Toronto

More than a century later, Sherlock Holmes lives on at the Toronto Reference Library

The Toronto Reference Library is home to one of the biggest collections of Sherlock Holmes books and memorabilia in the world

Tens of thousands of books and memorabilia are available to the public

Jessie Amaolo, in charge of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection at the Toronto Reference Library, stands in the Victorian-style room dedicated to Sherlock Holmes. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Tucked away behind glass doors on the top floor of the Toronto Reference Library is a bright room with a fireplace, an unmistakable pipe on the mantel and tens of thousands of books, essays and collectibles about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous character. 

The Victorianesque room was modelled after Sherlock Holmes's study at 221B Baker St. in London, England. The relics it houses date back much further, forming one of the largest collections in the world. 

While the wider public may not have a clue, fans of the dogged detective know the collection well. 

"We get a lot of visitors when they're visiting the city and have heard it's a place they should check out," said Jessie Amaolo, services specialist with the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection. 

The Sherlock Holmes room at the Toronto Reference Library houses books and artifacts. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

The Toronto Public Library first purchased about 500 books in 1969 from the estate of a man named Arthur Vincent Baillie, a private collector with a fondness for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's work. It isolated 200 books about Sherlock Holmes, which formed the basis of the modern collection. 

Since then, it has grown to include tens of thousands of original manuscripts, family photographs, and translations of Doyle's work. 

You'll also find the famous deerstalker cap, a first edition of the Hound of the Baskervilles and even the first book where Sherlock appeared in print. 

One of the rare items in the collection. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Sherlock songs

There are also dedicated fans based in Toronto with almost 200 members worldwide — part of a club called The Bootmakers that has been around as long as the Sherlock Holmes collection itself.

It meets nine times a year, and the get-togethers are structured, says president Mike Ranieri, who often does research at the reference library for the occasion.

The meetings usually revolve around one of the Sherlock Holmes stories. The members take a quiz about it, and the winner is awarded a prize. 

Mike Ranieri, president of the Bootmakers, often does research for meetings at the Toronto Reference Library. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

"We actually have someone who creates a song about the story," said Ranier. "We all sit there singing the song." 

There is also an offshoot group that came out of The Bootmakers, the Friends of the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, which is focused on raising funds and donations for the library's collection.

Both groups publish literary journals. 

'He's logical, intelligent' 

The Bootmakers is just one link in a worldwide network of fans and fan clubs that regularly publish journals and write critiques on the various original works. Sherlock's stories have been turned into mangas in Japan and various movies and series in Hollywood and in Britain. There's even Sherlock erotica out there. 

Ranieri says it's no mystery why Sherlock is still so popular. 

"He's logical, intelligent, very observant," he said. 

"He's got integrity, something we're probably lacking today," he added with a laugh. 

Peggy Perdue, who oversees Special Collections at the library, is also a fan. 

"He's not just a detective, he is THE detective," she said, pointing out the "fans" are usually deeply entrenched in research. "He's a hero. You go to him to have problems solved." 

About the Author

Lisa Xing is a journalist by trade and a historian by degree. She's also a creative writer, photographer and traveller, dabbling in camping, canoeing and crafting. Email Lisa.Xing@cbc.ca.

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