Though most of the production companies have set up shop in Vancouver, it's not uncommon for Toronto to appear as a setting in film or television. What is uncommon is for Toronto to appear in film or television as itself, rather than New York or Chicago or the City With No Name. It's only recently that things have begun to change, that the Powers That Be have been willing to step out of the familiar, well-treaded surroundings of Manhattan or Los Angeles. Brian Lee O'Malley ("BLOM") has helped to change that with his Scott Pilgrim series - originally a series of action romance (yes, really) graphic novels, with the sixth and final due out this summer, and now a major motion picture (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World - I applied to be an extra, but didn't get in) set to be released on August 12, 2010. It is going to be totally rad.
Scott Pilgrim is one of the most unrepentantly Toronto-centered works I've encountered, and that level of familiarity is probably one of the reasons why I like it so much. It's full of small, accurate references and details that help make the setting come alive - like the OMG panels on the side of the garbage cans, the NOW Magazine boxes, and the frequency of Pizza Pizza places in the streetscape - not to mention side jokes that would soar right over the head of anyone who isn't familiar with Toronto, like how Scott's brother's name is Lawrence West. It's not just me, either. Mad5l5in5 from The Starry Fork was in the city last autumn, and given that I was the one with local knowledge I ended up becoming a Scott Pilgrim tour guide. Considering the sheer weight of photos I took during that day, there's no reason I shouldn't subject the rest of you to it as well.
So get your volumes and follow along! For best results, I recommend you listen to Plumtree's "Scott Pilgrim," namesake of the series, while you follow along. It will make things even more rad. And, yes, I realize that I am a total nerd. I also like showing off my city however I can.
And, yes, I realize I've missed some here and there. So check out Mad5l5in5's Scott Pilgrimage Flickr photostream for another perspective!
Vol. 1: Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life
1. Scott and Wallace's Apartment
The tour began here, at the house on Alberta Avenue, because I figured it was most appropriate to start from the beginning. I was only able to find it because BLOM was kind enough to add an almost entirely accurate address label to the CDs Scott orders off Amazon.ca midway through Volume 1, up to and including the postal code being correct - the only niggle is that it's Alberta Avenue, not "Albert Avenue." The place is a few houses north of Davenport Road, but depending on where you're coming from, taking the Ossington bus is one of the better ways to get there.
HOW TO GET THERE: The 63 Ossington bus from Ossington station or Eglinton West station and the 127 Davenport from Spadina station both pass close by the intersection of Davenport and Alberta.
2. Toronto Public Library - Wychwood Branch
The Toronto Public Library system is, with ninety-nine branches, the single largest public library system in North America, and it counts within those numbers more than a few members of Toronto's historical building inventory. The Wychwood branch, on Bathurst Street just south of St. Clair Avenue West, was built as a Carnegie library nearly a century ago and still retains the architectural charm of the period. The appearance of the Wychwood branch is the minor of the TPL's two substantial appearances in Scott Pilgrim - it's really significant only because this is the first place where Scott encounters Ramona Flowers outside of subspace. I have never been inside it myself - all the times I've been in that area were times it was closed - so I can't say if it would also remind me of grade school. Considering I attended grade school in 19th century buildings, though, I'd say there's a distinct possibility.
HOW TO GET THERE: From St. Clair West station, either walk or take the 512 St. Clair streetcar one stop west to Bathurst. Alternatively, the 7 Bathurst bus goes directly past the library.
3. The Rockit
This was, to be perfectly honest, the only spot on my list that I couldn't actually find. Google Maps told me that it was on Church Street around Richmond, which isn't an area I have an encyclopedic familiarity with, and so we spent ten or twenty minutes wandering in guttering sunlight with no real sucess. It sucked, too, as the Rockit is the site of Volume 1's climax. Later on I found out that the place doesn't, technically, exist anymore. In O'Malley's words, the place was "cramped, ugly and terrible" so I'm not sure if that's a bad thing or not.
It's also significant - sort of - in that the Rockit is one of the southernmost points of interest so far included in Scott Pilgrim. When I said that the series is Toronto-centric, I mean pre-amalgamation Toronto - as of the end of Volume 5, I don't think anything has taken place north of St. Clair, west of Lansdowne, or, apart from a spot in the Beaches, south of Queen. This may change slightly in Volume 6, depending what's on the plan - personally, I hope it will end in an epic swordfight on top of the CN Tower during a lightning storm. Because that would be TOTALLY AWESOME.
HOW TO GET THERE: Purchase a DeLorean DMC-12, install flux capacitor, and accelerate to 88 miles per hour.
Vol. 2: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
4. Bloor and Bathurst
The first volume of Scott Pilgrim came out in 2004, and thanks to six years of gradual development, construction, and rejiggering, it doesn't exactly reflect Toronto anymore. While total disappearances like the Rockit's are rare, slight differences can be just as jarring. The big sign above the second floor of Insomnia - "THE INTERNET IS A STRANGE PLACE - DON'T SURF ALONE" was removed only recently, and the original payphone booths have since been replaced with more modern, open models.
