By Mira Saraf
I was unsure what to expect when we arrived at the Factory Studio Courtyard for the “invisible” Toronto walking tour. Gathered under a fire escape our guide Falen Johnson, gave us a small introduction to the tour.
She is of aboriginal descent (reminding us that the word “Indian” should only be used if you know someone really well and are comfortable with them (or if they happen to actually be from India). In a city as cosmopolitan as Toronto and as full of visible minorities, it’s funny to think of anyone actually being invisible.
Being a visible minority myself, I have often been surprised at the almost overwhelming political correctness that many Canadians display, often to the point where it actually makes me slightly uncomfortable.
Then again I’m of the school of thought that nobody is free of prejudices and racism, no matter what they say (myself included). There are people that are more open-minded than others but its’ all relative.
So it was quite a shock to me to think of a whole group of people towards whom we feel no need to be sensitive. Our city, in fact, North America is full of examples of blatant insensitivity. The Cleveland Indians and their logo is an example, as is any sort of totem pole decorative piece or Halloween costume.
Once I realized the full scale of what the walk was about I was afraid that it might be incredibly heavy and depressing. Instead Johnson filled the tour with anecdotes and tales, some cheerful, some sad, but all of them eye opening.
The walk takes us up and down a mostly familiar route along Queen West, but opens our eyes to things that were and remain offensive. In addition she talks a bit about aboriginal history of Toronto, a history that I knew little about.
Being a non-Torontonian who three years later feels like she is just getting to know her city, I discovered another Toronto beneath the layers and experienced Queen Street in a way that I’d never experienced before.
I would highly recommend the walk to anyone who is has a passion for learning about our city and it’s history. Peppered with photographic examples (which she carries around in a small bag with her) and characters she has met along the way (of variable friendliness) it is a tour of a piece of history that many of us know little about.