born: May 9, 1914 in Brooklyn, Queens County, Nova Scotia; Died: December 20, 1999 in Madison, Tennessee, United States). Hank Snow overcame a broken home with separated parents (who both displayed some musical talent, more so his mother), a loving mother unable to support Snow and his siblings financially, living with his paternal grandmother who subjected Snow to psychological and physical abuse, and subsequent physical and verbal abuse from a stepfather who married his mother.  Snow first demonstrated his talent for music when allowed to play his mother’s mail-order Hawaiian steel guitar. Snow left home and went to sea on a fishing schooner where he earned enough money to order a guitar and a chord book from the T. Eaton mail-order catalogue circa 1927-1928. After surviving a sea gale in 1930 during which six vessels were lost, Snow vowed never to go to sea again. Returning home, he sold fish door-to-door and did odd jobs to raise money to buy another guitar from the Eaton’s mail-order catalogue. Snow lobbied Halifax radio station CHNS for an audition in 1933 and launched his singing career on radio without payment until a sponsor came along to endorse his radio program. He married Minnie Blanche Aalders in 1935 who subsequently gave birth to a son, Jimmie Rodgers Snow, named after a country music idol admired by Snow.

Snow signed a contract with the Canadian division of RCA Victor label in October 1936, beginning a partnership that lasted over 45 years. His first record included “The Prisoned Cowboy” on one side and “Lonesome Blue Yodel” on the other side. Snow had a weekly radio show on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that gave him a national profile. He toured Canada until American radio stations started to play his records and performing south of the border beckoned. Snow moved to Nashville, Tennessee in 1945 and became “the Singing Ranger”, replacing his earlier moniker as “the Yodeling Ranger”. He first played at the Grand Ole Opry in 1950 and released his first of seven number one hits “I’m Moving On” the same year, setting a record for staying at the top for 21 weeks. He also had two other number one hits in 1950, “The Golden Rocket” and “The Rhumba Boogie”. His 1963 hit “I’ve Been Everywhere” was a North American reboot of Australian Geoffrey Albert McElhinney’s (aka “Geoff Mack”) 1962 song, replacing Australian place names with American and Canadian ones, rhymed off at a tremendous pace.

Snow’s path crossed with younger, up-and-coming performers, including Hank Williams and Elvis Presley. Snow lobbied the Grand Ole Opry to use Presley as Snow’s opening act in 1954, and subsequently introduced Elvis Presley to Colonel Tom Parker with whom Snow established a partnership called “Hank Snow Attractions”. Snow left after a falling out with Parker. In 1958, Snow became an American citizen but never forgot his Canadian roots, producing the album My Nova Scotia Home, in 1968.

Snow was recognized for his talent for singing and songwriting with memberships in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Nova Scotia Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. Snow never forgot his experiences with child abuse by establishing the Hank Snow International Foundation for Prevention of Child Abuse.

Canada Post unveiled a new Hank Snow commemorative stamp at the Hank Snow Home Town Museum in Liverpool, Nova Scotia, on May 9, 2014, the centenary of his birth. The stamp was available for use as of July 31, 2014.


 (Credit: Canada Post, Radio Canada International)

Consider the following items for borrowing from Toronto Public Library collections:


 I'm moving on the life and legacy of Hank Snow

Consider this 2014 biography of Hank Snow by Vernon Oickle whose release was timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of his birth. Read about Snow’s humble beginnings and challenges facing child abuse but admire his perseverance in launching his music career in Canada before shifting to the United States for wider recognition and fame and fortune.


I've been everywhere the Hank Snow Story

The music on this two CD set was originally recorded between 1950 and 1974.

Toronto Reference Library Vinyl Collection on

December 9, 2016 | Eric | Comments (0)

Did you know the Toronto Reference Library has a vinyl record collection of around 15,000 titles that you can listen to at our vinyl listening stations in the Arts Department on the 5th floor? 

Now you can browse some of this collection at Discogs, short for discographies, "is the worlds largest community-built database for music information. Imagine a site with discographies of all labels, all artists, all cross-referenced."

Just think of it as the Wikipedia of recorded music.


With this, customers can sort the collection by artist, date, label and view the full album artwork for each vinyl record listed.


Customers can also find detailed information on each recording and musical artist they are interested in discovering. Much of this information you will not find on our online catalog so Discogs makes the vinyl collection much more discoverable and fun!

The vinyl collection at Toronto Reference Library consists primarily of jazz and classical music, but there are also very unique gems covering many musical genres. 

