Putting Toronto Songs on the Map
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Putting Toronto Songs on the Map

Track Toronto is building a virtual map of city-related tunes—and constructing actual street signs to mark the spots.

Are you familiar with Career Suicide’s “Cherry Beach,” Corin Raymond’s “Heading West on Dundas,” or Final Fantasy’s “The CN Tower Belongs to the Dead”? Did you know that Leonard Cohen’s “Closing Time” was inspired by the Matador Club, which once served after-hours drinks at 466 Dovercourt Road, or that the Relmer Boys have written a song about 555 Spadina Road, a transformer station masquerading as a house?

Toronto is full of places that have given rise to lyrics, neighbourhoods that have nurtured musicians, and venues that have played host to historic live shows—and now you can navigate the songs and stories of the city through a virtual map from the people at Track Toronto.

Starting last June, Chloe Doesburg, Lauren Barhydt, and Jonathan Tyrrell began collecting songs that reference parts of the city, or have a connection to a certain site: “Maybe the lyrics mention a specific place, or the video was filmed here, or the song was written by someone who lived in this house, worked in this bar etc.,” their website explains. Inspired by Murmur—an oral history project that allows people to call phone numbers at different locations in Toronto to hear personal anecdotes about neighbourhoods—and Tyrrell’s band, Ketch Harbour Wolves, which found itself increasingly drawn to Toronto-focused songwriting, the trio decided to create an online resource that would promote and inform musical explorations of the city.

They started off with just the songs they knew, but soon discovered that the public was eager and willing to help when suggestions started rolling in. “We thought it would plateau, that we’d get repeats,” says Doesburg, “but it’s a wealthier archive than we initially imagined—by far.” They’ve now plotted 130 songs in locations ranging from Rexdale to Scarborough to the Toronto Islands. Some places are better represented that others—Kensington Market, Parkdale, Yonge Street, and the CN Tower, for example, appear frequently—but that’s not the result of any kind of bias. “We’ll work a little harder to buck that trend,” says Doesburg. And as more Torontonian track recommendations pour in, there will likely be more geographical equality and diversity.

But Track Toronto aims to bring music to the streets through more than just an online tool: as part of the 100 in 1 Day event in June, it began putting up signs. Each sign features song and artist names, lyrics, and a QR code that enables you to listen to the track. There were originally eight of them, all in Parkdale.

“We hope that we’re giving people a new point of departure to both appreciate local music and see particular sites in a new way,” explains Doesburg, “appreciating the great cultural production, all the exciting things that are happening that may not be apparent to you—and also to enrich the mythology of the place and make people out for a stroll stop and think slightly differently about where they are.”

Not all the signs remain in place: one, featuring lyrics from Elizabeth Shepherd’s “Parkdale,” (“Chalk hearts and broken streets, smoking sweet relief”) was taken down by the group after Councillor Gord Perks’s office contacted it saying there’d been complaints; another, with lyrics from an Ohbijou song that mentions a “Parkdale Dollarmart,” was mysteriously removed soon after it was put up near a Parkdale Dollarama.

But neighbourhood response seems to be largely positive, and Track Toronto hopes to bring its musical signs to different areas of the city, perhaps even expanding their capability, and that of the map resource: “Imagine being able to get an audio preview of who’s playing tonight at all the venues you pass on your way home,” reads the website, “or imagine your neighbourhood turned into a pop-up video, filled with layers of rich musical history, and new bands to discover.”

So if you happen to know that someone wrote a song about your house or your street, or if you yourself have written a song about your experience of Toronto, drop Track Toronto a line and help it build its collection. And don’t worry if the lyrics aren’t celebratory or explore the darker side of Toronto life : “There are songs about traumatic events, bad things that have happened—but we want to tell those stories,” says Doesburg. “What’s more important is sharing the different stories and experiences of these songs.”