It’s fitting that the foreword to The Toronto Book of the Dead is written by Shawn Micallef, as anyone familiar with Micallef’s books and Toronto Star column can attest to his absolute love of Toronto and its stories. Adam Bunch shares a similar glee at nerding out over Toronto’s history, in this book, a history of stories related to death.
Stories include: the horrific botching of Toronto’s first execution (the city had no professional executioner, so a fellow prisoner volunteered for the deed); the mysterious fate of Peggy Pompadour, an escaped slave, and her family (check out artist Camille Turner’s work for a deeper dive into this story); the refusal of French colonizers for their dead to be honoured with Indigenous burial rites; and many more.
The cover is fantastic, and to be honest, made me expect a collection of horror stories, somewhat of a haunted Toronto walk led by horror writer Andrew Pyper. The reality is a bit more fact-based, a lot more dry and a lot less scary. Bunch is a good writer and clearly very much interested in his subject matter. It’s a great book for history buffs, Toronto buffs, and tourism professionals looking for a quirky tale to keep in their back pocket for tourists. Or perhaps horror writers looking for inspiration for their next Toronto-themed novel?
The stories themselves are fairly introductory; the book’s strength is in breadth rather than depth. History buffs will likely learn little new about people and time periods they’ve already studied, but they may be entertained by the range of other stories covered. Reading the book feels somewhat like taking a tour of Toronto, with a very knowledgeable tour guide who knows the more somber parts of the city’s past.
This book wasn’t quite for me, though that’s likely more because of my own expectations than the quality of the book itself. I can imagine myself nerding out over this book years ago, when I was fairly new to Toronto and eager to devour all knowledge about the city, or when I was a university student and just generally nerding out about all things historical. So I can imagine it appealing to other readers; it just didn’t quite hold my interest.
Thank you to Dundurn Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.