In the iconic Toronto novel In the Skin of a Lion
, Michael Ondaatje wrote that "before the real city could be seen it had to be imagined, the way rumours and tall tales were a kind of charting." Ondaatje’s observation echoes the words of essayist Jonathan Raban, who wrote in Soft City
that “[t]he city as we imagine it, the soft city of illusion, myth,
aspiration, nightmare, is as real, maybe more real, than the hard city one can locate on maps, in statistics, in monographs on urban sociology and demography and architecture.”
Ondaatje and Raban remind us that the cities we live in are made not merely of brick and mortar, or bureaucracy and money, but are equally the invention of our memories and imaginations. We realize that our cities unfold not only in the building but in the telling of them.
The Imagining Toronto project explores the city at the centre of the map. Consisting (so far) of a large and expanding online database
of Toronto novels, poetry collections and other literary works and an award-winning book
exploring how the city's writers have represented Toronto's buildings, people, neighbourhoods and natural spaces, the Imagining Toronto project is the first full study of the city's literature to appear in print.
, 2010) was shortlisted for the 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.
author Amy Lavender Harris teaches
in the Department of Geography at York University, where her work focuses on urban identity and the cultural significance of place. She is currently at work on a second Imagining Toronto volume (exploring representations of Toronto in art, music, film and television) and Acts of Salvage
, a Toronto novel exploring what the contemporary city compels us to cling to or discard.