Read Cabbagetown by Hugh Garner Online


Had Hugh MacLennan been an anarcho-syndicalist and a D.H. Lawrence devotee, he might have written books like Cabbagetown, a voluminous tale of depression-era Canada that's arguably Hugh Garner's finest novel. First published in a bowdlerized edition in 1950, Cabbagetown is one of the few Canadian novels published before 1960 that is genuinely frank about sex and politics,Had Hugh MacLennan been an anarcho-syndicalist and a D.H. Lawrence devotee, he might have written books like Cabbagetown, a voluminous tale of depression-era Canada that's arguably Hugh Garner's finest novel. First published in a bowdlerized edition in 1950, Cabbagetown is one of the few Canadian novels published before 1960 that is genuinely frank about sex and politics, and as a result, it's one of the few literary artifacts of its time to dismantle the myth of Toronto the Good. Set in Toronto's east-end Cabbagetown neighbourhood ("the largest Anglo-Saxon slum in North America," not the comfortable middle-class enclave it has since become), Garner's novel begins on the eve of the Great Depression, with his teenage characters leaving school, finding paltry jobs, and attending half-innocent kissing parties at their more privileged friends' homes. The effects of the stock market collapse slowly begin to crush Cabbagetown's paltry economy, and Garner's characters--the earnestly struggling Ken Tilling and the sometime love of his life Myrla Patson most prominent among them--do what they can to survive. Some turn to crime, prostitution, or wage slavery and others ride the rails, while one cynical social climber becomes a crypto-fascist and government clerk. Cabbagetown is chiefly notable as an alternative social history of Toronto. There's nothing puritanical about Garner's novel; in this Old Ontario, people cruise for sex in city parks, drink themselves to death, and lie, cheat, cuss, and steal for all they're worth. It's also an Ontario rife with political struggle: in one of the novel's most disturbing scenes, a gang of fascist youths attacks a party of picnicking Jews at Cherry Beach; later, Ken Tilling finds his way into the Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. As literary art, Cabbagetown is decidedly second-tier. Readers who have yet to read Norman Levine's (By a Frozen River or Canada Made Me) shouldn't turn to Garner just yet. Nonetheless, its brutal honesty makes it a consistently rewarding novel, and far more than a mere historical curiosity. --Jack Illingworth...

Title : Cabbagetown
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780070915527
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 415 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Cabbagetown Reviews

  • Joseph Levesque
    2019-04-27 00:20

    Many facets of this book are just wonderful -- and I'm so glad I read it -- but man, is it depressing! Perhaps it is redundant to state that a book about a Toronto slum during the Depression is "depressing". As such, it is a fantastic representation of the era and the struggles of the time. My continued hope that things would turn around for the protagonists proved fruitless; however, I couldn't put the book down. I loved experiencing all the locales I frequent on a daily basis in a historical setting: Queen's Park, Bloor St, the ROM, University Ave, Allan Gardens to name a few. Despite it being fiction, I found myself connecting to the city, the era, the Depression. As a result, I feel much closer to Toronto.

  • Dianne
    2019-05-08 16:32

    One of my favourite Canadian authors, and he knows whereof he speaks. Fiction but partly autobiographical. Cabbagetown was a Toronto slum during the depression. Garner grew up there, and spent time riding the rails across both Canada and the US, serving in the Spanish Civil War, and serving in a Canadian Navy Corvette escorting convoys across the Atlantic during WWII before becoming an author so successful he could support himself by writing (a real feat for a Canadian in the 1950's). I hadn't read this in about 40 years, so came to it fresh and enjoyed it more than before.

  • Linda Dow
    2019-04-29 20:26

    Fantastic coming of age story. A well organized and beautifully written, if tragic, example of modernist realism. It can be a bit of a challenge to keep track of all of the characters at the beginning, but it's worth the effort. Particularly noteworthy: the examination of how our communities shape our identities, the politics of power and the question of whether Ken is a hero or anti-hero.

