Starring Roles and Cameos: Toronto Public Libraries in Books and on the Screen

October 12, 2021 | Ames

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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:

 

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?

Kims Convenience character holding TPL library card
Not one of our branches, but a character from the show Kim's Convenience proudly shows off their TPL card! This is a screenshot taken from the episode, produced by Thunderbird Films.

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!

 

Movies

RED DVD

Bruce Willis casually hangs out in the Toronto Reference Library while dealing with a hit squad in R.E.D. You can spot our stacks in the trailer at 00:28.

Scott Pilgrim Vs the World DVD

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.

In the Mouth of Madness

Queen/Saulter Branch was transformed into a records office for the horror movie In the Mouth of Madness.

New Toronto Branch

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.

 

Shows

Y The Last Man Vol 1

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.

The Umbrella Academy Season 1 DVD

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.

St Clair Silverthorn 2001
The old St. Clair/Silverthorn Branch. Taken in 2001.

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!

Parkdale Branch
Parkdale Branch and globe sculpture. Taken in 2006.

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!

Top down photo of Lillian H Smith Branch

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.

 

Books

Brown Girl in the Ring

Award-winning author and former TPL staff member Nalo Hopkinson includes Parkdale Branch in Brown Girl in the Ring.

The Terminal Experiment

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.

It's a good life if you don't weaken

In It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken, there are lots of familiar scenes of Toronto streets. And some interior scenes of Toronto Reference Library, too!

Toronto Reference Library in Its A Good Life If You Don't Weaken
Part of a page in It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken by Seth.

The Incident Report

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 Search for Heinrich Schlogel

In another book by Martha Baillie, The Search for Heinrich Schlögel, the main character visits Lillian H. Smith Branch:

"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."

Brother

In Brother, the characters spend time in a Scarborough branch. Most likely Cedarbrae Branch, at Lawrence Ave. East and Markham Road.

Shattered Glass

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.

The Sky is Falling

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.

Stranglehold

Deer Park Branch is mentioned by name in Stranglehold by Robert Rotenberg.

The Devil You Know

There are a lot of books titled The Devil You Know. But this one by Elisabeth De Mariaffi includes a mention of Leaside Branch.

The Chai Factor

The Chai Factor includes a visit to Toronto Reference Library and another unnamed branch that's in a plaza with a doughnut shop.

Headhunter

Toronto Reference Library pops up again in Headhunter by Timothy Findley.

The most precious substance on earth

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!

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