The mystery of Hemingway’s unit is solved

Residents of 1597-1599 Bathurst uncover novelist's old digs

Blast_Radius_columnA great mystery has been uncovered at 1597-1599 Bathurst St.

Many know the building called The Hemingway, and also its Toronto Historical Board plaque, dated 1985. The brass marker informs visitors to the building that literary giant Ernest Hemingway lived there in 1923-24 while working for the Toronto Star.

I’ve always been intrigued by Hemingway, ever since his Old Man and the Sea was imposed on me in high school, and his lamentations on growing old (in Idaho) left an imprint.

Back when Hemingway inhabited 1597-1599 Bathurst, the building was called Cedarvale Mansions, and the mystery that eluded Greg Heal, one of its current residents, was which unit the novelist called home.

“It was sort of nice when we had the mystery of what unit Hemingway lived in — we couldn’t figure it out,” Heal admits. “It was one of my hobbies to reach out to various resources: the John F. Kennedy Library.”

Heal has resided in the building since the early ’90s and experienced its transition from a co-operative to a condominium.

So, when one particular unit went up for sale two years ago the owners were looking to reinvigorate the sale of their apartment.

“They reached out to me and said, ‘Oh Greg, is there anything current on the search for Hemingway?’ I said no. ‘Well, keep at it’,” Heal recalls. “He was able to connect with some writers who were putting together a book on Hemingway’s papers and, lo and behold, they just had a copy of his lease.”

That lease revealed the unit in question to be #19, where accountant Pat Cavanagh, 33, now lives, and took possession Nov. 1, 2013.

He admits that when he purchased the unit it wasn’t known his abode was For Whom The Bell Tolls, and when he did learn of the unit’s former lodger he was far from awestruck.

“I’ll be totally honest, there was a bit of ignorance.” Cavanagh shares. “I know of him [but] I’ve actually never read any of his books. It was a cool thing to hear.”

That’s not to say Cavanagh doesn’t read. At least one of Hemingway’s celebrated works is on his to-read bookshelf.

“I am somewhat of an avid reader, and I do have one that I’m trying to get to of his,” he admits.

Much like the rumours of one of Hemingway’s contemporaries, Sinclair Lewis, it is alleged that Lewis hid his works in the basement of the Palmer House Hotel in Sauk Centre, Minn.

No such luck here in Toronto.

“It’s always been a running joke that, ‘Hey, if you find some Hemingway papers you might be able to pay for your renovation, but nothing like that has turned up,” Heal says, with a laugh. “It’s an old building. You’ll never know what you’ll find.”

The unit in question was renovated before Cavanagh took possession.

Now, as much as the literary community loves Hemingway, the writer was not particularly keen on Hogtown.

Heal tells a story about how the bullfighting fan broke his lease at the building.

With Toronto being a fairly stayed place for a person who came from Chicago — itself a very vibrant city — Hemingway wanted to break his lease so he could go off to what was a more exciting Paris. He threw a party, and to each of his revelers that he invited he requested they take something with them when they left.

“It was a way for him to surreptitiously get his stuff out of the suite so the landlord wasn’t catching on to the fact that he was busting his lease, and he would be able to get his personal belongings out” Heal says. “That was a very creative way to take flight.”

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Posted: Feb 25 2015 12:44 pm
Filed in: Column  VIEWS
Edition: Toronto