  • Jayme
    2019-04-27 00:21

    Unbelievably, I actually truly enjoyed this book. Instead of being a boring historical read, I was actually caught up in the lives of a handful of people living in Cabbagetown at the time of the depression.

  • Bruce
    2019-05-12 16:17

    Heart touching story of Cabbagetown, Toronto, during the depression. Shows the lives of a group of friends as they deal with their world day to day.Always thought it would make a great Sullivan movie or miniseries.I've re-read it a dozen times over the years. Highly recommend it.

  • Desi Valentine
    2019-05-18 20:38

    This is just such a good book! It was obliquely referenced in one of my textbooks, and I am so grateful I picked it up. It represents how astoundingly good comtemporary Canadian fiction can be.

  • Patrick
    2019-05-08 19:18

    Ending felt a bit off... the beginning and middle were what felt like real and raw stories of coming of age in the Depression.

  • Peter Bridgford
    2019-05-15 21:36

    I picked this book up to research life in early 20th Century Canada and read their linguistic patterns, but I found myself in the midst of a great book. Although some have described this book as Canada's Grapes of Wrath, the story has its own merits. I found myself liking Garner's characters so much, that I was flipping the pages to find out what happened to them. I associated with the search for some answers that the main character, Ken Tilling, was doing in this story, and the relevance of the tale to our modern day world was chilling at times. I am looking forward to reading some more Hugh Garner in the future!

  • Shane
    2019-05-09 16:33

    A rambling story of the Depression era in a low income part of Toronto, Cabbagetown, a neighbourhood that is only now finding its feet in the renaissance of mega construction and renovation going on in Canada’s largest city.I was drawn to this story as I am an occasional resident of the Old Cabbagetown described in this novel, an area that became a bigger eyesore when it turned into Regent Park in the 1950’s, and has only now turned the corner thanks to a huge revitalization project, while the moniker of Cabbagetown has been conferred on the ritzier part north of the original cabbage patch.The central character in this story is Cabbagetown, the neighbourhood the author grew up in and which he captures vividly with its sights, smells, conflicts, grinding poverty and jobless hopelessness in the period between 1929 and 1937. The denizens of this unhappy time and place are broken down into those who fall prey to the Depression and those who ride it and escape. Ken Tilling, a proxy for the author himself, is one who lives by his own rules, rebelling against bosses, grabbing odd jobs, stealing, riding the rails all over North America to find work, a man no better or worse off from when we are introduced to him to when we leave him, but a survivor nonetheless. His love, Myrla, is the one with higher aspirations, who has them dashed by older men she pursues for money, and who ends up a prostitute. There is the bookish Theodor, who becomes a fascist (Hitler was popular at the time) and escapes his ghetto by joining powerful capitalist friends, and marrying rich. And there is Ken’s mother Mabel who sinks into alcoholism, McIsaac the defiant thief, and Billy Addington trapped in a chocolate factory, all who succumb to the grind of the collapsing economy; the Depression creeps in like a fog, and very soon there is no light at the end of any tunnel. Winners and Losers, Cabbagetown produces them all.The prejudices of this society are comical. Cabbagetowners considered foreigners dirty, when in fact they were the dirt-poor English, Scottish and Irish who lived on welfare and were considered the dirtiest of all! And despite being jobless for months on end, they have the temerity to smoke and gamble on their welfare money, and cheat by not reporting income when they get the odd casual, temporary job. Anti-Semitism was rife in the Toronto of the 1930’s because the Jews (the earliest “foreigners”) controlled many business enterprises by this time. Words like “sheeney” and “kike” are bandied around along with other vernacular words such as “scissorbills,” “mossbacks,” “hunkies,” and “dogans.”With the absence of the Don Valley Parkway that now severs Cabbagetown from Broadview, the large park and pedestrian bridge across the Don River that bound these two neighbourhoods become the hangouts for the jobless, the lovers, and the voyeurs with dogs (called Spotters). There is even a scene in the now defunct Don Jail on the top of the hill, but it was so perfunctory, that I wondered whether the author had ever been inside.I was enjoying this brooding, slow paced but intense human drama until Ken decides that he needs to up and leave to fight in the Spanish Civil War, partly to escape the misery of Cabbagetown and partly to fight against Capitalism and all its ills that had brought such misery to his community. The Communist Party sponsors disenfranchised recruits like him from all over the world and sends them to Spain to enlist with the left-leaning Republicans against Franco’s fascist Nationalists. I guess this digression was needed to record the author’s own escape to Spain to fight in this war, but it left me conflicted for we know how that war ended: Franco won and ruled Spain for another 36 years, so Ken, for all his bravado, ended up on the wrong side of history and no better off than Mabel and his buddies McIsaac and Billy. He probably just died with his boots on - but we never find out, for this section is a rushed addition to the novel, an open-ended afterthought. This conclusion, that a war of rebellion is the only solution to the Depression (well, WWII certainly proved that) and that political causes such as Communism sponsor recruits to sacrifice their lives, is eerily reminiscent today as ISIS recruits candidates from all over the world to go to the Middle East to fight for its cause. In the last 100 years we don’t seem to have grown much! Somehow I wished Garner had stayed true to the Cabbagetowners prejudice and not strayed to foreign parts in this novel, and instead found whatever redemption there was to be had at home.

