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Cosmopolitan Toronto in Photos

Cosmo portrait

Documentary photographer Colin Boyd Shafer’s book Cosmopolis Toronto: The World in One City is a collection of photo stories about 195 people who have immigrated to Canada and settled in Toronto. Their portraits are accompanied by brief commentaries. But most poignant are the smaller photos which display each subject’s most treasured object, a memento which still ties them to their past and their origins.

Boyd Shafer’s portraits are candid but accessible and certainly illustrate the diversity of our city’s people and locales. With so many people represented, the photographer chose well to keep the texts brief: while lengthy bios would likely have been fascinating, he keeps the pace of the book clicking, so that it’s an excellent coffee table book and it echoes the mood of our ever-changing city.

And I do use the term ‘coffee table book’ as a compliment. In our harried urban lifestyle, it can be rare to have a moment to even sit down on a couch in front of a coffee table with free time. When we do, isn’t it a luxurious feeling to flip languorously through a beautiful book that is enlightening but not demanding? Larger-format picture books force us to turn the pages more slowly and thus to take in the contents with more attention and time. Everything in this book, down to the type and map outlines, makes our encounter streamlined and focussed.

I’d recommend Cosmopolis Toronto as a great gift: for yourself as a Toronto resident; for the bibliophile who seems to have every book you can think of; or perhaps most thoughtfully for a newcomer to Toronto, whether they’ve moved here from Fort MacMurray or France. You can learn more about the project of “Photographing the world, one Torontonian at a time” at

Cosmo cover

The Book Class


On my walk to a client’s office yesterday morning, I struck up a conversation with someone panhandling* because I remembered seeing him a month before; he was memorable because he was reading a book both times I saw him.

It’s amazing how books can bridge divides. We talked about favourite genres, books we’d read, wanted to read, should have read by now. He showed me a 1945 edition of Alice in Wonderland he had been given by a friend. This chap had a degree in Literature. He had received a few knocks in life, but his attitude was not woe-is-me. I suspect that part of his balanced view of his current situation was partially moulded by his love of reading. I certainly read to escape and perhaps he reads while holding out his sign to passersby so that he can escape that reality. He wasn’t sure he’d be back in the neighbourhood the next day, but I said I’d bring him a page-turner I had enjoyed and hopefully it would be left on the stoop for him if he didn’t come.

I felt sobered after that conversation, although I’m not sure why. I took my book to his spot this morning but he wasn’t there. As he had said the tenants were good to him, I left it with a note in a bag on the door handle asking them to give it to him as I wouldn’t be back for a few weeks.

But Scott did mention a book he’d love to have but hasn’t found yet. I know what my most rewarding Christmas gift is going to be this year.



I tried for several weeks before and after Christmas to find Scott again, so that I could hand deliver his gift. Eventually, I just put it in a bag on the doorknob of the stoop where we met, with a note asking the tenants to pass it on to him if they saw him. Maybe our paths will cross again later.


*The fellow in question himself described his activity as panhandling; this is no editorializing by me. He said that OW (that’s “welfare” for you non-Ontarian readers) doesn’t cover all of his monthly expenses and that he pans only when he’s stuck for money. He has a place to live.