The Book

Imagining Toronto book cover

Imagining Toronto (Mansfield Press, fall 2010) is available at most bookstores and online through Mansfield Press, Amazon or Chapters.

Imagining Toronto was shortlisted for the 2010 Gabrielle Roy Prize in Canadian literary criticism and won the Award of Merit, the highest honour given to a book at the 2011 Heritage Toronto Awards.

Upcoming Events

25-26 February 2012: "Going Native: Reclaiming Aboriginal Identity in Toronto Literature," “Landscapes of Difference, Espaces de Difference, Raume der Differenz” conference (Session: The Politcs of Place: Urban Sites of Contestation), Canadian Studies Association in German-speaking countries (GKS). Grainau, Germany.

Thursday 15 March 2012: Guest lecture, "The Imagined City," ARC 120, Contemporary Architecture. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, University of Toronto; Isabel Bader Theatre, 9:45-11:00 am.

Wednesday 4 April 2012: "Representing Toronto: Mapping the Role of the Artist in the Contemporary City. Panel discussion. Presented by Koffler Gallery in partnership with Diaspora Dialogues. 80 Spadina Ave., Suite 503; 7:00 pm.

Sunday 22 April 2012: Reading from Acts of Salvage at the Draft Reading Series. Details TBA.

Thursday 3 May 2012: "Literary Bodies." Panel discussion as part of Bodies in the City, a symposium of the Jackman Humanities Institute at the University of Toronto.

Thursday 17 May 2012: "Imagining Toronto the Wild" at the Toronto Botanical Garden. Inaugural lecture of the TBG's new HortiCULTURE salon series.

Recent Events

Tuesday 18 October 2011, 7:00-8:30 pm: Will the Real Cabbagetown Please Stand Up?: Regent Park, St. Jamestown and Cabbagetown in the Literary Imagination. Parliament Branch (269 Gerrard St. E.)

Saturday 1 October 2011, 2:00-3:30 pm: The Masseys and the Masses: Social and Spatial Ascendency in Rosedale and Forest Hill. Forest Hill Branch (700 Eglinton Ave. W.)

Tuesday 27 September 2011, 7:00-8:30 pm: From Streetcar Suburb to Multicultural Community: Riverdale in the Literary Imagination. Riverdale Branch, Toronto Public Library (370 Broadview Ave.)

Click here for past events.

Archiving Imagining Toronto

Imagining Toronto is now an archive(d) site. Please click on Library for a detailed (and occasionally updated) list of books engaging with the city.

For information about Amy Lavender Harris’ current projects, please visit her author website at .

Contact is always welcomed at alharris [at] imaginingtoronto [dot] com.

GEOG 4280, Summer 2013 Edition

The Imagining Toronto course (GEOG 4280 3.0) will be offered in the Department of Geography at York University in the Summer of 2013.

The course syllabus may be accessed here.

This term, slides, handouts and links will be distributed through York University’s Moodle interface (log-in required).

The Naked City: Film, Fiction and the Represented Urban Landscape | 2013 Willowbank Lectures

On Saturday 13 April 2013 I’ll be doing a talk called “The Naked City: Film, Fiction and the Represented Urban Landscape” as part of the 2013 Willowbank Lectures at the Willowbank Centre for Cultural Landscape in Queenston, Ontario.

The 2013 Willowbank Lectures have “Urban Dwelling” as their organizing theme, a rubric meant to convey some of the ways understandings of “heritage” are broadening to include contemporary, cultural and especially urban themes.

Beginning with a short clip of the iconic, Academy Award winning noir film The Naked City (1948), my talk will focus on imaginative representations of the lived urban landscape. Descending from the seemingly omniscient gaze of the pilot, director — and urban designer — to the lived settings of city spaces, it will engage with literary representations of particular urban spaces in order to focus on what literary scholar Sidney Bremer calls “life at street level.”


