‘Are you kidding me Toronto?’ City backs down after ordering removal of little lending library
Published Thursday, September 28, 2017 3:31PM EDT Last Updated Thursday, September 28, 2017 7:17PM EDT
It was a Christmas gift meant to pay tribute to George Sherwood’s love of literature but the 73-year-old man received a rude awakening this week when the city ordered he remove his little lending library off his front lawn or face a fine.
Sherwood’s beloved outdoor library is propped up on a piece of plywood outside his home on Roselawn Avenue with “George’s Library” painted across the top in gold lettering.
The small, mint-green coloured box has a little glass window pane where the spines of borrowable books sit waiting to be read.
“My daughters personalized it for me,” Sherwood told CTV News Toronto. “It represents my love of literature and the enjoyment of passing on literacy to others.”
The library was a gift from Sherwood’s children last Christmas and has been the man’s treasure ever since.
“It’s a personal gift but there’s thoughtfulness. My daughters realized how important literacy is to me,” he said.
“It’s a nice social step. It’s a way of connecting with people.”
So when he and his wife found a City of Toronto notice in their mailbox on Wednesday, ordering them to dismantle the box or else face a fine of nearly $100, Sherwood was speechless.
“I was home yesterday and they just slipped it in the mailbox instead of talking to me… I was sitting right in the front room,” he said.
“I know the city doesn’t just arbitrarily go looking for these sort of things. So I know someone complained.”
His wife, Ellie, said there are similar lending libraries perched on front lawns in the neighbourhood but that no one else received a notice.
“Most of them are as close, if not closer to the sidewalk than ours,” she said. “I don’t see them being told they have to come down.”
Many of the couple’s neighbours were similarly stunned to hear about the notice. They praised the miniature library, calling it a welcome addition to the community.
“I think it’s a grand gesture that they’ve made,” one neighbour said. “The city should leave them alone.”
“I think the sharing of books is a wonderful initiative and we should make it possible, you know, not difficult,” said another.
The retired history teacher acknowledged that some of the books that come through the library aren’t of his choosing, but said that many others are brand new.
His daughter Jennifer, who took to Facebook to lament about her father’s troubles, said the city is “picking on” her family.
“Are you kidding me, Toronto?” she wrote in the Facebook post. “Is this how you’re spending my tax dollars, by harassing senior citizens who are trying to spread a little literary love around the neighbourhood?”
Sherwood later called his local councillor, Christin Carmichael-Greb, who was unable to get back to him due to downed telephone lines in his neighbourhood.
So instead, while the couple was out running an errand, Coun. Carmichael-Greb paid a visit to the little library.
She told CTV News Toronto that someone had called and complained about the wooden box which prompted city officials to send a bylaw officer to investigate.
According to a city bylaw, homeowners are not permitted to erect structures closer than 3.5 metres from a city sidewalk.
While Sherwood claims to have phoned his gas and hydro providers to ensure he wasn’t impeding on any lines, he admits he didn’t call and ask the city for permission, nor did he think he needed it.
“I don’t know who made the complaint,” Carmichael-Greb said. “But I don’t see any issues with it. It’s not a huge structure, it’s a temporary structure.”
She later called Sherwood to tell him that the city had decided to withdraw the notice and the fine, and is happy to let the book borrowing continue.
Mayor John Tory also threw his support behind Sherwood's lending library, tweeting: “I love Toronto's little libraries. We should be encouraging them, not ticketing them. I've sent that message to City staff. The ticket issued to the little library owner at Yonge & Eglinton has been ripped up.”
Carmichael-Greb said she plans on introducing a motion at city council next week, asking that lending libraries be exempted from that bylaw.
In the meantime, Sherwood is just happy he can continue spreading literacy.
“I wouldn’t be arrogant enough to say I’m promoting literacy but I would say I’m contributing,” he said.
“It’s very nice of them. Thank you.”