We will continue to add titles to the Discogs collection, so check back often and enjoy the browsing!


Cuba Libre . . .

December 7, 2016 | Bill V. | Comments (0)

I was struck by the death of Fidel Castro, in particular the contrast on the news between the celebratory street parties in Miami and elsewhere in the United States, and the mourning (as well as relief or even indifference) happening in Cuba. 

Fidel Castro photo 1976 from the Toronto Star Archives

I suspect there are many Canadians like me who only have a very superficial experience or knowledge of Cuba. I am mildly embarrassed to note that I have been to Cuba several times as a tourist at all-inclusive resorts, but I never made it to Havana, any other urban centre nor the countryside. I do have a faint memory from school of a daring Pierre Trudeau visiting Cuba in the 1970s (similar to his visit to China).

So, if you're interested in knowing more about Fidel Castro and Cuba, I hope the following autobiographical and personal writings of Castro may be of some interest.

Fidel Castro  My Life  A Spoken Autobiography


 My Early Years by Fidel Castro   The Prison Letters of Fidel Castro

Castro was well known for the hours-long speeches he used to give to hundreds of thousands of Cubans -- the scale of that is suggested by the photo below.

1969 photo of Castro addressing a crowd of 600,000 Cubans in Havana on the 10th anniversary of the revolution.

1969 Toronto Star Archives photo of Castro addressing a crowd of 600,000 Cubans in Havana on the 10th anniversary of the revolution.

In addition to the huge crowds, notice the huge Che Guevara artwork on the buildings in the background. Who of us didn't date (or have a secret crush on) someone who had a large Che poster on their dorm walls?

Che Guevara A Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee Anderson


If you're interested in Che, try some of these books:


Fidel Castro Reader

Surprisingly, there are not a lot of biographies about Castro. Below are some suggested titles:

Fidel Castro  a biography by Volker Skierka

And we also have documentary DVDs about Fidel Castro:

Fidel Castro Tapes PBS documentary DVD In 1959, Fidel Castro rose to power in Cuba. He has been one of the most controversial figures in the world ever since. This chronicles the Cuban leader's ability to maintain control through ongoing tumult in his country, and in his dealings with the United States and the rest of the world.


  Fidel Castro A Life of Revolution DVD CBC doc zone This documentary presents a deeply personal account of Fidel Castro, Cuba’s long-time leader, taken largely from private letters, correspondence, speeches and interviews. Featured interviews include some of Castro’s closest relatives (including his sister Juanita), friends and confidants, some of who now count themselves among his enemies. Exclusive footage of Castro’s childhood home and his rebel headquarters in the Sierra Maestra Mountains is complimented by classic archive footage, including CBC interviews with Castro when he was the most wanted man in Cuba  Looking for Fidel DVD by Oliver Stone In April of 2003, Oliver Stone returned to Cuba to interview Fidel Castro and ask the hard-hitting questions that Castro has avoided. Included is the provocative conversations between Stone and Castro in which the Cuban leader offers his views about the state of the world, President Bush, the war in Iraq, and other major international issues. Stone's in-depth, tough but fair portrait of this highly controversial world leader helps to illuminate Cuba's unique and complicated place in the world.

If you are more interested in Cuban history and culture as a whole, you may want to read some of these:

