Photo Credit: Wikicommons

Reflecting on Toronto’s Storied Streets

Some writers are careful to map their stories onto specific geographical locations. Two Toronto writers do this with particular care: Margaret Atwood and Dionne Brand.

Margaret Atwood has depicted Toronto with careful detail in her fictions, especially in The Robber Bride (1993) and Life Before Man (1979). Toronto is not signposted quite so explicitly in her earliest novel, The Edible Woman (1969), but is setting for one memorably uncomfortable restaurant dinner shared by Marian and her fiancé, Peter, in this novel about the politics of consumer society more generally. It begins well enough, with Marian and Peter enjoying their steaks, rare. “Marian was so hungry she would have liked to devour the steak at one gulp” (274). But as the meal goes on, Marian starts to remember diagrams of the various cuts of meat then she looks again at her plate to see not steak but rather “a hunk of muscle. Blood red” and finally has to put down her knife and fork (Atwood 280). Peter notices something is amiss, but does not understand what. The reader and Marian both recognize this as the beginning of trouble for their relationship and for Marian, who is already subconsciously aligning herself with the cow being so expertly dissected by her fiancé.
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quaglie all’uva (quail with grapes)

Recipe Notes (Alexia Moyer)

Welcome to Toronto. This week we’re cooking from Italian Canadians at Table: A Narrative Feast in Five Courses.

Editors Lorretta Gatto-White and Delia De Santis have gathered the food-related writings and recollections from Italian Canadians cross country. The result is a literary cookbook. You can cook from it, as it includes recipes and/or detailed descriptions of food preparation.

Pride of place belongs to narrative here. This book isn’t just about cooking, in other words. It’s about writing cooking.

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Many of its contributors live and work and eat in Toronto, including Elizabeth Cinello.

“Food Companion Wanted” is both title and premise of Cinello’s short story. Widower, Alberto Di Rota places an ad in the local Italian Canadian paper. He’s looking for a live-in cook and he wants traditional Italian meals. Widow, Nina Crocetti, weary of her daughter and granddaughter’s no-carbohydrate and vegetarian, gluten-free diets, agrees to meet Alberto at a park on Caledonia road.
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Childhood Morsels

In their introduction to The Imagined City: A Literary History of Winnipeg, David Arnason and Mhari Mackintosh note that they “began by thinking of Winnipeg as an unformed city” (x). During the fur trade and early settlement, Winnipeg (before it was “Winnipeg”) “was less a defined place than a destination or a stopping place or a crossroads” (x). When the city became the capital in 1874, there were only 3700 residents, but by 1882, there were 14,700 (x).

Wolseley Neighbourhood, Winnipeg.

Morning Sunrise in Wolseley Neighbourhood, Winnipeg.
Photo Credit: Renée Desjardins

Thinking about this previously “unformed” and growing city, the Canadian Literary Fare team thought it would be fitting to sample stories from childhood. A number of Canadian writers spent their formative years in Winnipeg, and by recounting these experiences in their fiction and non-fiction, they shaped the capital.
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So This Is Winnipeg?

“The visitor to the West,—the kind of visitor who writes up his visit,—is supposed, on his first morning in Winnipeg, to throw wide open his window and say, ‘So this is Winnipeg’! I didn’t. I was too cold. And there was no one to hear me except the waiter with the tea, and he knew it was Winnipeg” (Leacock 37).

The title of this week’s post takes its inspiration from Stephen Leacock’s book My Discovery of the West. If one is unfamiliar with a city, then perhaps a famous writer’s own visit to Manitoba will provide some insight for the “Capital Meals” series?

Leacock begins his travelogue with an unenthusiastic first morning. It’s important to note, here, that when Leacock was 18 years old, his father, Peter, abandoned the family and “ran off to Manitoba at the height of a real estate boom” in the 1880s (Spadoni xiv). Known more for his gambling and drinking than his entrepreneurial skill, Peter failed in his Winnipeg venture, or as Leacock bluntly describes it, “my father lasted nearly a year, before [he] blew up” (51). Perhaps these troubled memories colour Leacock’s chapter, but more than likely his satiric vision leads to his mixed impressions of the city.

Commenting on the frigid climate, Leacock claims that January winds funnelling down Main Street and Portage Avenue stimulate one’s creativity. He’d rather leave the tropics to “the bums, the loafers, and the poets” who congregate under palm trees with their glasses of wine; instead, Leacock opts for Winnipeg’s winters, preferring “a tenderloin steak in a grill room on Main Street with a full-sized woman raised in the cattle country” (40).

Painted in Waterlogue

Photo Credit: Shelley Boyd


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