  • Adam Dunn
    2019-04-24 19:38

    "With the spring Cabbagetown came outdoors again, and the streets were alive in the evenings with the noise of children. The little girls began their skipping, afraid as yet to do Double Dutches or Salt, Vinegar, Peppers, content to start again with the old single slow-moving ropes."So begins the book. The story is written well, if very plainly. The cover suggests this to be Canada's version of The Grapes of Wrath, and it's not, but I found it similar to Brooklyn. A simply told story that adds layers as it goes and builds into a simply told book.There's a lot of Toronto of old in here and it's worth while for anyone with interest in the city, from the milkman driving his horse to the factories along the Don River the book is a great history of the city.Some have called the book depressing and other than a few specific events I would disagree. My great-grandmother was 13th of 14 children and didn't get store bought toys when she was growing up but it didn't lead to a necessarily unhappy life and there are many instances of people pulling through and being stronger in this book, mostly in the life of the narrator himself.The book goes off track at the very end with too much about the politics of the time and the war in Spain, and ends quite abruptly. Still a great journey through time and a book I'd recommend.

  • Rosie Shephard
    2019-04-24 19:33

    This was a very moving and historical book centered on the lives of a few children growing up in Cabbagetown, Toronto during the Great Depression.Kenneth Tilling and Myrla Patson are the two main characters who face the troubles and hardships of growing up in poverty. Since he was small, Ken lived alone with his alcoholic mother. He quits school at 16 and tries to earn enough money to sustain his family. He meets Myrla at her birthday party and is smitten by her beauty. They both go their separate ways and eventually meet up years later when Ken is employed and Myrla has a secret.I really enjoyed the writing style in this book as well as the historical fiction. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys romance and historical fiction.

  • Irene
    2019-04-26 20:12

    Good Read about that section of Toronto during the Depression. My Mom & Dad grew up, one in Cabbagetown and one in the better parts. It reminds me of some of the stories. Everyone should know how things were in the Depression, It can come again.

  • Benjamin Kahn
    2019-05-14 19:20

    I enjoyed this book - it helps that I live in Toronto, where it's set. The writing wasn't great, but you do care about the characters and it's very evocative of the period that it's set in. Worth a read, especially if you know Toronto.

  • Leah T
    2019-05-01 20:24

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Well-written, non-judgemental and surprisingly progressive, seeing as it was written in the 50s.

  • Eleanor
    2019-05-13 18:20

    Interesting to read about the depression.

  • Charlie David
    2019-05-18 18:19

    Great insight into a beautiful neighborhood in Toronto that wasn't always as desirous as it is today.