On Friday, I went to a small ceremony to dedicate a bench to the now deceased founders and owners of the former Third World Bookstore Leonard and Gwendolyn Johnston. It was held in the parkette just north of Bathurst Subway station. Big up the folk at A Different Booklist who made this all come together.
For those that dont know or remember, Third World Bookstore was a small bookstore here in Toronto, on Bathurst street a little ways north of Bloor, which operated up until about 9-10 years ago.
It specialized in Third World and Black literature filling a desperate need by the black community in Toronto.
Listening to the tributes on Friday brought back my own memories of Third World Bookstore. I think I actually discovered it by accident in first year of University. It was the spring after final exams and in all honesty I believe I was at that time straying from my usual haunts to find the Too Black Guys store (located just up the street from Third World) to get some gear (almost 20 years later, I still have those t-shirts I bought that day). On the way up Bathurst trying to find the elusive Too Black Guys, I happened to pass this interesting looking bookstore. Actually I think I walked in and asked them for directions to the store I was looking for and an elderly gentleman told me it was just around the corner.
Anyway always being a sucker for a good bookstore, on my way back from my mission I stopped in and was pretty happy to find an amazing collection of books by Black and Caribbean authors. Stuff that was missing elsewhere in the City at that time. Think I ended up with Van Sertima's They Came before Columbus on that first visit.
Over the years I returned quite a few times to that bookstore always leaving with at least one book on every occasion. I always found the atmosphere rather intriguing as there would always be some interesting conversation, political or otherwise going on between the owners and the customers who seemed to be more than customers. Unlike some I never got involved in those conversations though, too shy, content to browse the shelves while paying rapt attention as these folks with a much better gasp of issues and ability to argue than myself broke down topic after topic and how shall we say it hmmm dropped science.
It was like being in a lecture without being in a lecture.
OK that doesn't sound right but what I'm saying is it was a place of knowledge not just on the shelves but contained within its inhabitants and the conversations found there within as well.
In Toronto, I find its difficult and rare to find spots where black folk can be black folk. Some of you will understand that statement some of you wont but I don't tend to explain it here. All I'll say is Third World Bookstore felt to me like one of those places where black folk could be black folk.
So I was happy on Friday, to see tribute paid to such deserving folk and happy to hear speakers who knew them much better than myself give voice to their memories of the Johnstons and their importance in our community. Let us remember our pioneers and our history. Bless!