Seeking Holmes Beyond Doyle & Baker Street

When you’ve grown up reading mysteries, Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, are a very important part of your childhood, especially when you’ve also seen the series based on these characters. I’ve watched the 1984 series starring Jeremy Brett and yes, of course I’ve also seen Benedict Cumberbatch induct millions to the Sherlock Holmes club. More recently, I’ve been mildly infatuated with the neurotic version of the detective, played by Johnny Lee Miller in Elementary.

T, being a purist didn’t really approve of the changes to the original plots. But since I don’t have such hang-ups, I’ve happily devoured all these shows, as well as books with Sherlock Holmes spin-offs. I thoroughly enjoyed  “A Study in Sherlock Holmes,” an anthology offering unique perspectives on Sherlock Holmes, through a collection of short stories, including a comic by Colin Cotterill. I’m also slowly working my way through the much larger Sherlock featuring 83 of the thousands of stories and articles about the much loved and admired, tall, hawk -nosed detective.

It was thus with great excitement that I discovered the Sherlock Holmes room in the Toronto Reference Library! The public libraries in Toronto are quite awesome in general, with a very impressive collection of books and mostly very friendly and helpful staff, but this section in the main branch at Yonge Street has made the city’s library one of my most admired libraries in the world.

I’ve been back on each one of my trips, even playing guide to friends on a couple of occasions! The section is located on the top floor of the library in the Marilyn & Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre and comprises of two rooms. A glass-fronted room styled like a Victorian home library features biographies, literary criticisms and books in various languages, inspired by Doyle’s work, along with Sherlock Holmes memorabilia…and even a fireplace!

The outer room has more books, though not always directly (or indirectly) about Holmes or Doyle. I’ve spent several hours here, browsing and reading several Arsène Lupin (the French Holmes) short stories and “The English Companion,”a delightfully witty comment on England and English life by the columnist Godfrey Smith. Yes, you can pull out the books that catch your attention! The librarians only request that you handle the books with the care they deserve, and that you leave them on the tables and not try to put them back on the shelves.

A true pearl in Canada’s contribution to the world of literature, the Sherlock Holmes room in the Toronto Reference Library is one of my favourite things about the city.


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