HOW TO GET THERE: Take the Bloor-Danforth subway line to Bathurst station.
5. Second Cup
Apparently this particular Second Cup franchise is in the books because it was conveniently close to O'Malley's apartment at the time he was putting things together - that's what I glean from his comments on the National Post's locations map, at least. It reinforced the series' narrow geographic focus to me - it's practically right around the corner from the Wychwood library branch, about a two minute walk, and is not particularly far from Alberta Avenue either. There wasn't really anything to distinguish it from any other Second Cup, though I don't think they sell totallyawesomechinos. I don't have any photographs of the inside, because really, that'd just be weird, taking photos like that. And I might have been asked to leave.
HOW TO GET THERE: Walk or take the 512 St. Clair streetcar to Bathurst from St. Clair West station.
6. The Baldwin Steps
Thirteen thousand years ago, Toronto was underwater - or, at least, downtown Toronto was. Davenport Road deviates from the general street grid of the city because it follows the route of an old native trail, and that trail followed level ground along the ancient shoreline of Lake Iroquois, the Ice Age predecessor of Lake Ontario. Today, the Baldwin Steps link Davenport Road with the top of the ridge, a spot that might have been a most excellent Ice Age beach, but since you already used your time machine to check out Rockit I don't think you have the plutonium to spare. They're particularly fun to climb, particularly if you're carrying a bicycle up with you. I most absolutely do not recommend trying to skateboard down the handrails - it's impossible. I hear people still leave flowers for Lucas Lee there.
HOW TO GET THERE: The 127 Davenport bus from Spadina station goes right past them.
7. Casa Loma
Yes, Toronto has a castle. Kneel. This was never the residence of royalty, but was built in the early twentieth century by Sir Henry Pellatt as a house to beat all houses. After nearly being demolished in the 1930s when Pellatt couldn't afford to pay his taxes, it's now a museum and one of the grandest remnants of historic Toronto. It shows up frequently in film and television, the inside more than the outside. When I was there in October, parts of it were surrounded by scaffolding for maintenance, presumably to repair the damage from when Lucas Lee threw Scott Pilgrim into the side of it.
HOW TO GET THERE: Climb the Baldwin Steps.
8. The Toronto Reference Library
I cannot begin to count the number of times this place saved my ass during high school and university. From picking through old microfilms for an OAC Law class to making the best of the discovery that the University of Toronto does not allow non-U of T students into the stacks at Robarts Library (why yes, I am still bitter), what may be the largest publicly-accessible library in Toronto has a great deal going for it. With its transparent elevators, sprawling atrium and six floors of print-and-bound goodness, it almost seems like a cross between a government building and a spaceport terminal. "Total science fiction," indeed.
Credit goes to Mad5l5in5 for this photograph of the corporate art, which actually exists and probably would be good to use in a fight. The Toronto Reference Library requires photographers to sign authorization forms to take pictures within, and, well, she'd already filled one out.
HOW TO GET THERE: Take the Bloor-Danforth or Yonge-University-Spadina subway lines to Bloor-Yonge station.
9. The Gilded Palace of Flying Burritos
I never had a chance to visit this restaurant - no matter how much I would like to try that excellent nouveau Mexican cuisine, it was shut down while I was still at university in Peterborough. I can't even go back to where it was anymore - the building that housed it burned down in the Queen West fire two years ago. All that's left there now is an empty field of debris that will, it seems, soon be replaced by yet another condominium development.
HOW TO GET THERE: Take the 501 Queen streetcar to Bathurst Street or the 511 Bathurst streetcar to Queen Street West.
10. Lee's Palace
I am not a nightclub guy. I have, in fact, been to exactly one in my life - the Trasheteria in Peterborough, and even then I nearly fell asleep on my fleet. So I can't really tell you much about what Lee's Palace is like, except that I understand it is somewhat popular, and that Edgar Wright actually built a set of the interior for the filming of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I mostly knew it because of its eye-catching exterior, a colorful and active mural that always looked like it was channeling an Aztec style to me. This is, regrettably, another one of those places where Toronto has moved on - while Lee's Palace still exists, the iconic mural has been removed so that a Big Fat Burrito can move in. There'll be a new mural soon enough, by the creator of the original - but it won't be the same.
HOW TO GET THERE: Take the Bloor-Danforth subway line to Bathurst station and walk east.
Vol. 3: Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness
11. Honest Ed's
This truly is a place of existential horror and incredible deals. Dominating the southwest corner of Bloor and Bathurst, Honest Ed's is the ultimate expression of the old-time department store, dominated by rows and rows of merchandise, filled with stuff unto eternity. From the incredibly ostentatious signage outside to the hand-painted signs inside, it's a callback to an entirely different era - before big-box stores came to prominence. I encountered the van covered with bugs at this same intersection, just after I took the picture above - I refuse to believe that it's a coincidence. The weirdness just dovetails so nicely.
And somehow, that creepy cuckoo clock with the deer head on top is even more creepy in reality.
HOW TO GET THERE: Walk west from Lee's Palace.
