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Toronto’s vibrant Annex, the setting of my new Pat Tierney mystery

I love Toronto’s Annex district, my very first neighbourhood in the city that I now call home. And streaming There’s No Place Like This Place, Anyplace, one of the films in the Hot Docs 2020 Festival, last night brought back memories of those early days in Toronto.

Honest Ed’s, a landmark Toronto discount store, was opened by Ed Mirvish in 1948, and closed in 2016.

I arrived in Toronto in the 1970s when I was hired for a teaching job at Loretto College School on Brunswick Avenue. I was a newcomer to the city and I didn’t have a car, so I looked for a residence within walking distance of the high school. And what a vibrant neighbourhood I found myself in! The cafes, bakeries, and the Hungarian restaurants on Bloor Street West, The Brunswick House, the large Victorian sandstone homes on the residential streets, many of them divided into flats. One of these flats on Huron Street was my first Toronto home. And, of course, Honest Ed’s bargain emporium on Bloor at Bathurst. My neighbours were a glorious mix of cultures: university students and professors, artists, recent immigrants to Canada, and the denizens of the infamous Rochdale College, which at the time was “an experiment in student-run alternative education.”

There’s No Place Like This Place, Anyplace focuses on Honest Ed’s and the future of the Annex neighbourhood. The store closed in 2016 after 68 years on the corner of Bloor and Bathurst streets. Its site is being transformed in to hundreds of rental units by the property’s new owner, Vancouver property developer Westbank Corp. Director/cinematographer Lulu Wei chronicles the closure of the Toronto landmark and the Mirvish Village artists’ colony on Markham Street, and speculates on the future of the area through interviews with developers, politicians, activists and neighbours.

Watching Wei’s homage to the Annex made me reflect on why I’ve set much of Uncharted Waters, my fourth Pat Tierney mystery, in the Annex. Pat has returned to Toronto after a stint in Ontario cottage country. She’s left her job at a large investment firm, and buys an existing financial planning practice—she loves the work but she wants to be her own boss. So where are Pat’s new business premises? The contemporary Annex. She rents a second-floor office suite above a fictional bookstore on Bloor Street, just east of Bathurst.

The Brunswick House, The Brunny, opened on the corner of Bloor and Brunswick in 1876. It closed in 2016.

Why did I choose that area? I didn’t analyze it too deeply; the setting more or less came to me. The Annex just seemed like a very cool area for Pat to spend her working hours.

Uncharted Waters will be released this fall.

The former Rochdale College, at 341 Bloor St. West, was an experiment in student-run alternate education in the 1960s and 1970s. The building is now The Senator David A. Croll Apartments, a seniors’ residence.

The Unknown Student, a larger-than-life bronze sculpture, sits in front of The Senator Croll Apartments as a tribute to the building’s Rochdale College days.

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