Shawn Micallef is the author of Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto, a Toronto Star columnist, and editor and co-owner of the independent, Jane Jacobs Prize winning Spacing Magazine. Much of his work focuses on how words and geography go together. Any wonder he's a Page Turner? Join Shawn today and you could win a copy of his book.
I'm excited to be a Project Bookmark Page Turner because it connects Canadian locations with histories, stories and other bits of culture, bringing these events off the shelf and onto the streets. It's turning the library inside out. If you join me and donate today to Project Bookmark you'll be entered to win a copy of my book, Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto.
We don't mythologize Canada enough, especially in our cities. It leads to a peculiar Canadian affliction where we pass through so many spaces without much regard for them. Important things haven't happened here, we inadvertently tell ourselves; those things happen somewhere else. This changes once we attach a story to a building, sidewalk, or even empty lot. Previously nondescript spaces suddenly are alive in our imagination. Whether an actual event or the invention by one Canada's great authors, that previously ignored place becomes the setting for memories and become stuck in our heads. Those memories and events almost become our experiences of that place too.
The first Project Bookmark plaque at Toronto's Prince Edward Viaduct is a fine example of how this works. Anybody who's read Michael Ondaatje's In The Skin Of A Lion, or hasn't but has heard the stories second hand, has scenes from that novel in their head whenever they drive, walk, bike, or take the subway across it. It isn't my story — it didn't even happen — but every time I cross that bridge I see Ondaatje's nun falling off the half-constructed bridge, so powerful is that image. It's now part of that bridge's identity.
This is how mythologies are made. Sometimes composed of real events, sometimes fictional, but all contribute to our understanding of where and how we live.
On a much more personal note, I find Project Bookmark compelling because much of my work over the last decade has been connecting physical places to memory and events.
In 2003 we wanted to start to reverse the under-mythologization of Canadian cities in a very small way, out on the sidewalk, similar to what Project Bookmark does. Our [murmur] project records stories about particular locations by people with a connection to that spot. We install a sign with a phone number there that passerby can call with their mobile phone to listen to it while standing where the story takes place. Some stories are purely anecdotal — "I fell in love on this park bench" — while other stories describe the wider social, civic, and political history of that spot and surrounding location. Some storytellers are able to blend both their own experience and historic details at a location, but all are told from a personal perspective. When heard, it's as if storyteller and listener are out for a casual stroll through the neighbourhood, sharing the information they might tell a friend. Those memories stick.
Since our Toronto launch we've expanded the project to cities across Canada (and around the world) and completed a project with the Playwright's Guild of Canada called Uth Ink, where young people wrote and recorded audio plays set in specific geographic locations.
Place, we've found, matters, and people want more connections. Project Bookmark takes our wonderful archive of Canadian Literature and puts it on the street, where it belongs. Please help them continue to do this.