Canada, Cultural geography, Doctor of Philosophy, heritage, informal learning, Kensington Market, participatory education, public history, public programming, Riverdale Farm, Tim Horton, Toronto, tourism, tours, travel, University of Toronto, walking tour
In the summer of 2011, I was lucky enough to get a MTSU Study Abroad Scholarship to study all the way in… Canada! Through a bit of coordination I was able to create an Advanced Projects in Public History course to get PhD level credits for the trip by doing additional work with the professor who led the trip to the Great White North.
For the main part of the trip I and the other students journeyed all around Toronto. It was a blasty-blast, and we learned so much! Toronto is extremely culturally diverse, so this was the perfect way to learn more about Cultural Geography, heritage tourism, history, and of course history. The undergraduates were required to explore several ethnic neighborhoods and complete a scavenger hunt for various things such as national colors, ethnic food, signs in another language, and other things. I joined in on this and was able to learn a lot from the neighborhoods, have some great Greek (lamb), Italian (gelato), Asian (fried rice) and other foods and drinks (bubble tea – blech), while at the same time working on my own advanced project.
My extra assignment was to create a walking tour of downtown Toronto. This is a huge assignment, but we walked approximately ten hours a day for two days so I had plenty of content to contribute. The best way to experience a place (and stay healthy at the same time) is by walking and observing the various areas you encounter that you wouldn’t see from a car, cab, train, or subway. We did have to take the subway a few times to make the most of our time. The student group that I was with did not specifically plan a route for our exploration but instead wandered to various districts. This was a great way to see the city and the different historic and cultural districts. However, perhaps time could be better used with a loose plan of action. Therefore I created a walking tour brochure for future students.
This guide serves as a guide to several culturally and historically interesting places but also encourages students to make their own route. I chose places for this walking tour that would appeal to a variety of students. The sites visited include government buildings, universities, ethnic and cultural neighborhoods, a museum, a historic house, and city parks. The brochure also includes official links for the sites that are included so that when the guide is distributed online students and others can learn more about the places they will visit on the tour. The distance and time that it would take to visit these sites may seem excessive, but the group of six that I was a part of managed this and more in our time in Toronto. Public transportation is also an option for students who may not want to experience the entire city via foot.
My favorite places that I visited were the University of Toronto, Kensington Market, The riverfront and boat tour, and most of all, the Riverdale Farm.
Riverdale is a part of the Toronto Parks and Rec department, and is a fully functional farm open to the public. They had all kinds of farm animals, trails, outbuildings, produce, and flowers. We were lucky enough to be there on a warm day, and I thoroughly enjoyed being able to walk through Cabbagetown into a farm in the middle of a huge metropolitan area. Visitors can buy produce from the farm, and there is also a cafe on site. While we were there, we accidentally walked into a barn classroom where young students were attending a camp. Admission to the farm is free, and the site has a farmers market, public programs, and various events.
We estimated that over 2 days we walked approximately 30 miles. In that time we saw trees growing in cars, innumerable Tim Horton’s-es, and countless pleasant, helpful, and kind Canadians. In the future I will most likely post more about our trip to Canada and the things we encountered.
Toronto is an amazing place to visit for cultural, historical, environmental, and healthy activities. I didn’t get to see even half of what I wanted to see, and I look forward to going back again soon to walk another 30 miles in two days.
During our northern excursion, we also visited Niagara Falls where we ate PB&J poolside, saw the Falls at night in lights, and saw the rest of the Gatlinburg of the north, the Niagara countryside where we took our group band photo, and we had a myriad of adventures in the van including writing a song about our fearless leader, Doug.
All in all, it was a great time, and I would recommend the trip to anyone interested in cultures, geography, history, or any combination of the above.