Toronto, Part 1: Fredelle

Graffiti of the word "Toronto" in red with green borders.

Graffiti Alley introduces itself.

Toronto had been calling me my whole life.

Somewhat odd, maybe. Seems more like something people say about Hawaii or Tuscany than about a city in Ontario. But I’ve always thought of Toronto as a cosmopolitan place—a place full of brilliant, delightful people.

This is because of a large figure in my childhood: Fredelle. Fredelle was my mom’s best friend when I was a kid, and we’d go visit her in the small town in New Hampshire where she lived for part of the year. The rest of the time she lived in Toronto, a mythical Emerald City where I’d never been.

Fredelle was a first-rate storyteller, and had a keen eye and ear for bullshit. She’d grown up on the Saskatchewan prairie, and had no patience for anything less than honesty.

For me as a child, she was the ultimate in intellectual and cultural knowledge. She’d traveled all over the world; she’d written memoirs and books about raising creative kids. She baked sesame cookies that were notorious for burning if you left them in even one minute too long (which she never did). She was independent and a feminist, though I don’t remember her ever using that word.

Fredelle could have a sharp edge. I remember telling her that my school had gotten a new American flag that had flown above the state house previously. She said, “Anya, that’s the kind of thing that doesn’t interest me at all.”

But her interest, when you had it, was laser-like and unforced. When she listened to you—and even when she was the one telling a story—you felt surrounded by her brilliance and her complete attention. I wonder what she would have made of our fragmented world of cell phones, apps, and swiping left and right.

A business sign saying "This is the place," hanging outside a brick building.

Because Fredelle lived part of the time in Toronto, I associated the city with high culture. What culture meant to a nine-year-old, I’m not sure. Some combination of graciousness and fearlessness, and lots of art all around.

Fredelle died of brain cancer when I was a teenager. Her loss to my family was surgical, both abrupt and enormous. Strangely, though I was sad when she died, I don’t remember grieving hugely. Maybe this was because I was at the height of teenage self-absorption, or maybe it was because I already considered her, at 67, to be quite old.

I never visited Toronto during Fredelle’s lifetime. But this week, I finally traveled there. Decades after she painted a bright picture in my mind of a city of kindness, sophistication, and order, I explored it as an adult.

More later on what I found there.

Dedicated to the memory of Fredelle Maynard, 1922-1989.

Photos in this post by me. View my other Toronto photos.