Tweeting Toronto's Heritage, One Plaque at a Time
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Tweeting Toronto’s Heritage, One Plaque at a Time

You may notice a large surge in people tweeting about Toronto's history this weekend. Here's why.

Historical plaque for {a href="http://www.heritagetoronto.org/news/story/2008/11/27/alexandra-site"}the Alexandra site{/a} in Scarborough. Photo from {a href="http://torontohistory.org/"}torontohistory.org{/a}.

If KPMG’s Core Service Review accomplishes nothing else, it has at least prompted Torontonians to defend and promote those elements of city life they value most highly. So far we’ve seen an all-night session of deputations at City Hall and efforts to combat any cuts to the Toronto Public Library.

When historian David Wencer learned that cuts to heritage agencies and programs were among the KPMG report’s targets, he felt the time was right for an idea that had percolated in his head for awhile: using Twitter as a forum for people to visit the historical plaques overseen by Heritage Toronto. This weekend, history buffs and anyone else curious about Toronto’s past are encouraged to roam the city, tweet about the plaques they find, and discuss the stories behind the markers.

As part of a younger generation keenly interested in history, Wencer finds that many of his peers want to know more about the past but aren’t inclined to join local historical societies or sign up for walking tours. “I wanted a simple idea which could engage this group with Toronto’s heritage and which would appeal to people who like exploring different parts of the city,” he notes. By tweeting about the plaques, he hopes that participants will further discuss the subjects of each marker and learn new facts about the city. While Wencer originally planned to conduct a highly organized one-day event, he realized after receiving plenty of enthusiastic feedback that coordinating the event might take some of the impulsive draw for potential participants looking to spend an hour or entire weekend wandering at their own pace.

So, how can you participate? If you’re not sure where to start, consult Heritage Toronto’s plaque map, which lists 230 markers in places ranging from bike paths to busy suburban arteries, or check Alan L. Brown’s website, which spotlights every manner of historical plaque. On Saturday and Sunday, tweet where you are, with an address or intersection, then add any thoughts or observations. (Wencer suggests considering how reading the plaque changes your view about the site, as happened to him when he first read the one commemorating the Christie Pits riot.) Don’t forget to add a #TOheritage hashtag, and feel free to suggest any sites that merit a marker, he says. As tweets about the plaques roll in over the weekend, Wencer will note which ones have been visited and send out recommendations for neighbourhoods or plaques that participants are missing.

Wencer’s project has the support of Heritage Toronto, whose chief historian, Gary Miedema, compares the project to a scavenger hunt. Miedema hopes that the mass tweeting will prompt people to note the community partners across the city who helped create the plaques and will encourage more people to both become involved with those groups and appreciate the work that goes into spotlighting Toronto’s history.

In recent roundtable sessions and reports like Heritage Voices there has been concern about improving methods of raising public awareness of Toronto’s heritage issues as well as potential cuts to educational programs and slashing of incentives for property owners to maintain historic buildings. The use of a social media platforms like Twitter is an easy, fun way to celebrate Toronto’s rich history. Who knows—maybe some participants will decide they want to volunteer with their neighbourhood preservation group.

For more information on how to participate, send a direct message on Twitter to @heritagerambler.

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