The Naked City (film, 1948; opening sequence, via Youtube)

Weegee’s World: Life, Death and the Human Drama

Stephanie Snyder, “The City, Naked.” Art/Lies, Number 58.

Imagining Toronto the Wild at the Toronto Botanical Garden

I’ll be the inaugural speaker at the Toronto Botanical Garden‘s HortiCULTURE Salon Series tonight, 17 May 2012 from 7:00 to 8:30 pm.

My talk, titled “Imagining Toronto the Wild,” will explore Toronto’s culture-nature nexus. Here’s the official description:

“Crack open the concrete city and you’ll encounter landscapes shaped by ravines and buried watercourses, their contours home to creatures much more interesting than humans. Join Imagining Toronto author Amy Lavender Harris on a literary voyage into Toronto the wild.”

Some of the questions tonight’s talk will pose include: How (and where) do culture and nature intersect in the imagined city? Are raccoons our urban avatars? What underlies our ambivalence about feral cats? How serious a threat are raccoons, bears, opossums another the other ‘invaders’ who’ve made their way (back) into the city? And finally, what do imaginative representations of urban animals tell us about wildlife, ourselves and the urban spaces we share?

Recommended Reading / Viewing

Armstrong, Kelley, 2001. Bitten. Toronto: Random House Canada. [novel, set partly in Toronto, about a pack of urban werewolves.]

Cat City. Justine Pimlott/ Red Queen Productions. 2009. Documentary about feral cat populations in Toronto. [Trailer, via Youtube.]

Grady, Wayne. 1995. Toronto the Wild: Field Notes of an Urban Naturalist. Toronto : Macfarlane Walter & Ross.

Harris, Amy Lavender, 2010. Imagining Toronto. Toronto: Mansfield Press. [see especially “Ravine City,” “Toronto the Wild” and “The Liminal City”]

Kuitenbrouwer, Kathryn, 2012. “Corpse.” In The Walrus. January 2012: 50-57. [short story about teeanged boys who hunt a deer in Toronto’s High Park.]

MacEwen, Gwendolyn, 1985. “The Demon of Thursday.” In Noman’s Land. Toronto: Coach House. [a tragic short story about buffalo who escape from the High Park Zoo.]

Raccoon Nation. The Nature of Things with David Suzuki. 2011. Documentary about urban raccoons.

Seton, Ernest Thompson, 1989. Wild Animals I Have Known. New York: Grosset & Dunlap. See, for example, “Redruff, the Story of the Don Valley Partridge.” 

York, Alyssa, 2010. Fauna. Toronto: Random House of Canada. (author’s website; Globe & Mail review)

Media Reportage of Urban Wildlife

Urban feral cat population booming (Toronto Star, 23 November 2008)

Beach coyote ‘brazen,’ dog owner warns(Toronto Star, 24 February 2009)

Fur flies over Bluffers Park cat colony(Toronto Star, 19 June 2009)

Coyote fears grow in GTA (Toronto Star, 11 November 2009)

Cats now housebound in Oakville–or owners face fine (Toronto Star, 17 January 2011).

Coyotes dining on Bluffers feral cats (Toronto Star, 8 February 2011)

‘They’re destroying my garden’ says man charged with attacking raccoons (Toronto Star, 1 June 2011)


Representing Toronto: Mapping the Role of the Artist in the City

Just a quick update to let people know I’ll be contributing to an upcoming panel discussion called “Representing Toronto: Mapping the Role of the Artist in the City” at the Koffler Gallery Off-site (80 Spadina Avenue, Suite 503) on this coming Monday 2 April 2012.

The discussion, whose participants will include literary me, theatre director Jacob Zimmer, architect-turned-artist Flavio Trevisan and urbanist John Lorinc, is motivated by Trevisan’s remarkable Museum of the Represented City, a “museum of the present” that uses maps and other urban artifacts to suggest alternate ways of navigating the city’s cultural and cartographic history.

