Little Italy

Bank robbers and race riots in new historic Toronto walking tour app

Little Italy and Chinatown are two of the nabes featured

With COVID-19 restrictions finally beginning to ease, many Canadians are eager to get out and explore their own communities (locally and cross-country). An interactive history app, dubbed On This Spot, offers engaging historic walking tours, providing families with the opportunity to get outside (while still practicing social distancing) — all for free.

The app hosts thousands of mapped out (and “then-and-now” historic photos) in 54 communities across Ontario and seven other provinces. The app will allow users to stand in the footprints of historic photographers so they can see what they saw from the exact same perspective, creating dramatic comparisons between past and present.

This week the app is launching new Ontario content in Toronto, King Township, and at Watson’s Mill in Manotick (projects in Aylmer and Elgin County will follow later this summer).

On This Spot has partnered with Toronto’s Little Italy BIA and Chinatown BIA to add to the more than 100 “then-and-now” photo sets across the city.

Available walking tours include Little Italy: Story of a Legendary Neighbourhood and Toronto’s First Steps: The Peoples and Ideas that Shaped Toronto’s First Century. The app also has projects in Aurora, Ottawa, Parry Sound, and Sault Ste. Marie, totaling over 500 then-and-now photo sets and a dozen walking tours.

The Little Italy portion of the walking tour takes a deep dive into the iconic College Street strip and touches on everything from the bank-robbing Boyd Gang to legendary local landmarks such as the Cafe Diplomatico, Cohen’s Fish Market, the Pylon Theatre in addition to the history of anti-immigration sentiment including the Christie Pits riots.

“This experience isn’t just for tourists, but for people who have called these communities home their entire lives,” said Andrew Farris, CEO of On This Spot. “Our mission is to make high-quality local history accessible to the widest possible audience, and to make that history engaging and exciting enough for people to get out and explore the places they live.”

Ross Hiebert, the company’s Chief of Business Development, noted the importance of teaching the real history of gross injustice in Canadian history to young people, in light of the horrifying discoveries of mass graves in Kamloops and Marieval.

“Young people today don’t want to learn about the spaghetti history that’s in most local history books written 40 or 50 years ago. Museums know this and are working to update, and we want to help them so they can pass the baton of historical literacy to the next generation,” Hiebert said.

“I like to say we’re the future of history, and that means teaching the true history and not shying away from controversy,” he added.

On This Spot began in 2013, as of this summer, it will launch new content in 35 communities across Canada, in partnership with over 40 heritage, tourism, business, and governmental organizations.

For more information click here. The app is available on the App Store and Google Play.

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO