Ohbijou, at ease.
Nestled between board games and biographies at the Chapters on Runnymede this past weekend sat Nadine Dolly and Kristie Macor. The Toronto insiders have racked up enough mileage through the city to capture the locations and place-makers that give Toronto life, from a local’s perspective. Pairing artistic photography and written documentary, The Hogtown Project reveals both the contemporary (semi-professional pillow fighting, anyone?) and archival (Patrick Cummin’s architectural photographs of the changing streetscape), with interviews in between (like with Hank Young, the late Gladstone Cowboy). Their book was published in July, but this was the first time the creator-photographer duo got a chance, in a formal setting, to sign their book and talk to the city’s residents.
“I get people at work sometimes asking me where to find the best spots in the city,” Dolly says about her day job in communications at the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.
At the signing, Macor is joined by her partner in crime and life, Brenden Woods; together they run Tied Photography, a wedding photo and film business. Being there when ideas formed and fell off the cutting board, Woods saw each scrap come into place for this book. Macor and Dolly spent three years gathering and preparing material, and the choices to leave and keep portions of the manuscript were difficult. “There was a lot of content that Nadine and Kristie left out—for example, a section on churches,” he divulges. “Did you know that Toronto used to be known as the city of churches?”
As if leaning over a yearbook, each person who paused at the table leafed through until finding a locale they recognized, then laughed or told their story.
“It’s like the real Toronto. I like that it gives a good record of what’s here now—you never know how Toronto will change. Nadine and Kristie should come up with a second edition of the then-and-nows of 2020.” So quips Jon, formerly acquainted with Queen West and currently a Chapters employee with the friendliest white beard this side of the Santa Claus parade.
“It’s about time someone made a book like this,” Jenn remarks, a west-ender who works at Queen’s Park. “I used to work in Halifax, but every time I leave here I wonder why I left. My favourite place in Toronto is probably Little Italy—I like the vibe from the restaurants there.”
Late night shut-down.
Friends and family of the creators also came by, including Darren, Nikki, and Michael, friends of Kristie’s who’re now living in Quebec. “Even if you know Toronto,” Nikki says, “the book draws you in. And if you’ve never been through the city, it definitely shows you new discoveries.”
“I used to work at the Annex, and would simply pass by the areas that have been captured in the book,” Michael adds. “It catches another side of something you’re really familiar with. These are the faces that make the neighbourhoods. This is the first book that portrays Toronto as a character.” And the character of Toronto he speaks of? “Self-confidence. Toronto used to be the butt-end of jokes and deferred to Montreal.” Darren’s choice spot on a Saturday afternoon, he says: “Kensington Market. It seems to put everything I like about Toronto into one neighbourhood.”
Not everyone found the Toronto they knew in The Hogtown Project. “I grew up in Swansea all my life, and when I asked Nadine and Kristie if Swansea was in the book, they said no. Swansea used to be its own self-governing village until 1967, and we even had a volunteer-run fire station,” explained John, another Chapters employee wearing half-filled tortoise frames. “The book is very attractive,” he shrugged, “but I have a lot of coffee books already. It’s just a personal storage matter.”
One of many Yonge nights.
At the last half-hour of the signing, Chapters was getting busier with four-footed visitors. Darlene Stimson came in with her newly adopted, pure English-bred pug, and exclaimed when she saw the title of the book. “I thought, Hogtown—maybe this is a book about the Hogtown Syncopators. My friend Terra sings for the Hogtown Syncopators every Friday at The Rex and I thought this would be a perfect gift for her. I met her when she was still singing for Jeff Healey.” If Terra does receive the Hogtown Project as a present, she just might recognize her jazzical home within its pages.
Much like the nostalgia that a yearbook evokes when you flip through it again years later, The Hogtown Project has the effect both of renewing your sense of membership and realizing you might’ve missed out. Thankfully, there’s still time, and lots of turf to go.
Photos from The Hogtown Project by Kristie Macor.