There are more ways to walk and discover this city than just following the city’s Discovery Walk maps. There are an increasing number of guided audio tours that you can download from the Internet and pack into your digital music player before heading out on your expedition. One audio tour company, City Surf, has several neighbourhood tours available for about $10 each. Recently, City Surf teamed up with Waterfront Toronto to offer a free audio tour of the central waterfront area.
You can borrow an MP3 player from City Surf’s booth near Queen’s Quay Terminal, or you can download it as a zip file here. The file includes all of the audio tracks for this walking tour, as well as a PDF map you can print off and take with you on your journey.
The tour begins with a brief primer on the waterfront’s industrial and shipping history. An overview of the Port Lands, the story of the now-posh Queen’s Quay Terminal building, and the origins of the Power Plant Gallery are a few of the subjects covered at the beginning of the tour. This narrative helps to give the listener a grounding in the waterfront’s origins and a taste of what the area could be like in the future if Waterfront Toronto’s plans see fruition.
The rest of the tour is a similar mix of past, present and future as you walk west along the waterfront. As you listen, Toronto’s changing relationship to Lake Ontario is revealed. The new yellow umbrellas on the beach at HTO Park, the renaturalized wetlands at Spadina Quay, and the hulking silos of the old Canada Malting Company—landmarks passed by thousands of people every day with barely a second thought—take on new meaning in this context. (Incidentally, the walk also takes you across the Amsterdam Bridge, recently captured by Panoramaist.)
The farthest point of the tour is Ireland Park. The sculptures in here are half of an art installation, with the other half residing near the port of Dublin. It is here that your digital tour guide offers you the option of hopping onto the Harbourfront streetcar and ending the tour, or backtracking and learning more about some of the sights you’ve just passed. This last bit of the tour includes a brief history of the Toronto Islands, a bit more on the future of the Port Lands, and the story of how the Toronto Islands ferry service came to be.
City Surf has done a good job of creating a well-paced, informative tour for a sunny afternoon. It’s a little heavy on waterfront revitalization content, but it’s because of Waterfront Toronto that this tour is being offered to the public at no charge, so that’s to be expected. That bias doesn’t take anything away from the enjoyment of this waterfront walk. Besides, it’s nice to believe that the vision of parkland and walkable neighbourhoods planned for the area might actually exist one day.