Yorkville Fire: Shawn Micallef, SpacingToronto

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Yorkville Avenue fire at former home of Toronto writer Mazo de la Roche


Yesterday’s fire at 86 and 84 Yorkville Avenue was a day long event; when I walked by 11 hours after it started Toronto Fire was still pumping water into #84, by then covered in icicles. A Victorian duplex, the 86-side had received an unsympathetic retail makeover at some point, like many residential structures in Toronto that became commercial as they were located on main streets, while 84 retained some of its original character. As quint essentially Toronto as this conversion is, 86 Yorkville is special as it was the home of world-famous writer Mazo de la Roche for a time. Here’s a small excerpt from the Yorkville chapter of my book Stroll on this particular location:

…in the heart of Yorkville, Gabbana, located at 86 Yorkville Avenue, stocks oversized Dolce & Gabanna belts and other fast fashion. In the ’20s and ’30s, Mazo de la Roche lived in the house that became this store, and she wrote the first of her 16 Jalna novels here. She isn’t well known in Canada anymore, but her books sold 9 million copies around the world, one of Yorkville’s first cultural exports.

When I mentioned this on Twitter yesterday, there were a welcome number of people who indeed remember de la Roche and her novels, as well as the 1970s CBC adaptation (as one blogger put it, the Canadian “Downton Abbey”). Check out theNFB documentary on her mysterious life, and her Jalna novels have been reissued by Dundurn Press. Here’s a recent review of Jalna at the Toronto Review of Books.

Photo by Shawn Micallef