Lorna Toolis (1952-2021)

Librarian, editor, and fan Lorna Toolis, 68, died August 11, 2021 in Toronto, Canada. Toolis was the long-time head of the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation, and Fantasy at the Toronto Public Library and a significant influence on the Canadian SF community.

Toolis was born October 6, 1952 in Winnipeg, Manitoba and grew up in nearby Transcona, where she discovered SF — specifically Andre Norton’s The Stars Are Ours! — in her grandmother’s closet while trying to avoid a broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada. She maintained a love of Norton’s writing for the rest of her life (along with an antipathy to hockey).

In her teens Lorna met the noted Winnipeg collector and onetime pulp SF writer Chester Cuthbert, and began developing her encyclopaedic knowledge of the field. She completed a BA in history at the University of Winnipeg, having discovered fandom through Star Trek, then moved to Edmonton to get a master’s degree in library science at the University of Alberta. There she became fully immersed in fandom, joining the Edmonton Science Fiction and Comic Arts Society and becoming one of its most active members.

In 1986 she was appointed head of collection at what was then known as the Spaced Out Library, a special collection of the Toronto Public Library founded through a donation from author-editor Judith Merril. Lorna quickly turned SoL into a highly respected and influential reference collection. She revived the support group The Friends of the Spaced Out Library and managed the collection’s part in the lengthy process of obtaining a new home; in 1995 she was able to move the collection to the new Lillian H. Smith branch, where the library was renamed in Merril’s honour.

Lorna’s time at the Merril coincided with an outburst of creativity in the Canadian SF community, and Lorna advised and mentored a significant number of Canadian authors. She was a founding member of SFCanada, and won an Aurora Award in 1991 for co-editing Tesseracts 4 (with Michael Skeet). When academic and author Allan Weiss instituted an academic conference on Canadian speculative fiction, Lorna arranged for the Merril Collection both to host the conference and to provide administrative support.

Lorna was known for a dry (some might say acerbic) wit — she tended to send the more determined Lovecraft fans to local bookseller Arthur Wharton when they insisted on seeing a copy of The Necronomicon; Wharton was in on the joke and retained a small stock of the “Simon” version — and she had a fierceness when it came to administrative matters concerning the collection. She was also near-legendary within the community for her ability to identify novels or stories based on the most rudimentary information provided by patrons — in some cases by the colour and primary image on a cover. She said the piece inquired about most frequently was Ray Bradbury’s “The Sound of Thunder”.

When she retired in April 2017 she had been head of the collection for over three decades; under her direction it had grown from the low five figures to a volume of over 80,000 items.

Lorna Toolis is survived by her husband, Michael Skeet, and her brother, Richard Toolis.

Michael Skeet

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