 The Cuba Wars Fidel Castro, the United States, and the Next Revolution - On the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Revolution, expert Daniel Erikson explores the twilight of the Castro era and what the future has in store for America's last Cold War enemy.  January 1, 2009 will mark a half century for a Cuban regime created and shaped by the powerful will of Fidel Castro--but the ailing leader may be gone from the scene before the anniversary arrives. The Cuba Wars explores the two crucial questions of the coming era: When Castro dies, what will happen in Cuba? And what will happen in America?  There are few international relationships that rival in intimacy, passion, and sheer tension that between the Cuba and the United States. In The Cuba Wars, Cuba expert Daniel Erikson draws on extensive visits to Cuba and conversations with both government officials and opposition leaders--plus the key players in Washington and Florida--to offer an unmatched portrait of a small country with very large importance to America.  Cuba remains "our last Cold War enemy"--now closely allied to Hugo Chavez's Venezuela as it once was to the USSR. Yet it has quietly become a major trade partner for American agribusiness. The "next revolution" there could see Cuba become a multibillion-dollar capitalist economy--or continue as a socialist dystopia, or lapse into civil war. The Cuba Wars is the book to read to understand the present and future of Cuba.  Cuba What Everyone needs to Know -3rd edition - Ever since Fidel Castro assumed power in Cuba in 1959, Americans have obsessed about the nation ninety miles south of the Florida Keys. America's fixation on the tropical socialist republic has only grown over the years, fueled in part by successive waves of Cuban immigration and Castro's larger-than-life persona. Cubans are now a major ethnic group in Florida, and the exile community is so powerful that every American president has curried favor with it. But what do most Americans really know about Cuba itself? In this third edition of the widely hailed Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know(r), Julia Sweig updates her concise and remarkably accessible portrait of the small island nation. This edition contains a new foreword that discusses developments since Obama and Raul Castro announced the normalization of US-Cuba relations and restored formal diplomatic ties. A new final chapter discusses how normalization came to pass and covers Pope Francis' visit to Cuba, where he met with Fidel and Raul Castro. Expansive in coverage and authoritative in scope, the book looks back over Cuba's history since the Spanish American War before shifting to recent times. Focusing equally on Cuba's role in world affairs and its own social and political transformations, Sweig divides the book chronologically into the pre-Fidel era, the period between the 1959 revolution and the fall of the Soviet Union, the post-Cold War era, and -- finally -- the post-Fidel era. Informative, pithy, and lucidly written, it is the best compact reference on Cuba's internal politics, its often fraught relationship with the United States, and its shifting relationship with the global community.

The other side of paradise  life in the new Cuba by Julia Cooke.  "Over a period of five years, beginning when Fidel Castro stepped down from his presidency after almost a half-century of reign, journalist Julia Cooke embedded herself in Cuba, gaining access to a dynamic Havana--one that she found populated with twenty-five-year-old Marxist philosophy students, baby-faced anarchists, children of the whiskey-drinking elite, Santería trainees, pregnant prostitutes, and more. Combining intimate storytelling with in-depth reportage, The Other Side of Paradise weaves together stories of the Cubans whom Cooke encountered, providing a vivid and unprecedented look into the daily lives and future prospects of young people in Cuba today. From ambitious Lucía, a recent university graduate with an acerbic sense of humor and plans to leave Cuba for the first country to give her a visa, if she can just get the roadblocks out of the way--to a crew of mohawk-wearing teenage anarchists who toss bricks at police cars and cite lyrics by The Clash (but don't know the lead singer's name), the characters of The Other Side of Paradise paint a captivating portrait of Cuban culture and the emerging legacy of Fidel Castro's failed promises. Eye-opening and politically prescient, The Other Side of Paradise is sure to linger in readers' minds long after they've finished reading"-


Cuban Revelations Behind the Scenes in Havana (Contemporary Cuba) by Marc Frank:   As a U.S.-born journalist who has called Havana home for almost a quarter century, Mark Frank has observed in person the best days of the revolution, the fall of the Soviet bloc, the great depression of the 1990s, the stepping aside of Fidel Castro, and the reforms now being devised by his brother. In Cuban Revelations, Frank offers a first-hand account of daily life in Cuba at the turn of the twenty-first century, the start of a new and dramatic epoch for islanders and the Cuban diaspora.   Examining the effects of U.S. policy toward Cuba, Frank analyzes why Cuba has entered an extraordinary, irreversible period of change and considers what the island's future holds. The enormous social engineering project taking place today under Raúl's leadership is fraught with many dangers, and Cuban Revelations follows the new leader's efforts to overcome bureaucratic resistance and the fears of a populace that stand in his way.   In addition, Frank offers a colorful chronicle of his travels across the island's many and varied provinces, sharing candid interviews with people from all walks of life. He takes the reader outside the capital to reveal how ordinary Cubans live and what they are thinking and feeling as fifty-year-old social and economic taboos are broken. He shares his honest and unbiased observations on extraordinary positive developments in social matters, like healthcare and education, as well as on the inefficiencies in the Cuban economy.   Ultimately, Cuban Revelations is an objective account by a reporter who has lived with the Cubans for many years as their old world falls apart and they set about trying to build a new one.

Toronto Public Library also has some material in Spanish on Cuba including the book Fidel y Raúl, mis hermanos: la historia secret by Juanita Ruiz Castro, Fidel and Raúl's sister. She initially embraced the revolution against Batista but then became disillusioned at the rise of the Cuban communists and fled to the United States. 

Fidel y Raúl, mis hermanos  la historia secreta par Juanita Castro

See also:

The contrasting Western (Canadian) view of Cuba and the Castro-led revolution can be summarized through the headlines of the two photos below from the Toronto Star Archives; these are available through TPL's website.

