Toronto the Wild: Field Notes of an Urban Naturalist


274 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-921912-90-0
DDC 574.5'268'09713541





Reviewed by W.J. Keith

W.J. Keith is a retired professor of English at the University of Toronto and author A Sense of Style: Studies in the Art of Fiction in English-Speaking Canada.


This is an extremely interesting book, though not the book that might
reasonably be expected from its full title. I had anticipated
diary-style accounts of the variety of wildlife to be found within the
boundaries of Toronto. Instead, Grady focuses on a decidedly limited
number of natural objects: raccoons, house sparrows, snakes, termites,
house finches, ring-billed gulls, mosquitoes, grasses and weeds,
cockroaches, rock doves, bats, coyotes, starlings, squirrels. And he
does so in well-researched, carefully organized, informative articles
that are decidedly not “field notes.”

Grady identifies himself as a journalist, and the book is certainly
designed for popular consumption. This is admirable, but it has
attendant disadvantages. He tends to stress the disturbing and
sensational (the destructive potentialities of termites, the threat of
raccoon rabies, stories of fatalities from bats) and inevitably offers
blow-by-blow descriptions of the more bizarre varieties of copulation
wherever possible. He also assumes that his readers have limited
attention-spans so far as serious argument is concerned, and regularly
provides supposed “comic relief.” This takes the form of outrageous
puns (the mosquito chapter is entitled “Days of Whine and Roses”),
trendy allusions (“The Post-Colonial Termite”), and a flippant
jokiness (a gull killed during a baseball game learns “that diamonds
are not necessarily a gull’s best friend”). Surely his
readership—not to mention his subject—deserves better than that.

The book is not without its carelessness. In the first sentence, the
date is a decade wrong; on the second page, Catharine Parr Traill’s
name is misspelled; a mess is made of “erigeron” a few pages later.
This is a pity, because, as a whole, it is chock-full of facts and
figures and bits of absorbing information that are little known. At its
best, but only at its best, Toronto the Wild represents journalism of
the highest calibre.


Grady, Wayne., “Toronto the Wild: Field Notes of an Urban Naturalist,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 29, 2024,