2011 Hero: Margaret Atwood
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2011 Hero: Margaret Atwood

Nominated for: exposing the idiocy of the Brothers Ford better than anyone else.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past twelve months. From December 12–23, the candidates for Mightiest and Meanest—and new this year, a reader’s write-in option! From December 26–29 you’ll be able to vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year, and we’ll reveal the results December 30.

Talking to Torontoist last year, documentarian Ron Mann minced no words in his assessment of Atwood the Activist: “Certainly Margaret Atwood is a hero,” he said. “Because she’s…inspiring.”

Besides winning every literary award ever at least once, Atwood has been an inspiration and a hero for many: for art and literature in Canada, for female writers, and for the environment (most recently, for our feathered friends). But this year she was a hero for Toronto.

It started with a simple retweet, but Atwood’s fierce defense of Toronto’s libraries led to a public battle with the mayor’s brother that showed the city’s already-anxious arts and literature supporters just what they were up against—it even inspired a rap. When Atwood, an avid Twitter user, shared Our Public Library‘s petition to council to protect TPL branches from closure, the message spread so quickly that the petition’s site crashed. When Councillor Doug Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke North) said he would close a library branch “in a heartbeat” and claimed that his ward had more libraries than Tim Hortons locations, Atwood tweeted her dismay. When Ford replied that “if she walked by me, I wouldn’t have a clue who she is,” adding that Atwood should “get democratically elected” if she wanted to be heard, she fired back: “I am not running for mayor yet, but if it comes to be true that people cannot voice an opinion unless they have been elected, then we are no longer in a democracy.” (Still, more than a few Torontonians think “Mayor Atwood” has a nice ring to it.)

Through the media, both social and mainstream, Atwood did more than quip cleverly about the Fords, though: she asked Toronto residents to take action. “This jumping up and down and saying ‘bad Fords’ isn’t going to do it […] If they don’t want their library to be closed, they should tell their councillor—big time,” she told the Globe. When Atwood’s Twitter followers bombarded her with their reasons for loving the library, Our Public Library was inspired to create the Why My Library Matters to Me contest. Naturally, lunch with Atwood was one of the prizes.

Though Toronto’s libraries are still facing cutbacks, Atwood’s advocacy helped Torontonians remember that if they got together and yelled loud enough, their voice could be heard in the mayor’s office. And as the city faces nearly three more years of the Brothers Ford and their gravy-hunting, that knowledge might just be what gets us through.