1970 Toronto Star Archive photo Cuba Once known as the brothel of the Caribbean; Cuba has made tremendous strides under its charasmatic leader Fidel Castro.

 "Cuba: Once known as the brothel of the Caribbean; Cuba has made tremendous strides under its charismatic leader Fidel Castro" - 1970 Toronto Star Archive

 "The line-up is about the only thing that's abundant in Cuba today" - 1969 Toronto Star Archive

1969 Toronto Star Archive photo The line-up is about the only thing that's abundant in Cuba today.

History makes strange bedfellows, so I wanted to give a brief explanation about the title of this blog post: Cuba Libre = Free Cuba.

Many people will know the rum, coke, lime and ice drink Cuba Libre. Ahhh the rum and coke -- the beloved drink of many Canadians.

The history of the drink is tied up with the American occupation of Cuba from 1898 - 1902. This was following the invasion of Cuba by the United States and Teddy Roosevelt, the Rough Riders etc in 1898, which ended the Spanish American War and the "freeing" of Cuba from its Spanish colonial masters (Cuba was the last Spanish colony in the Americas). Cuba Libre is also the name of a famous Elmore Leonard novel about the Spanish American War. 

Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and their guerrillas led the 1950s revolt in Cuba that ultimately overthrew the US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. Castro freed Cuba from an dictator. He also freed them from an economic domination of foreign economic interests (especially but not exclusively, US). In turn, Castro moved to what Americans felt was communism and in 1961, an attempted coup sponsored by the United States known as the Bay of Pigs invasion failed. Within a year, the Cuban Missile Crisis would grip the world. During the 1960s and 70s, Cuba for some represented a standing up to America. Over time though, the economic support of communist Russia declined and the economy as a whole soured (also likely due to the American economic embargo) and this led to a declining standard of living for many Cubans.

"Fidel Castro Denies Soviet Urging"- 1976 Toronto Star Archives

Fidel Castro. Denies Soviet urging

Cuba was freed to an extent from Spanish colonial powers, but was then subjected to direct and indirect American political and economic domination. In turn, Cuba revolted and moved to Communism and some measure of independence but was also dependent on the support (control?) of Russia. Within Cuba, the rise in situation among rural Cubans would be at the expense of wealthier land owners (such as Castro's own sugar plantation owning family). Castro in turn would be identified as father of a nation / revolution and as an oppressive dictator of a one party system. With his passing, Cuba Libre - Free Cuba again comes into play -- possibly "freeing" Cuba from communism or possibly simply freeing Cuba from Fidel himself (what to make of his brother Raúl though?). There is a Reddit board called Neutral Politics (is such a thing really possible?) and it recently had an online discussion "Was Fidel Castro a "benevolent dictator?" "How was life under his power?" that you may find interesting.

Throughout this weaving back and forth of history, opponents and losers are jailed, executed, assassinated and killed in war by the hundreds and by the thousands. And for every death, there is also sometimes a slower harm in poverty and limited access to opportunities. It's impossible to really know the truth over time and over distance -- it's unlikely there is one truth -- and it's further complicated by the cliche "History is written by the victors".

Fidel Castro passed on power to his brother Raúl Castro in 2006 as his own health declined. It was Raúl who organized the nine days of mourning and the three-day march of Castro's ashes back to Santiago, retracing in reverse the route that the triumphant rebels took upon overthrowing US-backed Batista in 1959. Castro's ashes are buried in a simple monument. According to Raúl, there will be no cult of the personality for his brother with no buildings or streets etc. to be named after Fidel.

I wanted to end with some architectural interior design photography books that capture all that is great and not so great with Castro's Cuba.

 Havana by Robert Polidori


Inside Havana Photographs by Andrew Moore





Speaking of Condoms . . .

December 1, 2016 | Bill V. | Comments (5)

In August Toronto Public Health (TPH) and the City of Toronto released the new city branded condom design based on the Pan Am Toronto sign. TPH planned to unleash 290,000 condoms for the fall of 2016, just in time for the start of school. Did you know the City has been handing out free condoms since the 1980s?

Photo copyright Hilary Caton of Metroland - CondomsTO

copyright Hilary Caton/Metroland - new City of Toronto 2016 branded explore TO condom design.


The City and TPH have also been running CondomTO design contests since 2014 (to coincide with World Pride being held in Toronto). Toronto Public Health just recently ran the 2016 CondomTO contest to design a unique condom wrapper for Toronto. That's a lot of condom activity. Below are a couple of the designs. 

condomTO design

The winner was Andrea Por from Humber College.