12. Dundas Square
Twenty years ago, it was a bunch of low-rent, slightly skeezy stores. Now it's supposed to be Toronto's answer to Times Square. A privately-managed public space under the shadows of the Eaton Centre and 10 Dundas East, this five-sided space provides people a place to eat lunch on warm days, rally against government excesses on cold days, and plenty of things in between. As far as I know the adjacent advertising tower isn't publicly accessible, but that didn't stop Knives Chau from getting to the top of it - or, for that matter, the climax of a first-season Flashpoint episode.
HOW TO GET THERE: Take the Yonge-University-Spadina subway line to Dundas station.
Vol. 4: Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together
13. The Beaches
Well east of downtown, towards the old border between Toronto and Scarborough, there's a neighborhood that could never agree on what to call itself - whether it was the Beach or the Beaches. A recent election on what to put on the new street signs gave a slim majority support to "The Beach," but both remain acceptable - and honestly, I prefer "Beaches," because there's more than one of them. As they're easily accessible, they become magnets for activity during the warm months. During one of my eastbound bike rides along the Martin Goodman Trail, it was certainly my experience that as soon as I started hitting the beaches past Ashbridges Bay, I could barely maintain a speed sufficient to keep the bike balanced because of the crowds of walking people on the bike lane. If you really want to realize the Pilgrim experience, demand the Lick's Burger at 1960 Queen Street East - the only location even close to the Beaches.
HOW TO GET THERE: Take the 501 Queen streetcar to Woodbine Avenue.
14. Dufferin Mall
I'll agree that this was not a particularly exciting mall - at least, not until the Giant Inflatable Colon came to town. Despite that, aside from containing one of the few Wal-Marts in central Toronto, it got my attention because it's one of those places I'm particularly familiar with; it's easy to get to via the Dufferin bus. Plus, it means that if I want to pick up something from a mall-type store, I don't have to truck my ass all the way downtown. Four lousy kilometers...
HOW TO GET THERE: From Dufferin station on the Bloor-Danforth subway line, walk or take the 29 Dufferin bus south.
15. Sneaky Dee's
Sure, the Gilded Palace of Flying Burritos and its excellent nouveau Mexican cuisine may be gone, but we still have Sneaky Dee's and its awesome tex-mexy stylings to help sate Toronto's appetites. The first time I was there, I had the king nachos, and they were awesome nachos. More than good enough to go back for. The graffiti that absolutely covered the walls of the men's bathroom only improved its standing in my book. Its depiction in the series is almost entirely true to life - the only points I take away are on the pixel art of it on the back of Volume 4, and that only because the artist missed the streetcar tracks on Bathurst.
HOW TO GET THERE: Take the 506 Carlton streetcar to Bathurst Street, or the 511 Bathurst streetcar to College Street.
16. CLRV 4185
This is not, technically speaking, a location. It is in fact a Toronto Transit Commission streetcar, one of one hundred and ninety-five Canadian Light Rail Vehicles in service, and is the sort of thing I ride to work and back every Monday to Friday. Considering that it is a mobile thing, and that its position is unpredictable by those who lack privileged access to Transit Control, #4185 wasn't something I could just track down. It wasn't until two months after the rest of the tour that I encountered it - Christmas Eve, to be specific.
Its place in the series is minor, and perhaps not even significant, but awesome - #4185 is the streetcar that Knives' dad slices in half. With a katana.
HOW TO GET THERE: Wander along the streetcar lines. Maybe, eventually, if you're lucky, you'll find it.
Vol. 5: Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe
17. Construction Site, Queen and Bathurst
A few steps away from the former site of the Gilded Palace of Flying Burritos, in reality this is one of the locations of St. Christopher House, a local community center and meeting place. Things are usually pretty busy around it - totally in opposition, it seems, to the way it's portrayed in Vol. 5. Based on the hints left in there, I wouldn't be surprised to see this location reappear in Vol. 6. I see it fairly frequently, if only because it's on the same block as Bakka-Phoenix.
HOW TO GET THERE: Take the 511 Bathurst streetcar to Queen Street West, or the 501 Queen streetcar to Bathurst Street.
18. The Toronto Coach Terminal
If life was really like a video game, the Toronto Coach Terminal wouldn't exist for me, per se. Instead, whenever I entered it, a brief cinematic would play to cover the loading screen, and I would respawn in Peterborough thirteen dollars poorer. Buses leave from here and go all over, to places as nearby as Cambridge to those as distant as New York or Vancouver - if you're not going to fly or ride the rails and don't have wheels of your own, this is the best way you have to get out of the city. It was opened in 1931, and thankfully the architectural stylings of the time haven't been covered up. It's also the northernmost extent of the underground PATH walkway system - from here, with about ten meters' worth of exceptions, you can walk to the CN Tower without going outside at all.
HOW TO GET THERE: Take the Yonge-University-Spadina subway line to Dundas station or St. Patrick station, or take the 505 Dundas streetcar to Bay Street.
Vol. 6: Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour
The wait is over!
So that's it. Your Scott Pilgrim phototour. It took me five hours to put this post together, so I blasted well hope you think it's rad.
Previously Booked Tours: