Media Releases

The Cities Podcast Ep. 1 Strolling with Shawn Micallef

April 9, 2015

In this re-launch of the pod­cast, we take a spring stroll in unex­pect­ed places with author and urban enthu­si­ast, Shawn Micallef. He writes about city explo­rations for The Toron­to Star, Spac­ing Mag­a­zine and in his books, The Trou­ble With Brunch, and Stroll, from Coach House Books.

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Tran­script: Strolling with Shawn Micallef

(Music up)




Wel­come to The Cities Pod­cast, I’m Bri­an­na Gold­berg.


I’m stand­ing in the mid­dle of Cedar­vale Ravine. It’s ear­ly spring, the trees are still bare. The creek is still cov­ered with ice but I can hear water rush­ing under­neath. This ravine is between the St. Clair West and Eglin­ton sta­tions on the sub­way line. I live near­by… and I live where I do because of this ravine.


Because after a day in the core of the city, I can step out of the sub­way, take a few steps down a hill, and sud­den­ly I’m sur­round­ed by trees and bul­rush­es and a stream.


It’s a reminder of what Toron­to used to look like before we built a city here. But it’s also what Toron­to  still does look like with our giant ravine sys­tem. Nature and con­crete and riv­er and lake, all woven togeth­er.

(Music out)

It’s actu­al­ly my first day in the ravine this year because until now it’s been held hostage by slip­pery ice and snow.


Over the past few weeks I’ve peeked over the Bathurst bridge and watched its mini-glac­i­er start to melt away with the some­what spring-like weath­er.


But right now it’s about 10 degrees, it’s mud­dy and it’s messy… all the wildlife and flow­ers and trees are start­ing to rus­tle out. It’s a new begin­ning.


In the fall you might have lis­tened in to our cities mini-series. It tied into the munic­i­pal elec­tion – we talked about traf­fic and tran­sit and the future of cities.

(Music up)

Today, you’re walk­ing with me into a new begin­ning for the pod­cast. One that’s more focused on telling the sto­ries of the city, one that gets out on street­cars and into con­struc­tion sites and mucky melt­ing ravines as we explore all the ways Toron­to – and oth­er cities around the world – are chang­ing, grow­ing, and bring­ing cit­i­zens along for the ride.


And who bet­ter to guide us in these first steps than Toronto’s res­i­dent fla­neur, Shawn Micallef. He writes about the city for The Toron­to Star and Spac­ing Mag­a­zine and through his Twit­ter account (which I high­ly rec­om­mend fol­low­ing because it’s jam-packed with notes and pho­tos from his explo­rations).


He’s authored a few books – The Trou­ble With Brunch and anoth­er one called Stroll, all about explor­ing the city on foot.


We’ll hear more from Micallef a few episodes from now, when he talks about how to love a city… but on a day like this, while the city is start­ing to reveal itself once again, I asked him to share a route for a melty spring walk… and he end­ed up tak­ing us in some sur­pris­ing places.


Here’s Shawn Micallef.

(Music out)



I think a real­ly fun spring walk to go on is through the ravines. When it’s real­ly snowy you can go deep on snow­shoes, which I have. And you kind of have this weird free­dom in the win­ter with some­thing like snow­shoes and being much more alone in the city because peo­ple are away. But there’s a real­ly awe­some feel­ing of those first spring walks when you’re out there and the rest of the city seems to be out and you’re see­ing all this bare flesh for the first time in six months. And it’s like over­whelm­ing human­i­ty, which is great.


But when you’re in the ravines before the leaves bloom, you can see through the for­est for the trees and if you’re walk­ing through Rosedale you can see the back ends of all the man­sions, which are total­ly cov­ered up in the sum­mer with foliage. So it’s like you get this real­ly voyeuris­tic view of the city just before the leaves come out, and yet it’s still warm enough that you can walk for an hour and be com­fort­able, and you’ll stop at cafes and do all the kind of city things.


