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Willowdale: Yesterday’s Farms, Today’s Legacy

By Scott Kennedy

Dundurn Press, 176 Pgs.

Beacher Scott Kennedy has revisited his childhood home in Willowdale: Yesterday’s Farms, Today’s Legacy.

This fascinating history of this large area of North York, one of the last to be intensively developed in Toronto, takes a unique angle in its approach. Rather than tell a linear narrative of the area, the chapters are split for the most part by pioneering families, based on the individual plot of land each occupied in the 1800s and 1900s.

Many of the family names in Willowdale will be familiar to anyone who has spent any time in North York; the Bales, Sheppard, Montgomery and Cummer families are just a few whose names grace roads, parks and history texts. The Willowdale area covered in the book is spread on either side of Yonge Street, from Bathurst in the west to Leslie in the East, and from just south of Sheppard to about Steeles.

Tales in the book range from factual accounts of not one, but two houses which were split in half – the front half of Elihu Pease’s house was moved twice, finally to its current location on Harrison Garden Boulevard, while the back half was moved to Bales Avenue and later demolished – as well as family feuds, farmer rebellions and carved wooden lions.

A population chart included in the introduction will provide some context for Kennedy’s nostalgia – near the end of the Second World War, the city had a population of a bit less than 25,000. Only 10 years later, it was more than 110,000, and by 1971 North York had crossed the half million mark. Growing up in Willowdale, the author would have been witness to massive change happening before his very eyes.

Kennedy’s book is as much a history of places as it is of people. His love for historical buildings, and lament for how many end their days, is obvious, but most readers of this type of local history are not likely to disagree.

Thankfully there are some examples of buildings which have been preserved, and Willowdale is full of many fantastic photos of streets and buildings, sourced from the library’s archives, several photographers from the North York Historical Society and Kennedy’s own photos of the present state of things.

Though Willowdale differs from the Beach in many ways – ‘small town feel’ doesn’t exactly spring to mind while standing at the corner of Yonge and Sheppard – those interested in Toronto history and the recent rural past of North York will find a wealth of information and entertaining stories in Willowdale.

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Picks and Sticks

By Michèle Muzzi

General Store Publishing House, 186 Pgs.

Michèle Muzzi has packed a lot of action into Picks and Sticks, her debut novel for teens and young adults.

The story picks up in Parry Sound in 1972 as Jane, a teen figure skating prodigy, begins to experiment with a burgeoning love for hockey, the sport her late father played. Of course, there would be no story without complications, and there is no shortage of those here.

First is Jane’s mother Deb, a former junior figure skating star herself, who gave up her dreams of glory for her family. Next is Jane’s coach, Leonard, former skating partner of Deb, whose thirst for success causes him to push Jane in her own skating.

Then there are the town arena’s Zamboni driver, Ivan, and his talented hockey-playing daughter Irina, with whom Jane strikes up a friendship. Once Ivan, Irina and Jane join forces to start up a girls hockey team – despite promises by the arena manager that such a team will never play on his ice – things start to heat up.

Add the possibility of love, injury and a crew of young girls addicted to playing hockey but trying to hide their team from the town, stir the pot, and you’ve got a recipe for a busy plot line, though it should work well for its intended audience.

Younger readers should have no trouble getting hooked on Picks and Sticks, with its constant twists and turns, and life lessons learned along the way. While busy, the plot doesn’t get too convoluted, and the characters are memorable and play their respective roles of good guys and bad guys well.

Muzzi will be holding a reading and book signing at ellaminnow book store, 1915 Queen St. E., between 1 and 3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 16.

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My Handy Little Health Journal

By Mary Anne Alton and Tania Craan

ECW Press, 178 Pgs.

Women still willing to track things the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper, will be rewarded with a wealth of information and helpful tips in My Handy Little Health Journal.

Alton, a Beach resident and documentary writer/producer/director, and Craan have endeavoured to cram as much useful information and guidance into the journal as they can.

Sections to list healthcare professionals and medical history help keep track of key information, while the final section offers advice and a way to track the pursuit of a healthier lifestyle.

In between the user input sections are numerous sidebars, ranging from the useful (signs of dehydration, tips to reduce cancer risk) to the entertaining (quotes from historical and celebrity figures) to the tasty (recipes for healthy snacks and meals).

While the notion of writing things down might seem a tired practice, keeping track of one’s health never goes out of style. Those willing to put pen to paper will find much to make the effort worth their while in My Handy Little Health Journal.

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