Finding Old Toronto
The first days of fall are expected by many. Toronto receives a kind of cold breeze that slowly enters the body penetrating the bones. The cold fulfills its function and warns the brain that not far away, the first leaves of the trees are about to fall. To me fall, means winter is just around the corner.
It is mid-day on a dark and gloomy Saturday that only motivates you to stay at home, doing whatever you do on a day like this. I am guessing that’s the thought for many of us, as we stood on the stairs of Old City Hall, as we contemplate the sky.
In a group of no less than 25 people where different languages and accents are heard, we shyly exchange a gaze waiting for our tour guide. We are about to join the Old Town History Tour by , a company “proud to have been the first free walking tour company in Canada,” as states on their website.
“Hi, my name is Joseph Fish,” says Joe, our tour guide. Before to start, he calls the Old Town History Tour as a “tour that describes the tragedies that shaped the city as we see it today.”
Knowing the history of a city is essential to understand some of the whys of the present. It enables us to ask questions, draw conclusions, and judge, to a possible level, the decisions that others made in the past that affect us today.
Taking a city tour has become part of the dynamics to discover those decisions, events, historical processes, places, and the reasons for the cities we visit or live. Today, and through the eyes of Joe, we begin to understand Toronto's past and how it has evolved to what we know nowadays.
In a “modern” society where everything is being simplified, the history of events and places has been transferred to the hands of clever, fresh tour guides, whom without even realize, are becoming the new generation of historians, helping to consolidate one of the most prominent industries in the world, the tourism.
Joseph “Joe” Fish, a 24-year-old Torontonian, is one of them.
“I was a student for a while, I just graduated from university with a degree in Neuroscience,” he says, “I am kind of working part-time as a tour guide until I find something more full-time, permanent, career-wise,” Joe says.
History serves to understand everything that surrounds us, how the civilization has evolved, why the world is, as it is, what is the reason for conflicts, the birth of cultures, cities, and countries. Joe’s stories of the Old Toronto remind us, that without the history of a city, we would create societies without a past or critical thinking for the future.
According to the , that is precisely what a tour guide does, “a person who guides visitors in the language of their choice, and interprets the cultural and natural heritage of an area.”
In Joe’s words, “is someone who can engage people, who can, sort of being more casual, instead of, sort of treating like he is lecturing,” he adds. “A person that can actually involve people in the tour, making more like a dialogue, instead of just a performance.”
This generation of “modern historians,” educate locals and visitors, narrating stories in a way that redefines how we see the history of our cities. Who knew that spending some downtime with Joe, might be the key for me to understand the history of cholera in Toronto, as we stand in front of St. James Cathedral.
Yet, as a historical tour guide, is essential in fact to love history, to be sociable, to work hard, and to be ready for being in charge. Joe himself recommends this job to anyone.
“I think that if you are outgoing, if you like to meet new people, if you enjoy reading and learning about history, and doing your own research and putting together on scripts,” Joe says, and adds, “you get a lot of autonomy, is not like you are going to be handed a script that you can memorize, if you like a job where you can, kind of being in charge of yourself, I recommend it.” He says.
The same opinion has Derek Hanekom, Minister of Tourism of South Africa, who, in the convention that celebrates the International Tourist Guides’ Day, explains why tourist guides play such a vital role in the tourism industry.
"The tourist guide is a big part of the tourism experience. Not only because of the story they tell, but due to the human interaction," says Hanekom. "If as a tourist guide you don't love what you are doing, you will never be a perfect guide," says Hanekom in a press conference.
As we stand at the front of the Mackenzie House, last home of Toronto’s first mayor, William Lyon Mackenzie, I can’t stop thinking that tourism, an industry in constant transformation and growth, faces the rise of this alternative type of sight-seeing, that besides increasing the knowledge of public on history, opens up new labor markets.
According to the , Canada ranks as one of the world's top tourist destinations, and Ontario tops all provinces in tourist visits.
“Every $1 million spent by tourists creates 13 jobs and generates $604,800 in wages and salaries. Tourism in Ontario supports 389,000 jobs and is the largest single employer of young workers.”
Numbers from indicate that in the second quarter of 2018, tourism spending in Canada generated $22 billion.
Outside the country, tourism is increasing as well.
According to the 2017 Annual Report by the , 393 million more people travelled internationally for tourism between 2008 and 2017. Just for last year, international tourist arrivals reached 1,323 million people.
“International tourist arrivals grew for the eighth consecutive year, a sequence of uninterrupted growth not recorded since the 1960s,” reads the report.
So, little does Joe know, that through his work as a tour guide, he is indeed helping a 25-group of people finding Old Toronto, while playing a vital piece in a big puzzle, the tourism industry.
About one and a half hour later, in a now, sunny and clear sky Toronto, we are in front of the historic St. Lawrence Market, our last spot in the Old Town History Tour.
Joe continues putting the tips on his pants’ pockets, and while he exchanges a 100-dollar bill to a cheery Chinese tourist lady, he answers my last question.
Joe, what would you say is the best thing about being a tour guide?
He smiles wide open, pointing out with his fingers to the people that surround him. “Meeting people from all over the world. I just love that.”
* This article originally appeared in Narcity Canada #locals