The runner up by Janine Thomas from York/Sheridan.

condomTO deisgn

You can see all the finalists here - they're pretty creative - who would imagine a little latex circle could inspire such creativity.


I began to think about the condom. I wondered about the history, the design, the significance as a birth control and safe sex method, the prevalence of condoms and the change in attitudes towards sex and condom use. A couple of vintage photos reminded me of the serious truth - condoms are a product that needs to meet rigorous industrial standards in its aim to protect users and sexual partners.

Toronto Star Archives photo 1990 Breakage test: Federal regulations require that a condom can be filled with 25 litres of air before bursting. The test helps detect minor flaws.

1990 Toronto Star Archives photo "Breakage test: Federal regulations require that a condom can be filled with 25 litres of air before bursting. The test helps detect minor flaws"


If you too are wondering about the condom then the following might be of interest.


The humble little condom a history


A modest book, The Humble Little Condom, but it "covers" the subject. Quite a bit broader is Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America, but the nice thing about this book is the context it provides historically and vis a vis other birth control methods.


Devices and Desires A History of Contraceptives in America


I never thought about the decorative quality to condoms but Condom Sense A Guide to Sexual Survival in the New Millenium's cover has certainly taken advantage of that aesthetic opportunity (as did Toronto Public Health/TPH) for its art work. The book's content is more serious and solidly around condoms as contraception and as promoting safe sex in the AIDS and other sexual diseases environment. 

To quote TPH:

"Remember to use a new condom every time you have oral, anal or vaginal sex. Condoms decrease the risk of sexually transmitted infections, HIV and/or unplanned pregnancy. More information about condoms can be found on our resources page"


Condom sense  a guide to sexual survival in the new millennium


Beginning in the 1980s the AIDS epidemic brought heightened attention to condom use and safe sex, albeit sometimes in unpredictable ways.

1990 Toronto Star Archives photo of Mr. Condom

1990 Toronto Star Archives photo "Sage advice, Mr. Condom - also known as Louis Taffo - talks to San Diego Bruno yesterday on St. Clair Ave. W. Taffo, who was handling out condoms and AIDS information, is from Vitanova, a centre that helps Metro Italians."


For something a bit more esoteric and quirky I was intrigued by Fromms : how Julius Fromm's condom empire fell to the Nazis, which takes us back to the economics and manufacturing side of condoms. Who knew?

Fromms how Julius Fromm's condom empire fell to the Nazis


Toronto Public Health has a very informative website with a list of free Sexual Health Clinics that offer the following services including free condoms (you do not need a referral or OHIP coverage to visit a clinic):

  • Birth control counselling
  • Low cost or free birth control
  • Free condoms
  • Plan B (emergency contraceptive pill)
  • STI testing and free treatment
  • HIV testing
  • Pregnancy testing, counselling and referral
  • Sexuality and relationship counselling

Rounding out (pardon the small pun) our quick condom survey you may know that Toronto Public Library recently joined Toronto Reddit. And from Reddit we offer the following posting on Free Condoms in Toronto.

StreetARToronto's Intriguing Eight-Storey Mural at St. Clair and Yonge

November 30, 2016 | Muriel | Comments (2)

Phlegm St Clair Mural

When I read that a massive mural by British street artist Phlegm had been painted on the west side of an office building on the south side of St. Clair, just west of Yonge Street, I just had to go and take a photo of it! From a distance, it looks like a human figure, but actually the mural comprises hundreds of Toronto landmarks, including the Royal Ontario Museum, the CN Tower, St. Lawrence Market and the city's ravine system and green spaces. "(It's) a metaphor for the city itself, for being a living, breathing organism that's kind of comprised of all the people who have lived here past and present," said Alexis Kane Speer, the founding director of the STEPS Initiative, a charitable public arts initiative. 

The City of Toronto has a program called StreetARToronto, which yearly supports one large international project, and since the STEPS Initiative had already produced the world's tallest mural here in Toronto at Wellesley and Sherbourne, they were chosen to produce the St. Clair mural. 

