Starring Roles and Cameos: Toronto Public Libraries in Books and on the Screen
October is Canadian Library Month, and October 17-23, 2021 is Ontario Public Library Week. The theme this year is "One Card, One Million Possibilities." And it's true. With a Toronto Public Library card you have access to:
- 100 locations
- over 10.5 million items
- eLearning courses
- Digital Innovation Hubs
- live programs and workshops
- and much, much more.
This week is a great time to celebrate your library's role in your life and in your community. And, on the topic of roles...
Our Toronto Public Library branches have had some starring roles and cameos in a wide variety of movies, shows and books. Have you seen a scene with the "New York Public Library" that looks awfully familiar? Read a book by a local author where a character visits their local library? Spotted one of our locations in the background of a street shot?
Toronto Reference Library may be the most-recognized location used, but it isn't the only branch to make it to the screen. Perhaps you've seen The Weeknd's music video for "Secrets", a recent and well-known example? Majid Jordan used Toronto Reference Library first, though, for the music video for "Forever" (around the 2:54 mark).
Here are some more starring roles and cameos you may have noticed, or are perhaps learning about for the first time!
In Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Scott meets Ramona for the first time in our Wychwood Branch (currently closed for renovation). It's the only branch used in the movie. But in the graphic novel series, there's also an epic battle that takes place in Toronto Reference Library. Ramona and Knives demolish the Toronto Star newspaper sculpture to use as makeshift weapons. Thankfully, the real thing is still intact. You can see it stretching up from the basement past the first floor near the elevators.
Part of the Odd Squad movie was filmed at New Toronto Branch. Or maybe it should be called the New-New-New-New Toronto Branch. Originally opened in 1928, additions were added in 1951 and 1954. Then, in 1993, the old building was demolished. The current New Toronto Branch opened in 1994.
The new series Y: The Last Man pretends to be showing you New York Public Library, but we all know it's really Toronto Reference Library. You can spot it in the trailer at 00:37. The series is based on the graphic novels by Brian K. Vaughan. Want to read the series before you watch the show? Get started with book one in print or online through Hoopla.
In The Umbrella Academy, a destroyed version of our Lillian H. Smith Branch makes a great makeshift home in a post-apocalyptic future. You won't spot the iconic gryphons – Judith and Edgar – though! To avoid spoilers, we won't share more than that. The series is based on graphic novels of the same title, but the plot between the two quickly diverges at the end of season one.
An old TVO show, Bookmice, filmed their trailer in the old St. Clair/Silverthorn Branch. The show itself didn't make use of the library, though. The new branch opened in 2019, and it looks pretty different!
Get a glimpse of Parkdale Branch in the opening credits of the Baroness von Sketch Show. It's in the first few seconds – blink and you'll miss it!
You can also spot the circular, curved railing in Lillian H. Smith Branch on an episode of Masterminds (around 00:25). The show is doing a reenactment of a rare book theft from Transylvania University's special collections.
Published in 1995, The Terminal Experiment is available electronically. If you prefer a physical copy, you can also read it in our Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy. Although the character doesn't visit a library, they do phone North York Central Library for help finding information in a city directory. Robert J. Sawyer mentions North York Central Library in Rollback as well.
If you've ever wondered what it's really like to work in a public library, this is the book for you. The Incident Report by Martha Baillie isn't about a specific branch, but the stories in this book are based on the author's experience as a TPL staff member.
"The doors of Lillian H. Smith Library were guarded by two winged and imposing griffins cast in Bronze. One had the head of a lion, the other the head of an eagle. Both sat back on their haunches, claws exposed, necks arched, fierce eyes staring down."
Shattered Glass is set in Toronto in the 1960's. The main character, Toni, is new to the city. She frequents the Yorkville Branch while finding her feet, and makes friends with the local librarian. Even then, the library was pretty old. The Yorkville Branch opened at its current location in 1907.
In 1940's Toronto, Norah walks north on Yonge Street from Rosedale and visits McNair Branch, with a sign that says "Boys and Girls". It's not clear which branch this was, but it could have been Deer Park Branch. At the time, Deer Park Branch was located at 5-7 St. Clair Avenue East.
And again in The Most Precious Substance on Earth. A high school band visits from Halifax, and describes the building:
"One of our first stops is the Toronto Reference Library, a building with the colour palette from 2001: A Space Odyssey and the architecture of a dystopian government headquarters."
What other movies, shows and books have mentioned or used one of our Toronto Public Library locations? Share below in the comments!
With thanks to the many TPL staff members who made recommendations for this post!