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Author Ausma Zehanat Khan talks Toronto, plus she chooses 5 great books set in the city
3rd August 2018
The Language of Secrets takes place in three main locations, all of which are personal favourites of mine: the city of Toronto, the town of Unionville (the founding of the village of Unionville pre-dates Canada’s Confederation), and Algonquin Park, Canada’s oldest provincial park.
Stop and visit the town of Hunstville
The route to Huntsville provides a pivotal clue in The Language of Secrets. And it’s not far out of Huntsville, that the body of murder victim, Mohsin Dar is found. Two hours north of Toronto and immensely picturesque, Huntsville is the gateway to Algonquin Provincial Park. In the heart of Muskoka, Ontario, Hunstville is poised at the edge of the Canadian Shield. It has a charming public library, one of my favourite things about any place I visit, but it also has live entertainment at the Algonquin Theatre and for those interested in the history of the region, there’s Muskoka Heritage Place and Pioneer Village. Not to mention, plenty of scenic spots to swim, fish, or simply walk along the water and enjoy the public parks.
Algonquin Park and Algonquin Visitor Centre
To learn more about the old growth forest and the system of lakes at the heart of Algonquin Park, a visit to the Algonquin Visitor Centre can be eye-opening. The Visitor Centre opened in 1993 to celebrate the park’s 100thanniversary. Not only will you find a very worthy bookstore and restaurant here, there’s also a viewing deck that allows for breathtaking views of Algonquin’s lakes and forests. Gloriously blue and green in summer, in the fall, the park is awash in the blazing reds and golds of Ontario’s ravishing sugar maples. Meanwhile, winter in the park feels like you’re at the edge of a world of snow and crackling ice, as Rachel discovers to her peril in The Language of Secrets. And hiking, camping and canoeing are three of the park’s most popular activities, staples of a childhood in Ontario, as Rachel reminisces freely throughout the book. During my own childhood, we drove deep into the park to encounter a playful trio of bear cubs.
The Old Firehall Confectionery in Unionville
To get undercover at the mosque at the centre of their investigation, Rachel and Esa get familiar with the haunts of old Unionville. One of these is the Unionville Arms pub where a much-needed hot chocolate allows Rachel to fortify herself against the Canadian winter. The other is the Old Firehall Confectionery, where Rachel buys treats to give to the congregation at the mosque. I invented a few things on the menu at the Old Firehall, but Rachel’s love of this confectionery is honestly derived from my own. For a time I lived on the outskirts of Unionville, and its main street was my favourite place to roam. Strolling around its leafy streets, one encounters the planing mill, an art gallery, the town gazebo, and a dozen or more charming eateries and boutiques. Out of all of these, the red tower of the Old Firehall Confectionery looms large. Inside, you’ll find a plethora of Kawartha ice cream flavors, as well as a deliciously decadent soft-serve. It gives the Cornish whippy a run for its money, though I freely confess you won’t be able to help yourself to scones. Scones may not be on the menu, but there is plenty of maple walnut fudge just waiting to be savored.
Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto
Nathan Phillips Square is at the heart of the city of Toronto. It attracts more than 1.5 million visitors a year, and is famous for its skating rink, the TORONTO sign, the location of City Hall, and its new year’s celebrations. I’ve skated here often, so it seemed only natural that somewhere in her history, Rachel would do so, also. Plus, Community Policing’s fictional headquarters are in the downtown core of Toronto, not too far from Nathan Phillips. Food trucks line the street across from the square, hotels abound nearby, and concerts and local events are held at the square year-round. As The Language of Secrets takes place during a freezing Canadian winter, it might be encouraging to know that activities at the square actually kick up in winter. There’s a holiday fair and a cavalcade of lights, both of which help bring the city alive at a time when we would otherwise be burrowing inside our houses with a good book.
Ausma’s personal 5 great books set in or around TORONTO
Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin
Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam
Consolation by Michael Redhill
Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
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