The Maple Acre branch, in Fenwick, of the Pelham Public Library. VOICE FILE

BY CATHY BAILLIE

For as long as I can remember, libraries have always been my safe place. A place to turn off the outside world, get lost in an activity or book, search for the next adventure or learn just about anything. It’s no wonder that it was the first place that I felt at home when we moved to Fonthill.

One of the earliest stories that is in heavy rotation in our family lore, is that rather than have books read to me as a child, I would take the book and read the book back to my grandparents. The only problem was, at the time I couldn’t read. I would memorize whatever story was read to me, and then the next night I would paraphrase the book back. Fast forward to kindergarten and there are stories of me coming home and baffling my mother with stories of the Triceratops. My mother had to find an encyclopedia and learn about dinosaurs so she could understand what I was talking about.

Growing up, I read as often as a could. Devouring books in one day. Sometimes two at a time. Books and learning were everything to me. I even watched television shows about books. Eighties shows on TVO such as “Read all about it,” and “Reading Rainbow.” When I was old enough, I would ride my bike to the library and take out book after book. Each visit I felt like I was selecting new friends to meet. One of my favourite was the song book for the Phantom of the Opera.

In my teens, as the computer became more prevalent and schoolwork had to be typed, the library became my access point. I could also take out CDs and DVDs and all sorts of media that I wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise. In university, I would get lost in the stacks and spend hours reading books and articles that may or may not have been on whatever subject I was studying at the time. When I had my son, the local library was where I took him for music time or story time. The library was my home away from home for much of my life.

We moved to Fonthill from Scarborough a little less than two years ago. We didn’t know anyone in town but fell in love with the century-old house that we bought and the beauty of the neighbourhood. We learned about various local activities and made the Thursday night farmers market our go-to summer activity. We were blessed with amazing neighbours and continued to customize our life in Pelham. What I didn’t fully expect to have happen when we moved to Fonthill was how much of an outsider I felt like.

In moving to Fonthill, I experienced a cautious sort of kindness. Folks were pleasant but standoffish. I was often asked how I am connected to the area as they don’t recognize my last name. I am from Scarborough. I was born and raised in east Toronto. I don’t have roots in the community. Being from Scarborough, I learned, meant that I was (am?) a GTAhole, an unknown, a stranger.

So, in those early days with my daughter in a stroller, I made my way to the Fonthill library. On our very first visit, we were welcomed and told that there was a family activity that was going on in the children’s area. We missed the story component of the activity, but were invited to participate in the craft. We stayed for two hours. Only later did I find out that this was a registered activity with a fee. Perhaps, it was the lost and desperate aura of a mom with an energetic toddler that had the organizer welcome us so quickly but whatever it was, I can say that in those early days in Fonthill, it was the first time that I felt truly welcomed.

I’ve gone on to learn about all that our mighty library has to offer. In a town that in many respects seems to struggle with change, the library continues to evolve. The library is not just a place to check out books. It is a community hub that utilizes new technology and ways of knowing to bring people together. Of course, I can check out a book (or two or three) but I can also learn about makerspace tools like 3D printing, or can access STEM resources to feed my daughter’s desire to build and learn how things work. However, I can also count on the library to be a place that regardless of where I am from, or what my name is, or what I want to learn about, I will be welcomed.