All’s Whale That Ends Whale

October 24, 2023

Did you know:

Much of the area that is now CityPlace was once the Canadian National Railway Lands, a busy track switching yard moving goods and people in and out of the city by train.

In 1881 Henry Piper, an enterprising Torontonian, had a dead whale shipped by rail from Nova Scotia for display at Toronto’s first zoo. It was a very popular attraction, despite protests from the Zoo’s neighbours over the smell.

“What DIED in here?!”

Mr. Luo hears this every Tuesday. From the vice-principal, from other teachers, from hurried parents taking a wrong turn into the school library, bee-lining for the exit, wanting to get home after a pick-up and long day.

Mr. Luo just shrugs, and everyday a new excuse. 

“I heard that the new construction disturbed a sewage pipe.”

“Ms. Henson’s class lost a gerbil in here last week, we’re thinking he got lost in here? Haven’t found him yet, but I’m not hopeful.”

“I think a semi-truck full of manure had a fender bender this morning on the Gardiner.”

Most folks just move on and stop looking for the source of the smell — fair enough it seems.

“Mr. Luo, do you HEAR that?”

“It’s coming, it’s coming!”

Every Tuesday, like clockwork, it starts.

A loud whistle off in the distance — a rumble, a screech and the library shelves start to shake.

Steam pours out between the books, as the students scramble to the wall.

Mr. Luo holds on to his desk tightly as his knicknacks start to roll.

The steam engine appears and fills the room from floor to ceiling, the squealing rails drown out the students’ cheers.

They wait with baited breath, noses plugged and fingers in their ears, as car after car after car, blasts through the room. 

When the final car passes through, and the star of the show — packed in ice and absolutely stinking — finally arrives, the children shriek, and cheer, and cower in disbelief.

Was the feeling the same in 1881?  thinks Mr. Luo. 

Was it as wondrous for the children on that first exciting day, when the rail brought the whale to Piper’s Zoo? He likes to think so — he thinks he knows so.

So, he helps the children tidy the fallen library books, open the windows to let out the ghostly leviathan’s stench — making his excuses for the lingering scent— so that the glory of the whale can live another week.