Readers’ Choice 2021: The best art, galleries and literary events

Caps Caribana 1971 Joan Latchford
Courtesy of Cardinal Gallery

This city’s arts and literary scenes are emerging from the pandemic. One of the most notable shifts: a greater focus on public art. For our 26th annual readers’ poll, we’ve added categories for the best art shows – in a gallery and in public – as well as best book publisher.

Best Art Show

Love Isn’t Limited by Joan Latchford, Cardinal Gallery

Ex-nun, poet, teacher, draft-dodger supporter and photojournalist Joan Latchford’s stunning and affectionate black-and-white images of Toronto life in the 60s and 70s have drawn comparisons to Vivian Maier. Following her death in 2017, Latchford’s estate entrusted thousands of never-before-seen negatives to upstart Cardinal Gallery, which exhibited the work in November 2020. At a time when people are revisiting Toronto’s past through archival images on Instagram, Love Isn’t Limited gave us a perspective on decades past that we rarely see. The gallery is planning future shows devoted to Latchford’s photos from Caribana and the Mariposa Folk Festival.

1231 Davenport,


Queen West Art Crawl

Best Book Publisher

Coach House Books

The long-running small press continues to be a go-to for beautifully designed limited releases, with an emphasis on Toronto-centric non-fiction, experimental fiction, poetry and, in the cases of André Alexis’s recent romance novel Ring, “non-classifiable” works. Highlights from the past year of releases include Perry King’s Rebound, about the importance of community sports; Daphné B.’s exploration of YouTube consumerism and feminism Made-Up; and the collection Indigenous Toronto.


Penguin Random House

Best Book Store

Type Books

First opened on Queen West in 2006, the indie book shop now has three locations across the city. Type is back open for in-person shopping, but is continuing to host virtual author events and selling a “mystery bag” in which staff pick out $100 worth of books based on your personal tastes. They’ve also launched a robust e-commerce platform, selling book bags, backpacks plus the usual selection of literature, design tomes and cookbooks.

883 Queen West, 2887 Dundas West, 427 Spadina Road,


Book City

Various locations,

Best Independent Gallery

The Cardinal Gallery

The photography-centric gallery at Davenport and Dovercourt didn’t have great timing. Opened by film producer Chelsea Hulme and cinematographer Cory Wilyman on March 7, 2020, it closed quickly due to the first lockdown. But it has persisted, launching an online viewing room and hosting a high-profile show by late photographer Joan Latchford (see Best Art Show, page XX) last fall. This year, Cardinal exhibited Bryan Helm’s motorcycle-centric show FTW – Forever Two Wheels as part of Contact Photo Fest, and a series of experimental portraits by Brendan Meadows.

1231 Davenport,


Blue Crow Gallery

1610 Gerrard East,

Best Literary Event (festival or series)

Word on the Street

The annual book fair has pivoted to a virtual format for the past two years, and though we miss the in-person event, literary fests have adapted well to the world of online events, expanding their reach to readers who can’t always attend the physical fest. This past September, WOTS kept up the momentum by hosting more than 80 author panels and workshops, including appearances by buzzy scribes Katherena Vermette, Brian McLachlan and S. Bear Bergman. With TIFA moving to the last weekend of September in 2022, expect some changes when WOTS returns in real life.


The Fold

Toronto artist Nadia Lloyd.
Nick Lachance

Best Local Artist

Nadia Lloyd

Before she pivoted to COVID-era face masks, artist Nadia Lloyd was making art for others, practical items like clothing, cushion covers and wall art. The former fitness entrepreneur turned self-taught artist renders Toronto skylines in neon or Crayola brushstrokes and pours her emotions onto canvases in bright abstract work like La Vie, No Woman No Cry and Sex With Ri.


Elva Hook

Great Whale exhibit at the ROM
Courtesy of the ROM

Best Museum

Royal Ontario Museum

Canada’s largest museum has given visitors plenty of reasons to return since reopening from lockdown in July. The big-ticket Great Whales show was the family-friendly offering of the summer, but the ROM has become more adventurous in its art programming, hosting an exhibition of woven artworks by Ethiopian artist Elias Sime and its first crowdsourced exhibition, which features pandemic portraits by young Ontarians. Outdoor programming has become more integral to our lives, and this fall the ROM projected an outdoor light and sound show by Métis filmmaker Terril Calder based on the work of documentary film icon Alanis Obomsawin earlier this fall.

100 Queens Park,


Art Gallery of Ontario

317 Dundas West,

Amie, Diana, Kyle and Nassau, a photo featured in the Don't You Want Me photography project.
Courtesy of Jack Jackson

Best Public Art Project or Exhibition

The Don’t You Want Me Project

Public art has exploded during the pandemic, and our inaugural winner in this new category is a heartwarming one. Dog walker and photographer’s Jack Jackson’s art project Don’t You Want Me focuses on the bond between queer people and their rescue dogs. It lives online but also has a physical presence in the form of a touring banner that has exhibited in public spaces and businesses, most recently east-end queer-owned restaurant Lavender Menace. As if the feel-good photos aren’t enough to tug at your heartstrings, each one comes with a personal testimonial from the owners explaining how becoming a pet owner was a transformative experience.


Queen West Art Crawl

Read more 2021 Readers’ Choice poll results here


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