Street Art Fine Art        Street Art Book Art

STEPS shortlisted ten artists, and ultimately chose Phlegm. Phlegm is an anonymous illustrator based in the English steel town of Sheffield, who earned an international following with his "quirkily creepy comics." Phlegm had never been to Toronto before, and to satisfy his desire to create a work which was culturally relevant, STEPS asked local business owners, workers and residents about local landmarks, what they thought of the area, and what their favourite memories of the area were. Phlegm came back with a proposed concept, which was praised by everybody. Phlegm painted the mural, along with an assistant, Danforth-based muralist Stephanie Bellefleur, who had honed her artistic skills drawing in her sketchbook on her long Toronto streetcar rides. The practical aspects of painting this mural were quite daunting: two three-hour painting sessions per day for three weeks; strong winds; scorching heat; and, a novelty for a British artist, raccoons who inhabited the painting stage, or platform, every night!

Women Street Artist of Latin America        Planet Banksy

The result is a mural to be savoured, and whenever I am in the St. Clair and Yonge area, I make sure I go and look at it again. I noticed recently that part of it has been incorporated onto the hoarding around a construction site at the northeast corner of St. Clair and Yonge. I hope to see some elements or all of the mural reproduced elsewhere -- it is an intriguing and spectacular work of art.

     Exit Through the Gift Shop            DocoBANKSY    


     A Love Letter to the City   Global Street Art

Conservators Use New Technology to Mount an Old Marionette

November 16, 2016 | Eric | Comments (1)

Professional conservators are responsible for mounting Special Collections items displayed in the TD Gallery. The gallery is on your right as you enter the Toronto Reference Library at 789 Yonge Street. Our current show, Once Upon A Time, features fairy tales from the Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books.

Conservators take many things into consideration when they prepare items for display, including the matting, framing and mounting of objects. For the current exhibit, one item in particular posed a unique challenge. The conservators needed to mount a marionette of Puss-in-Boots in a seated position.


To prevent damage, they had to make sure the item was well-supported inside the display case. They also needed to use chemically-stable materials, and had to be sure the mount did not off-gas, which could harm the item's vulnerable materials.

Fortunately, Toronto Reference Library houses one of the library's  Digital Innovation Hubs.

Hub staff helped design and build a custom mount using one of their 3D printers, using the item itself as a guide. Reference photos of custom mounts for similar items displayed at other galleries were also consulted.

The design was created using 123D Design, free software provided by AutoDesk. Next, the mount was printed, using a LulzBot TAZ 5 3D printer. To see the whole process, click on the Youtube video below:

It took approximately two hours to print the mount. The printer used polylactic acid polyester, a biodegradable thermoplastic. Except at very high relative humidity, this material remains stable for years. The mount was finished using small hand tools and stable polyethylene foam.

Having a 3D printer available gives conservation staff many more options when they prepare items for exhibition. We look forward to experimenting more with this technology in the future!


Have you used 3D printed objects in an exhibit? Or maybe you 3D printed something else you use in your daily life? Let us know in the comments below!

Once Upon A Time runs until January 15th, 2017.

What'cha Reading?

November 12, 2016 | Beau | Comments (2)

I work in the Arts Department of the Toronto Reference Library (TRL), where most of the books are reference only (hence the name) and can't be signed out. So by looking at the book trucks where material is waiting to be re-shelved, you can get an idea of what people have come in to look at recently and also the amazingly diverse array of subjects available for study up here on the fifth floor of the TRL.


Right here on one truck, we've got books about a couple of rock stars (John Lennon and Harry Nilsson, who were drinking buddies during Lennon's temporary mid-'70s separation from Yoko Ono that he later called his "lost weekend"); artists who occupied abandoned buildings in Berlin after the fall of the Iron Curtain and turned them into studios; the history of music in the Baroque and Renaissance periods; and the role movie stars have played in the shaping of US politics over the years. Not a bad start!


This truck has mostly art and theatre books, but the one that caught my eye was The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, by George Ryga, a play which premiered in Vancouver in 1967. It tells the story of a young aboriginal woman who travels to the city in the hopes of finding freedom from the limitations of reserve life, only to be imprisoned and die there. A seminal (and unfortunately still relevant and timely) play in the history of modern Canadian theatre, it has been re-staged several times throughout Canada and the United States, adapted by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and released as an original cast recording vinyl LP I used to own, which is how I originally learned about it.


Arts is just one of the departments at TRL, and here we have a bunch of books that have somehow migrated up from Business, Science and Technology (BST) on the 3rd floor and Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) on the 2nd. Based on the evidence here, I'm going to guess there might have been an engineer (with a side interest in dance) researching how to brand the hair salon they are planning on opening in China.