So it’s like you’re com­fort­able, you don’t have to real­ly super — bun­dle up or have gear, but you real­ly get to see the city kind of laid-bare. I wrote about this once, this kind of won­der­ful voyeuris­tic-ness of it, and some­body wrote in to either The Star or I, I can’t remem­ber where it was, call­ing me, not actu­al­ly a per­vert but like some­thing in that direc­tion, about, “You peep­ing-tom, get out of my back­yard.” I’m like, I’m not in your back­yard, I’m just look­ing, because it’s there. And I’m like, “If you’re going to have a con­spic­u­ous McMan­sion, I’m going to look at it and judge it.” But you can do that in that peri­od. So spring is a fine time to go for a walk.


It’s just real­ly buoy­ant, I find, like the spir­its of Toron­to­ni­ans are buoy­ant. I write these things about the win­ter or Tweet these win­ter walks, because win­ter is not going away. It’s here, fig­ure out a way to actu­al­ly enjoy it and not be such a sour­puss about it. But there is just this kind of lev­el of like lazy sour-puss­ing around Toron­to, which I think peo­ple would be hap­pi­er if they kind of got out.


But those spring days when it just busts out, the kind of joy that you kind of feel walk­ing in the city, this kind of ambi­ent joy, it’s effer­ves­cent and it’s a real­ly won­der­ful feel­ing. It’s almost like Toron­to at peak. Some­where between April and into June. June every­thing is — the foliage is out and so there is this kind of like pris­tine, clean new­ness to the city, and the smells and every­thing. It’s this kind of won­der­ful peak. But then you could say that I could roman­ti­cize all the oth­er sea­sons, but I won’t.




So where would be, if you could sug­gest like, “Okay guys it’s time to get out there, get off at this sub­way stop and get a cof­fee at this place, start in the ravines here,” what would you rec­om­mend?




I think you should go to Old Mill Sta­tion in Eto­bi­coke on the sub­way, get out, there’s not a cof­fee place right there so you should bring a cof­fee with you. And go either north or south on the Hum­ber Riv­er. South you go down through the Hum­ber marsh­es along the trail and you end at the won­der­ful white arched bridge at the mouth of the Hum­ber Riv­er by the Palace Pier Tow­ers. And you’re walk­ing through this real­ly wide expanse of Hum­ber Val­ley. But then if you go north, The Hum­ber becomes steep­er on the sides, there’s some great cataracts because there’s a lot of ver­ti­cal ele­va­tion as you go up. There used to be some­thing like a half-a-dozen mills that use that ele­va­tion to kind of do what­ev­er mills do. There’s a sort of dra­ma to the land­scape that’s total­ly eas­i­ly acces­si­ble by pub­lic tran­sit.


Then you can walk up and you cross under Dun­das, or you could keep going more north and if you’re real­ly intre­pid you go all the way up to West­on. It’s an old Ontario town in the mid­dle of the inner ring of Toron­to. And you can do that in a few hours. You can cov­er dis­tances, if you’ve nev­er walked through Toron­to, you cov­er way more dis­tance than you think you would. Then you get up and inevitably there’s an arte­r­i­al road near­by, because you’re going under­neath them, Toron­to is a grid, and you get up and there’s a bus. And if you don’t want to walk all the way back you just get on the bus and it takes you to a sub­way.




I’m going to sort of zoom out from there. What is a Toron­to issue that comes to mind for you that either is in the process of an inter­est­ing new begin­ning, sort of we’re start­ing to think about this dif­fer­ent­ly, or that real­ly needs a new begin­ning, either from a pol­i­cy per­spec­tive or a cul­ture per­spec­tive?




I think the main thing that needs a new begin­ning is the idea of Toron­to. I think this is already kind of start­ing. But get­ting over this urban/suburban divide. And there are peo­ple work­ing towards that. There are dif­fer­ences, and this could be either a 905/416 thing, or just like down­town Toron­to and Scar­bor­ough, North York, Eto­bi­coke. And I think divides have been exploit­ed by peo­ple who have some­thing to gain by it polit­i­cal­ly or oth­er­wise. There’s been a void of peo­ple talk­ing about shared val­ues. I think there’s more shared val­ues than there are dif­fer­ences. This is still just like South­ern Ontario. We’re not talk­ing about insur­mount­able geo­graph­ic or cul­tur­al divides.
And so I think if we start look­ing for those con­nec­tions, and some­times it’s just like when you think about how do you live. Maybe some of us dri­ve cars more, maybe some of us walk more. But then you want your kids to live on a street that’s safe. You want prob­a­bly a library near­by, and you want a good school. Those sim­i­lar­i­ties kind of over­lap. And when you start count­ing them up there’s just dozens and dozens of them that you could kind of point to and exploit for the bet­ter. So that I think is the main thing.


