Friday, June 24, 2005

24 June 2005

First of all, let me say that the term "blog" sounds so unappealing. Especially for someone like me, who views technology with apprehension, at best, and insists that the word "access" is a noun, and never has been and never will be a verb. Blog. Take a minute. Say it out loud. Blog. Pretend you're Jeremy Irons or Christopher Plummer. Bllooooogg. It's a pet name for a poisonous frog.

That having been said, I have put aside my apprehensions - well, part of them - and thrown open the doors to marry the blogging trade with some of my historical enterprises. I make no bones about it. I am an historical walking tour guide, and proud of it. My own space on the internet is I have been in operation for about five years now, and I currently have six tour themes in operation.


I've always loved life in the past lane. I can't decide if I feel envy, contempt or sorrow for someone who can walk down a city street and not think to themselves "So what's the story? What was here before? Why did people come from where ever they came from to build a street right here?" I don't even have to listen for it. The past whispers out to me. Don't you want to know who has walked around downtown before you? They may have lived their whole lives here, and for most of it, they probably took wandering around where you do for granted, just like you. But maybe for them there was one defining moment that became a revelation to be handed down through the generations. They had just stepped out of the tavern or the tailors or the tannery, that is now the home of the neighbourhood Starbucks, and then they heard the infamous news. It was 1837, and a rebellion had started, or it was 1849, and it was a fire. A mayor, who was loved, or hated, had died, or maybe it was the stern Bishop who everyone had an opinion about. Maybe it was 1901 and The Queen had just died or it was 1914 and we were finally going to War. Look around you. Those things changed peoples lives. Whether you know it or not, they changed your life. And they happened here. Right where you are.

Well, that' s my take on it, anyway. For me, history is a living breathing thing, but it's not so for everybody. But take my word for it. Even if you have never liked history, it can be an entertaining distraction. It's worth hearing about.

We in Toronto have kind of shot ourselves in the foot as far as presenting our past is concerned. We live under this sort of delusion that nothing ever happened here. The Canadian National Exhibition kind of washed up on the northern shores of Lake Ontario, and then a couple of years later the CN Tower kind of errupted out of the dirt like some discarded metal maple sappling. But don't buy into that! It's okay to admit that some interesting things might have actually happened here. Your friends won't make fun of you, and even if they do, well, what do they know?


In the 1790s, John Graves Simcoe got off his ship and stepped on to what is now the parking lot immediately south of Saint Lawrence Market. Having the masts scrape under the Gardiner Expressway wasn't too much of a problem back then because the water came just about up to Front Street. It's all true. Everything south of there has been landfilled in over the past 200 years. He saw that the area had a naturally defensible harbour. He learned that some of the aboriginal tribes used the spot to meet and trade and fish, and he figured that if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for him. "Nice land. I'll take it." But the name had to go. Toronto, or whatever unanglised version thereof they used to describe the area, sounded too foreign. So we got a good British sounding name. York. Thus the town of York, the precursor to modern Toronto was born. We held the name for about forty years, until 1834 when we finally became incorporated, back into Toronto.

As a side note, that was the source of my company name. The streets didn't have any proper sidewalks - it would be a while before we even got wooden ones, let alone cement and asphalt. There were swamps everywhere, and mosquitoes. The whole thing was pretty sordid. And muddy. The town was soon nicknamed Muddy York. As in Muddy York Walking Tours. So there you go.


So, my enthusiasm for telling people stories about Toronto is pretty all consuming. There are so many hidden gems in town, and that annoys me. Why are they hidden? Come and find out about them. The main thing that I want to do is use this as a base for telling people fantastic things about what happened here. I really do believe that what happened here has shaped what we've become. Comparing the past with the present is illuminating, sometimes because you can see how things came to be, and sometimes because it's such a big contrast. But I also want to have an outlet for all the other, day to day experiences that I have as a respectable streetwalker. So there's that, too.

Check back regularly for updates. I want to post new stories of Toronto on a regular basis, and also let people in on what's going on. It wil be my Muddy York Gazette. Hopefully, for the three of you out there reading this, it will be a forum to encourage discussion, too. Please interact!! You'll make my day. Tell me what kind of a walking tour you'd like to go on.

That's all for now.

Muddy York Walking Tours
416 487 9017