This truck whisks us over from China to eastern and central Europe. A couple of years ago, my wife and I traveled to Berlin and Vienna, both of which are justly famous for their art and architecture. Vienna's mumok (MUseum MOderner Kunst, or Museum of Modern Art in English) and Berlin's me Collectors Room in particular are two of the best art galleries I've ever been fortunate enough to visit.  And although the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the city is still to this day profoundly marked by its former division between East and West (visiting the remains of the Wall is just a fraction of how much you can learn about history, art and architecture just by walking through either city).



While we're on the subject of Vienna, one of Austria's most famous artists is Gustav Klimt, perhaps best-known for his painting "The Kiss." When we were there we saw his Beethoven Frieze at the Vienna Secession Building, which is affectionately referred to by locals as "the golden cabbage." But as renowned as he is, Klimt is just one of many artists featured on this truck, which also includes books about American photojournalist Walker Evans, English landscape architect (and awesome name owner) Capability BrownLewis Hine, a sociologist and photographer whose work was instrumental in the reformation of child labour laws in the United States, as well as histories of wedding dress designs and traditions and English family portraiture in the 18th century (back when if you wanted a family portrait, you all had to sit still long enough for someone to paint you, not just take a picture at the mall's photo studio).



And last but not least we have this mishmash of books about an international guerrilla knitting art movement, sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar, fashion in London during England's "swinging sixties," English collections of Greek and Roman artifacts and, to take things back to where they all began, art in the ancient world.

This is just a sampling from one walk around the floor on a random Saturday morning! So whether you'd like to learn more about your favourite art form, or develop a new interest you didn't even know you had, it's a pretty safe bet that we have something to lose yourself in here at TRL Arts!

Over 100,000 Digital Objects Now Available in the Digital Archive

November 10, 2016 | Eric | Comments (1)

Toronto Public Library's digitization program has reached an important milestone: the Digital Archive now contains over 100,000 Special Collections objects for your use.

DA screen shot

We will feature more Digital Archive content in upcoming blog posts, but below are some examples of the types of materials you will find within this growing collection.

The Toronto Star Photo Archive offers images from between the years 1900 to 2000:

Tspa_0095272f small
Toronto Maple Leafs, 1974

Tspa_0029128f small
Toronto Blue Jays, 1991

  Tspa_0109818f small
CN Tower
construction, 1974

  Tspa_0101774f small
Blondie's Debbie Harry
at El Mocambo, 1982

  Tspa_0101747f small

The Beatles at Toronto International
Airport, 1964

  Ts-ii-117-r-719 small
Princess Elizabeth,

We also have many rare and precious maps:

912-19632m26 small
First printed map of the
North Pole, 1613

912-46754p12 small

Palma, 1593 circa

Not to mention lots of historical ephemera:

1918mccraesb small
In Flanders' Fields,
broadside, 1918

Ohq-ephe-s-r-244 small
Canadian National Exhibition,
broadside, 1917

Ca-1910-prohibition-pin-tb small

Prohibition pin, 1910

We have also been actively digitizing complete books from Special Collections and you can view them all here, with a few examples below:

Toronto Illustrated small
Toronto Illustrated, 1893
Franklin small
A sequel to the North-west passage, 1860

Toronto City Directory small
Toronto City Directory, 1868-9

 Don't miss digitized versions of images from the Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books:

Jack and Jill small
Jack and Jill, 1899
Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales, 1911

And last, but certainly not least, we have a wonderful resources in the Baldwin Picture Collection, featuring many historical pictures of Toronto and elsewhere:

B2-74a smallView on King Street, 1885

Cityhall-a-r4-13 small
City Hall and Square Competition,
model, 1958

  Pictures-r-1821 smallRossin House, York and King Streets, 1862

  Pictures-r-2682 smallPrinces' Gate, model, 1926

  Pictures-r-4608 small
Yonge Street, King to Queen
Streets, looking north, 1912

  Pictures-r-4526 small
Great Western Railway Station, 1922

  Pictures-r-4809 small
Organ grinder on Bay Street, 1922

  Pictures-r-4128 smallCanadian National Exhibition, 1923

  Pictures-r-301 small
Kensington Market, 1924

  Pictures-r-4177 smallGrandstand, Canadian National Exhibition, 1924

Please visit the Digital Archive often as we are always adding new content.

You can also find us on Flickr and Pinterest!

True Nordic: How Scandinavia Influenced Design in Canada, Part 2

October 29, 2016 | Bill V. | Comments (2)

I went to the opening of True Nordic: How Scandinavia Influenced Design in Canada, the new show at the Gardiner Museum, a couple of weeks ago. 

