The buds on the trees had bloomed enough to rustle. Summer would break in three weeks time. A waft of cinnamon rolls punched the air at Eglinton Station, meaning the eminent damnation of diets. Next to me on the subway was a fellow with a grease-stained cardigan. Poutine mishap. I passed through the revolving door of the Toronto Reference Library and climbed to the fifth floor, which felt like 10 stories since each floor was actually two stories high. I reached the opposite end of the building and inhaled the perfection. This is the place.
For fans of detective fiction, the Reference Library's Arthur Conan Doyle Collection is the holiest of grounds. It opened in 1971 and contains roughly 13,000 items, including books, manuscripts, movies, posters, beer steins, postage stamps and teddy bears.
“It's one of the largest collections of its kind in the world,” said Peggy Perdue, the collection’s curator and one of two full-time Conan Doyle librarians in existence.
The majority of the collection is devoted to Conan Doyle’s most famous character, Sherlock Holmes, but it’s also known for its immense inventory of Conan Doyle’s life and work. It even features hundreds of books about Conan Doyle and Sherlock written by other authors, including Stephen King and William Shatner. Among its more colorful Sherlock materials are cookbooks (with such recipes as 1894 London Broil, Lancashire Hot Pot, Devils on Horseback and Killer Evans Kabobs), comic books, graphic novels, tales from outer space, children’s stories, adult-themed content and guides to modern adaptations. I’m a big fan of the BBC series Sherlock and casually mentioned my Benedict Cumberbatch crush to Perdue. “You’re going to have to stand in a long line for him,” she giggled.
“The collection and the people who use it continually surprise me,” Perdue said. “One would think that things might get a little monotonous after nearly 10 years of dealing with a collection on one subject. However just as soon as you think you've seen every possible side of Sherlock and his creator, someone comes up with something entirely different.”
For those who are new to Sherlock, Perdue suggests reading Conan Doyle’s short stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. She recommends the Brigadier Gerard or Professor Challenger stories for those who’d like to explore Conan Doyle beyond Sherlock.
The collection contains some very impressive and rare pieces, including several first editions, but Perdue has a few dream acquisitions.
“I'd love to have a page from the manuscript for The Hound of the Baskervilles,” she said. “The manuscript was divided up for distribution as part of a publicity campaign when the story was first published in 1902. An individual page occasionally comes available on the market. Ideally, of course, I'd like the page that mentions Toronto.”
Tomorrow, the collection will display an intriguing mix of materials related to Conan Doyle's interest in Spiritualism in honor of Doors Open Toronto. Click here to learn about other events hosted by the collection.
“I honestly think there's something in this strange and wonderful collection for everyone,” said Perdue. “In the words of Sherlock Holmes, ‘Come at once if convenient, if inconvenient come all the same.’”