Walking tour of Toronto presents its neighborhoods' history, food and fun
Sunday, May 23, 2010
On my first trip to Toronto since I was a toddler, I reached out to someone who really knows the city: the Tour Guy.
Looking for the Ontario division of the Eye Bank of Canada? Tour Guy can show you where it is.
Want to see the statue of Al Waxman, who played the gruff but lovable lieutenant on "Cagney and Lacey"? Tour Guy can take you to it.
Hungry for some Hungarian Thai food? Tour Guy can tell you where to chow down.
I didn't exactly think that I wanted to see or do any of those things when I took a walking tour with Tour Guy, a.k.a. Jason Kucherawy, recently. But the 34-year-old Toronto native was eager and amiable and promised not to lead me astray.
Since April 2009, Kucherawy and a friend have been running a company called Tour Guys in Toronto and Vancouver. (Jason covers Toronto, the friend is in charge of Vancouver, B.C.) On Fridays and Saturdays, Jason gives walking tours of Toronto's cultural, financial and political landmarks for free (though he gladly accepts tips). This year, he partnered with international tour company Intrepid Travel to add a program called Urban Adventures, themed walking tours designed to get people off those clunky tour buses.
"The idea is to get under the skin of a city, to see it from a local's perspective," Tour Guy said. Unfortunately, you have to pay for the Urban Adventure, but oh, well.
We met in front of the Art Gallery of Ontario for the two-hour Kensington Market/Chinatown Urban Adventure. Joining us were Valerie Fulmer and Sandy Copeland, who'd driven up from Pittsburgh.
Our first stop: the life-size moose sculpture on the grounds of the Italian consulate, one of more than 300 that were placed around the city in 2000. Painted on this one were the faces of famous Italians and Torontonians. Jason pointed out Terry Fox, a one-legged amputee who in 1980 set out on a cross-country run to raise money for cancer research. He made it almost halfway across Canada before succumbing to his cancer.
We went on to the largest of Toronto's six Chinatowns. "We are really a city of immigrants," said Jason. "People like myself, born in Toronto, we're a shrinking majority."
We walked past signs advertising haircuts for $6 Canadian and mom-and-pop shops hawking stuffed pandas, then stopped at a corner. In the heart of downtown's Chinatown, Jason dove into a history lesson. "The history of the Chinese community here is not a happy one," he said. The Chinese were lured to Toronto to help build the railroad but found themselves underpaid and living in slums. Many, however, worked hard and were able to start their own businesses.
We moved on to Kensington Market, which had begun as a Jewish market but is now filled with a variety of ethnic shops. In the early 1900s, Jews were fleeing persecution in Eastern Europe. Those who arrived in Toronto lived, like the Chinese, in slums. But many soon realized that they could make good money selling fruit and vegetables from pushcarts. Eventually, they bought houses in Kensington Market and converted the first floors into businesses.