A Look Back at This Ain’t the Rosedale Library

A Look Back at This Ain’t the Rosedale Library

(Photographs by Elizabeth Mitchell and Andrew Louis/Torontoist)

The plight of the indie bookstore continues with the upsetting loss of Toronto institution This Ain’t the Rosedale Library. Throughout its 30-year existence, the shop served as a hip beacon of readerly love, providing a home to Canadian authors, a massive offering of contemporary poetry and small press publications, and an immaculately curated collection of works that covered niches from underground culture to kid lit. While we mourn its loss, we also celebrate its shining tenure as one of the city’s—hell, the planet’s—best independent bookstores.

1979: This Ain’t the Rosedale Library is founded by American expat Charlie Huisken on Queen Street East, following Huisken’s stint as a book monger at Book Cellar, an indie book shop located in a clinging-to-countercultural Yorkville. As its tongue-in-cheek names suggests, the bookstore immediately makes a mark as an alt-culture oasis.

1981: Huisken’s friend Dan Bazuin joins Huisken as business partner. This partnership will last for the next 27 years.

1986: Gord Ames joins as a third business partner, and This Ain’t moves to Church Street, where it will remain a prominent fixture for over two decades. It’s here that the bookstore cultivates its reputation as the place to encounter literary rarities and rub elbows with such iconoclasts as Hunter S. Thompson and William S. Burroughs, who are among the shop’s many distinguished visitors.

1994: Ames departs from his position as business partner, but remains a friend of the store.

2005: The Guardian‘s Jeremy Mercer names This Ain’t as Canada’s best independent bookstore, and one of the top ten bookstores in the world. The newspaper credits This Ain’t with being a model of indie bookstore survival, citing the store’s approach—building a community around the store and providing insight and inspiration for its customers—as being key to its longevity.

2008: Facing the increasingly caviar tastes of their Church and Wellesley neighbourhood, the book rebels at This Ain’t pack up and move west for the third time, finding a new home in Kensington Market. It’s around this time that Huisken’s son, Jesse, joins the ranks as his father’s business partner. Bazuin remains in the picture as Partner Emeritus and continues to remain visible at the store’s many literary events.

2009: Authors at Harbourfront Centre throws This Ain’t a 30th-birthday bash. In true This Ain’t fashion, the event features a plethora of local author readings.

2010: In June, the bookstore suddenly closes due to what the Huiskens describe in two blog posts as part of “a long story about the plight of bookstores in Toronto and in many North American cities,” a consequence of the recession, big-box competitors, and the “predatory pricing of Amazon”—that, and the landlord changes the locks. In a blog post that was initially deleted shortly after it was published, and then put back online once more, Jesse and Charlie write that “we have to accept that the store has no future at this location…. Our only hope is to imagine that the store may reemerge in the long-term.” On July 5, a reading outside the bookstore becomes a bittersweet sendoff to one of Toronto’s literary cornerstones—perhaps forever, or perhaps just for now.

—Kelli Korducki