We’ve been amal­ga­mat­ed as a one megac­i­ty for now 17 years, and there are peo­ple through­out the Ford years and now still talk­ing about the amal­ga­ma­tion. You can talk about that as a the­o­ret­i­cal thing that maybe could hap­pen, but there’s not polit­i­cal will to de-amal­ga­mate. It would be such a mess, so it’s not going to hap­pen I think any time soon, or ever I would say. But oth­er peo­ple have dif­fer­ent feel­ings about that, so it’s moot. So let’s for­get about that and fig­ure out ways we can make this work. And I think it’s real­ly impor­tant, par­tic­u­lar­ly for down­town peo­ple, down­town Toron­to is becom­ing this kind of “Man­hat­tanized” real­ly wealthy place, expen­sive. The kind of peo­ple that can live down­town is quite lim­it­ed because it’s so expen­sive down here and it’s increas­ing­ly so.


So when we start say­ing let’s get rid of the sub­urbs, let’s sep­a­rate from them, we’re dif­fer­ent than them, you’re basi­cal­ly say­ing you’re dif­fer­ent from the part of town that does­n’t have the same eco­nom­ic advan­tages you do. And these are the parts of towns that are the most eth­ni­cal­ly diverse, where the new Cana­di­ans kind of land, and where low income peo­ple live, often in tow­ers. That kind of divi­sive lan­guage seems to be kind of reject­ing the very idea of what Toron­to is.


So I think if you want to talk about the amal­ga­ma­tion you have to real­ly rede­fine what your Toron­to is. Do you want like a rich core and a poor sep­a­rate kind of out­er band, or do we fig­ure out ways to kind of make this place work togeth­er.




Shawn Micallef is author of Stroll from Coach House Books. He writes reg­u­lar­ly for The Toron­to Star, and Spac­ing Mag­a­zine.


Micallef also teach­es two first-year cours­es at Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to. He takes stu­dents on explorato­ry walks through the city and into coun­cil meet­ings and gen­er­al­ly loops them into all sorts of oth­er urban things. Those first-year cours­es are offered through Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege and Innis Col­lege.


Thanks so much for being a part of this new begin­ning for the Cities pod­cast. There’s a lot more to come, so please sub­scribe on iTunes or fol­low us on Sound­Cloud… and keep an eye out for our sto­ries post­ed at U of T News.


If you liked this pod­cast, why not tell a friend who might like it, too? You can share the link on Face­book or Twit­ter or email it… or even tell them with your own voice. We’d appre­ci­ate it.


Because the more city-lov­ing peo­ple we invite into this pod­cast, the more we’ll be able to hear about your great sto­ries of the city.


Today I’m talk­ing to you from my favourite “place” in Cedar­vale Ravine… you prob­a­bly have one, too.  Get in touch and tell us about your favourite cafes, nooks and cran­nies and secret sto­ries in the city… any city, real­ly.


Tweet with the hash­tag #UofTC­i­ties or send us a note on Twit­ter, Face­book or Insta­gram. You can also drop me a line at


Spe­cial thanks to our guest Shawn Micallef. We’ll hear more from him a few episodes from now when he’ll talk about how he grew to love Toron­to… and how he’s grown to use social media as part of his engage­ment with the city.


Thanks also to Jay Fer­gu­son for com­pos­ing the great music you heard in this episode.


The Cities Pod­cast is pro­duced by me, Bri­an­na Gold­berg, with help from U of T News edi­tor Jen­nifer Lan­thi­er.


Thanks for lis­ten­ing.