As a professor of mine once noted while mentally mapping out U of T’s campus, “real life starts after Spadina.” He was no doubt referring to the University of Toronto bubble, a place of great comfort for many students. But when the semester’s workload nears its plateau, it’s easy to become resentful of the grey campus grounds. Snow and rain showers in February make the days bleak, and recent passing ‘holidays’ like Valentine’s Day, followed closely by Family Day, only serve to scorn lonely and morose students getting by with just caffeine and conveniently located food trucks. A number of shifting conditions can affect how you feel any given day, but when students start camping out to secure study space, chance opportunities for solitude become a source of great sweetness. Here are some places around and in the perimeters of U of T that can aid you in the de-cluttering process and give you a chance to catch your breath.
The long stretch of pavement along St. George can make U of T feel like a stifling high school, especially when you focus on the sterile study spaces and unappealing cafeterias that students frequent in between lecture slots. The two main exit points of St. George are Beverley Street, where you’re faced with rows of nameless two and three-storey brick houses, and Bloor Street. The Annex offers few surprises to seasoned students, and further east along Bloor the only notable feature relatable to campus life is the student discount at Club Monaco.
When you inevitably find yourself in need of a 15 minute break between scatterings of classes along this campus hub, the Woodsworth Residence lobby, right at the corner of Bloor and St. George, is a substantial step up from a typical, far busier college lounge. The residence lobby is small, but it never fails to act as a refuge for students in need of a quick recharge. While the lobby’s choice in furniture is clearly a failed attempt at modern design — think large red leather chairs and awkward, short black coffee tables — the chairs are appropriately sized for naps and so comfortable that you can’t write them off completely. There are also well-maintained washrooms in the lobby that are open to all students, and they are never subject to line-ups.
Innis College has a few prime relaxation spots. If you’re on a mission to get some brain food and don’t want to spend all your money at Fresh, the Innis College Café has amazing lentil soup and mixed salad specials, as well as their renowned chicken kabob, which will rival your mother’s home cooking. I’ve passed the Innis Lounge on my way to the Cinema Studies Student Union office enough to know it’s not on the average U of T student’s radar. Long couches, bean bag chairs, a TV, and a foosball table add up your third place between campus and your home. And if you need some fresh air, the casual Innis quad has a large expanse of grass and picnic tables bordering its garden.
As a film student accustomed to constantly running into classmates on the thirteenth floor of Robarts Library (home to most of U of T’s film books), I’ve found that venturing off into sections of campus devoted to programs other than my own offers a nice change of pace. One such destination is the Shore + Moffat Architecture Landscape and Design Library located at College and Huron. The interior of this library is defined by endless white walls, low ceilings, and large glass windows that showcase the city. If you choose to soak up warm sunlight from the floor-to-ceiling windows, your direct eyeline will fall on the New York-style fire escape of an apartment building directly across the street; and if American television is anything to go by, this little setup will prove very fruitful in entertainment value. The Shore + Moffat Library feels like a miniature version of Pratt Library, but it’s much less frequented by the general student body.
Another adaptable study space is the atrium in the Royal Conservatory of Music. U of T’s Internet signal is unreachable from this spot, but I like to think of that as a blessing for students suffering from information overload who can’t seem to focus on required readings or looming papers. There is also great coffee to be had from the atrium’s B Espresso Bar, an establishment with some of the finest lattes I’ve had near U of T. The low lighting in the evenings gives the Conservatory a very relaxing atmosphere, and I’ve found it great for everything from studying, to meet-ups and interviews. There is always a buzz of energy from the young music students and faculty in the building to keep you company, but it’s never so invasive that it becomes a source of distraction.
Back on campus, Trinity College’s Graham Library really reminds you of just how long U of T has been around. It maintains that distinctive old book smell which I encourage everyone to inhale each visit as an act of meditation. The spacious wooden desks and sepia-toned lighting are comforting, and you can always retire to the second floor to enjoy single couches grouped together with a fireplace.
One of my most vivid memories at U of T is of a terrifying first-year political science exam I endured at 8 am. I jittered all the way into the large exam room where my ta wished me good luck, and was still nervous as I stumbled outside the building two hours later. The light was still dim outside, and only a few students were around me, all caught up in their own thought processes. My trek home unexpectedly led me between Trinity and the Faculty of Law, through Philosopher’s Walk for the very first time. The ancient trees, lush greenery, and cobble stone pathways slowly melted away the solemn lines on my face and my internal feelings of deficiency in a way that my little mind tricks during the exam had been unable to. Philosopher’s Walk is always a treat to experience, and if you want to avoid the occasional passerby, you can easily find yourself a resting spot a bit out of the way.
The neo-Gothic University College quad is often more crowded than Philosopher’s Walk, but evokes a similar feeling. The sunken courtyard creates an enclosed utopia fo r students to playfully mingle. There always seems to be a good mix of students who are socializing and deeply engrossed in dense texts. The colonnade is great for students who want to pace in quiet contemplation, or take shelter for a few minutes under beautiful architecture. If it’s too cold, you can always step into University College’s Junior Common Room (jcr) and grab a coffee from the friendly baristas at Diabolo’s Coffee Bar. Though occasionally boisterous, the jcr is still a great spot to sink into a leather couch and soak up the atmosphere.
Your ideas and emotions take on a different light and agency depending on who you share them with and where you are, so next time you and a friend are strapped for conversation and time, consider using these treasured spaces as locations to relax, ponder, or maybe discuss any internalized dilemmas.