Please join us in a celebration of the life of Lorna Toolis:

WHEN: Saturday, 23 October 2021
1:00 pm - 4:00 pm
WHERE: Streaming online (details below)
Those of us able to get to Toronto will be gathering to celebrate the life of Lorna Toolis. We will gather for 1:00 pm Eastern Daylight Time in the upstairs hall of a neighbourhood Legion. The celebration begins at around 1:30 with brief reminiscences from some of Lorna's friends and colleagues. This portion of the event will be streamed for the benefit of the many who are unable to attend. There will also be a slide-show, which will be streamed once the speeches are finished.

An online remembrance of Lorna may be found here -- https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/toronto-on/lorna-toolis-10305745

Viewers will not be able to participate in the broadcast, nor will their computer screens be shown. However, the Zoom chat feature will be enabled, so we encourage viewers to add their thoughts via the chat (which will be saved after this celebration is over), or to add a memory to the remembrance page.

Join the event by computer:


Meeting ID: 869 9998 3212 Passcode: 70964438

If you cannot connect by computer, you can dial in by phone:

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Meeting ID: 869 9998 3212 Passcode: 70964438


Lorna Diane Toolis

6 October, 195211 August, 2021
Obituary of Lorna Diane Toolis
Lorna Toolis Lorna Toolis, long-time head of the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation, and Fantasy, and a significant influence on the Canadian SF community, died in Toronto on 11 August, 2021. Lorna was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on 6 October 1952, to Robert and Shirley (nee Setter) Toolis. She grew up in the nearby town of 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 took the two steps that came to define the rest of her life. First she met the noted Winnipeg collector, and one-time pulp SF writer, Chester Cuthbert, and began developing her encyclopaedic knowledge of the field. She remained friends with Cuthbert until his death. Second, she got a job working as a page at a Winnipeg public library, and libraries came to be her life’s work. In the meantime she completed a BA in history at the University of Winnipeg, then moved to Edmonton to get a master’s degree in library science at the University of Alberta. It was while she was at university that Lorna discovered science fiction fandom through “Star Trek.” While still living with her parents Lorna attended her first SF convention (Toronto Star Trek ’76), but it was at the U of A that she became fully immersed in fandom, joining the Edmonton Science Fiction and Comic Arts Society and rapidly becoming one of ESFCAS’s most active members. She contributed to and edited the club newsletter, and wrote for (and collected) numerous SF fanzines. She also served on the executive committees of the club and of many of the conventions the club presented. It was while she was most active in ESFCAS that she was introduced to another important feature of her life. In the early 1980s a friend invited her to play in a new collaborative game he was setting up. This game was a tabletop role-playing game, an idea then not yet ten years old (the first RPG, Dungeons and Dragons, was published in 1974), and Lorna took to the idea of collaborative story-telling immediately. She also took to her referee. Lorna married Michael Skeet on 5 May 1984, and they were happily married to the end of her days. Lorna eventually became a Game Master herself, and had been running her own role-playing game for over a quarter of a century when she died. (The game ended with her.) Professionally, Lorna always punched above her weight. While still in her mid-twenties she was appointed head of technical services for the library of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, a job she performed well. This was not the ultimate destination for Lorna or her career, though. In 1986, following a nation-wide search for qualified candidates, Lorna 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. This was a perfect moment, when an institution in need of guidance encountered a person supremely qualified—both professionally and personally—to provide that guidance. Lorna quickly turned SoL into a highly respected and influential reference collection, hosting and assisting researchers both academic and non-academic and organizing a comprehensive collection policy. At the same time 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 the Canadian SF professionals’ organization SFCanada, and won an Aurora Award in 1991 for co-editing the anthology Tesseracts4. 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, both at work and at home. One problem she often encountered at the library was overenthusiastic H.P. Lovecraft fans who refused to believe The Necronomicon was not a real book. Lorna sent these people to a local book-seller, Arthur Wharton—who was in on the joke and retained a small stock of the so-called “Simon” version to sell them. Lorna also maintained a fierceness when it came to administrative matters concerning the collection. Whatever else her superiors may have thought of her strong defence of the collection and its staff, they had at least to respect her determination. Lorna was 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.” (That’s the one about the butterfly wing and the hurricane.) This combination of knowledge and the ability to retrieve it quickly made Lorna a popular guest on media outlets, and she appeared on such programs as Ideas (CBC Radio) and Prisoners of Gravity (TV Ontario). When she retired in April 2017 she had been head of the Spaced Out Library/Merril Collection for over three decades; under her direction it had grown from a curated assemblage of books and periodicals numbering in the low five figures to a complex corpus of over 80,000 items encompassing books, periodicals, art, recording, video, ephemera, and other materials. Lorna left the Toronto Public Library with a unique world class reference collection, building on Judith Merril's original donation to create a public resource supporting academia, industry, and the curiosity and creativity of the people of Toronto. Lorna’s professional work, though, represented just part of her impact on the world. Wherever she lived she made friends. More importantly, she kept them. She visited with friends every week, often several times a week—even when lockdowns restricted meetings to virtual space. She was also known for her culinary generosity, feeding large groups of friends at least once a week for over two decades before she retired. There wasn’t a national cuisine or style of cooking she wasn’t curious about; when it came to dining out her mantra was, “I have no idea what this is. Let’s try it.” Her enthusiasm for cooking (and eating) was something that benefited everyone around her. All of her friends knew she could be counted on for support, practical or moral, no matter what the circumstances. She was a good friend to the very end. Lorna Toolis is survived by her husband, Michael Skeet, of Toronto; and by her brother, Richard Toolis, of Transcona; and by numerous nieces and nephews. She is missed by everyone who knew her. In lieu of flowers or any other actions, Lorna requested that people consider donations to the following: Megan Church is an Australian woman who operates a bat-rescue service: https://megpi6.wixsite.com/megabattie-design/contact Closer to home, the Toronto Wildlife Centre: https://www.torontowildlifecentre.com/donate/ Tennessee’s The Elephant Sanctuary: https://shop.elephants.com/give The United Kingdom’s The Fox Project: https://foxproject.org.uk/product/donation/ Africa’s Sheldrake Wildlife Trust: https://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/donate And finally, the online Science Fiction Encyclopedia: http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/donate-to-sfe https://torontopubliclibrary.typepad.com/local-history-genealogy/2020/11/merril-collection-at-50-stories-from-the-spaced-out-library.html

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