Here’s the official event description:

How does a city form its character and unique personality? To become a livable reality, a city needs to be imagined and grow as a representation in the minds of its inhabitants. Beyond the buildings, the roads, and the landmarks, artists have a critical role in shaping the idea and identity of the city. Through their artistic practice they indirectly give form to the real physical and cultural landscape.

This panel discussion among creative urban thinkers and civically-minded creators examines the essential role of art in the city’s continuous evolution. Moderated by journalist/author John Lorinc (SpacingThe Globe and MailThe WalrusAtlantic Cities) and featuring Amy Lavender Harris (author of Imagining Toronto), Jacob Zimmer (Director/Performer/Collaborator at Small Wooden Shoe theatre company), and artist Flavio Trevisan.

Exhibition tours will start at 6:00 pm and the panel discussion will begin at 7:00. This event, presented by the Koffler Centre of the Arts in partnership with Diaspora Dialogues, is free and open to the public. All are welcome to attend.


Week 12: Desire Lines

Lecture slides for today are available here: 2011-2012 Week 12 slides GEOG 4280 Desire Lines

Week 11: City Limits

This week in the Imagining Toronto course we’ll discuss representations of suburbia, beginning with stereotypical notions of suburbs as middle-class bastions of white-flight and going on to discuss how suburbs have shaped (and been shaped by) shifting experiences of gender, race and class.

Literary works discussed will include Phyllis Brett Young’s The Torontonians (1960; 2007), Hugh Garner’s Death in Don Mills (1975), M.G. Vassanji’s No New Land (1991), Rabindranath Maharaj’s Homer in Flight (1997), David Chariandy’s Soucouyant (2007) and V.V. Ganeshananthan’s Love Marriage (2008), among other works.

Lecture slides for today’s class are accessible here: 2011-2012 Week 11 slides Geog 4280 City Limits

Additional links:

Link: “Welcome to the Suburbs” (1950s film; Youtube)
Link: “Sin in the Suburbs” (film, 1964; via Youtube)
Link: “Subdivisions” by Rush (via Youtube)
Link: “Suburbia” by the Pet Shop Boys (via Youtube)
Link: “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” by the Barenaked Ladies (via Youtube)
Link: “Jesus of Suburbia” by Green Day (via Youtube)
Link: “Rockin’ the Suburbs” by Ben Folds (via Youtube)
Link: “The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire (via Youtube)
Link: “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” by Arcade Fire (via Youtube)
Link: “Shaikhing Up the Hood: Suburban Placemaking in Scarborough” (Aslam Shaikh, via Youtube)
Link: “The Microcosm of Markham” (The Agenda with Steve Paikin, via Youtube)
Link: The Leona Drive Project
Link: Vertical Poverty: Rexdale (United Way, Poverty by Postal Code 2)

Week 10: Class Fictions

Slides for today’s class are available here:

2011-2012 Week 10 slides GEOG 4280 Class Fictions


GEOG 4280 Week 6: The Myth of the Multicultural City Part II: The Place of Our Meeting with the Other

While politicians and ideologues declare multiculturalism at an end, people in Toronto go about our everyday lives, thrown together by collisions of culture, conflict and circumstance. This week in the Imagining Toronto course we’ll explore lived experiences of multiculturalism, considering whether the language of tolerance — as a minimum standard for civility in an era of cultural conflict — helps us in our efforts to live together or figure out whether we can do so at all.

Today’s class will concentrate on the conversations across culture invoked by Dionne Brand’s What We All Long For (2005), Rabindranath Maharaj’s The Amazing Absorbing Boy (2010) and Farzana Doctor’s Six Metres of Pavement (2011).

Slides for today’s class are available here: 2011-2012 Week 6 slides GEOG 4280 Myth of the Multicultural City Part II

GEOG 4280 Week 5: The Myth of the Multicultural City Part I: The End of Multiculturalism?

Lecture slides are accessible here: 2011-2012 Week 5 slides GEOG 4280 Myth of the Multicultural City Part I