Toronto TikTok history sensation launches tour company and people are obsessed

You’ve lived in Toronto for several years if not your entire life, and you’ve just been excitedly informed that Toronto has the biggest ravine system in the entire world. The man who told you this is Matthew Jordan, the creator and sole tour guide of recently launched Hidden Rivers Walking Tours, named in honour of Toronto’s underground waterways. 

Jordan is a historian and improv comedian who is obsessed with Toronto’s infrastructure. Just over a month ago, he started creating TikTok videos in which he’d walk around the city enthusiastically debriefing viewers on the history of Toronto’s natural landscape and development — which included everything from the city’s ravines, and sewage systems to its streetcar lines. 

His videos quickly gained a lot of traction, with one even accumulating nearly 500K views. In the viral video, Jordan breaks down the 12,000 year historical explanation of why Toronto slopes downwards (spoiler: it’s because of the ice age). You’ll be surprised by how much new knowledge you’ve acquired by the end of the minute long clip, without your attention wavering.

@hiddenriverstours Toronto’s on an angle because it was formed by a receding ancient glacial lake!! #toronto #lake #geography ♬ Conscious Club (Instrumental) – Vulfpeck & Vulf

That’s because Jordan is uniquely equipped to distill dense information into a digestible format. He’s animated, well timed and amusingly enthusiastic, but also thorough. 

Jordan has an impressive academic history. He studied Arts and Science at McMaster University, majoring in math, minoring in physics and pursuing psychology in his thesis. He won the Rhodes scholarship to attend Oxford University where he did not one, but two Masters degrees —one in psychology where he focused on science communication, and a second in the history of artificial intelligence. 

He’s been a performing improv comedian since high school, joining troupes both at McMaster and Oxford, where he had the opportunity to perform in the world’s largest performance arts festival, The Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

After he completed his degrees, Jordan returned to McMaster to teach courses in the history of science and technology. As for his rather niche interest in Toronto’s geographical history, Jordan credits walking tours. Every time he travels he takes the opportunity to learn about a city from an expert on the ground. He’s particularly grateful for the education of groups like Jane’s Walks, and Toronto’s Lost Rivers.

Jordan’s next academic ambition was to apply to a PHD program, but to his surprise he was met with rejections two years in a row. Though he was initially disappointed, he arrived at a positive conclusion: if these programs wouldn’t take him, he would create his own classroom. 

“I had all this knowledge from exploring Toronto, from living here. I’m a teacher at heart, a sharer, and creator of courses — it’s what I’ve been doing my whole life,” he says. 

First he took to the internet. Incidentally he’d already earned his TikTok stripes creating Taylor Swift song tutorials, and the minor virality of a couple videos alerted him to the potential of the platform. When he realized that his peers were just as surprised by Toronto’s unique topography as he was, he knew the city’s natural landscape would be the topic of his lessons.

“There’s a universe of pipes and drains and filtration systems, subterranean marvels, that are going on beneath our feet at all times in this city, huge swaths of infrastructure that very few of us understand,” he says. This would be his entry point: not a history for tourists, but rather a history that enlightens Torontonians to the secret wonders of their city. 

“Every group of people has their own micro experience of what Toronto is to them,” he says. Which means the overarching history is exclusionary to certain groups, but geography is pretty universal. Jordan sincerely believes that the history of how Toronto has formed over the last 12,000 years is a topic that touches everyone who lives here. 

Still, he didn’t expect his videos to reach as many people as they did. “It totally exploded beyond my wildest imagination. And 99 per cent of the people watching these videos are all in the GTA,” he says. 

Viewers began asking if he would start in-person tours. He’s since received messages from a local architecture firm, a historical society, Toronto’s Waterfront BIA, and even a streetcar driver who invited him for a ride along. When he recognized that his lessons had the potential to materialize off screen as well, he launched a website for his tour business, Hidden Rivers Tours. He offers three-hour, educational walking tours, four times a week, sometimes multiple times a day.  

His first tour is called “Toronto Beneath the Surface”, a walking tour that follows the routes of different creeks in Toronto, including Cattle Creek and Garrison Creek. Over the summer, he will create tours with different themes, one of which will focus on Toronto’s waterfront. 

For now, the tours are pay what you can so that affordability isn’t a barrier, though Jordan suggests a cost of $25 per person if it’s within your means. He also offers customized private tours for groups and corporate clients, in which case the price will be quoted appropriately. 

Through this option, groups can book a private version of an existing tour or build their own at a starting point of their choosing. Jordan has already begun booking private tours for local workplaces including a real estate agency and a luxury travel company.

Since Jordan officially launched the business on TikTok  slots have been filling up fast. You can book your tour at Hidden Rivers Tours now through August 2023.

“In my Tiktok videos, I always say ‘You’ve got to explore your city’ and I believe that,” he says wholeheartedly. “Cities are at their healthiest and their most vibrant, when people want to walk around and meet up with each other and learn.” 

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