I wrote a blog post about the show and some of the Canadian books available to support that show. In this blog post I wanted to write about some of the mid-century Scandinavian source material that is available at Toronto Reference Library.

At the opening of the True North show, the two curators, Rachel Gotlieb and Michael Prokopow, gave a very interesting talk. Dr. Gotlieb spoke about the importance of doing archival / library research. There was a reference in the talk and in the show of a seminal book for the 1950s touring show Design in Scandinavia: An Exhibition of Objects for the Home which covered Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.

ROM paragraph 1954 1955 Design in Scandinavia quotation

The show visited a number of American cities as well as Toronto and Ottawa in the 1950s (two Royal Ontario Museum curators were on the North American organizing committee). The ROM presented this show as a conscious policy to support further shows on American and Canadian modern design of the era, as seen by the above excerpt from their 1954/55 annual report. 

Our collection is rich and deep across subjects, time and also languages and Toronto Reference Library has a copy of the seminal 1950s Design in Scandinavia exhibition catalogue.


Design in Scandanavia


This was not the first show or book that had been "exported" from Scandinavia. While Scandinavian design might highlight a variety of styles, methods and design features, the books all seemed to share a similar title. Don't miss:

I admire their entrepreneurial (and aesthetic) verve in bringing together and touring these shows and printing these books. Imagine the increased demand for their products, but also the influence their products and design would have worldwide (which would increase demand on their products later on).

But they began much earlier than the 1960s. In 1939, for the New York World's Fair, the Royal Swedish Commission had a show and exhibit catalogue called Swedish Arts and Crafts Swedish Modern - A Movement towards Sanity in Design.

It's a beautifully illustrated book covering all aspects of design including glass, silver, ceramics, furniture and even wallpaper -- they have actual color textured wallpaper samples at the back of the book.

Swedish Arts and Crafts 1939 New York World's Fair exhibit catalogue


Swedish Arts and Crafts 1939 wallpaper


The Swedes seemed especially prolific in exporting and promoting their cultural design aesthetic (and also their products).

Swedish Housing of the 'Forties Fyrtiotalets Svenska Bostad  exports their architecture, urban planning and some interior design (published in 1950).

Swedish Housing of the 40s Forties


And also the very interesting Modern Svensk Textikonst, published in 1963, on Swedish textile design which echos some pieces in the Gardiner show. The colourfull printed cloth cover, almost like a fabric sample itself with the words on the selvage, just like the cloth samples on display, compensates for the illustrations which are in black and white. 

Modern svensk textilkonst

Of course, no discussion on mid century or beyond Scandinavian fabric or design would be complete without a discussion of the iconic Marimekko from Finland.

Marimekko In Patterns


I will say though that the Finns also gave a kick at the arts and business promotion with Ornamo [1950-1954] Suomen taideteollisuutta = Finsk konstindustri = Finnish decorative art = Art décoratif finlandais, which is lavishly illustrated in black and white (and a few colour) photographs covering all aspects of design.  


Ornamo [1950-1954] Suomen taideteollisuutta = Finsk konstindustri = Finnish decorative art = Art décoratif finlandais

Like the Swedes above, the Finns also had their own 1939 New York World's Fair (trilingual) promotional book Applied art in Finland, which is heavily illustrated in black and white and covers all aspects of design.  

One should also look at the Taide ja työ = Finnish designers of today: Savi, lanka lasi suomalaisen taiteilijan kädessä (published in 1954) to round out one's view of the Finns. This is beautifully illustrated in black and white and colour and is an amazing book.

Taide ja työ = Finnish designers of today: Savi, lanka lasi suomalaisen taiteilijan kädessä

Even the Victoria and Albert Museum in London England felt that Finnish design was something worthwhile and special as seen in the show Finlandia: modern Finnish design 1962.

The Danes seem to be a bit thin on the ground for pure mid century design books, but I did find the 1975 Dansk Danish Design from the Danish collection at Toronto Reference Library. 

Dansk Danish Design Book 1975


And these two more current titles Danish Modern, published in 2008, and the 2016 title Danish Modern: Between Art and Design are useful current summaries.

Danish Modern
We are a bit thin on Norwegian material and the best I could find in our collection was the simple elegant 1969 Den norske Designpris, de syv første år = The Norwegian design award, its first seven years.

Den norske Designpris, de syv første år = The Norwegian design award, its first seven years



The library's blog devoted to the discovery of diverse artistic, music and cultural works in the library and Toronto.