What makes a town home?

As the holiday break draws near, Journal staff and contributors present the good, the bad and the ugly about our places of origin

You can find mountains, the ocean and a bustling downtown core in Vancouver.
You can find mountains, the ocean and a bustling downtown core in Vancouver.
Jon Wilinofsky
A view into downtown Ottawa across Elgin Street, one of the city’s central arteries.
A view into downtown Ottawa across Elgin Street, one of the city’s central arteries.
Photo courtesy of mccullagh.org
A rocky view of the Atlantic from Prouts Neck in Scarborough, Maine.
A rocky view of the Atlantic from Prouts Neck in Scarborough, Maine.
Photo courtesy of manworldgod.com
A bustling street in Karachi, Pakistan.
A bustling street in Karachi, Pakistan.
Photo courtesy of quadranet.org

Vancouver, B.C.

By Rosel Kim
Postscript Editor

Vancouver: the city of lush green mountains, the magnificent Pacific Ocean and, of course, never-ending sushi.

My undying love for this West Coast gem comes from the countless nights I spent on the dock of Deep Cove—with blankets and friends in tow and the stars reflecting back on the calm ocean water—and moments on the waterfront at the Vancouver Jazz Festival with a handsome saxophonist blaring the likes of Charlie Parker.

I have endlessly fond memories of impromptu conversations with penniless intellectuals by the Art Gallery, going to see Radiohead in an outdoor stadium on a warm summer night and finding vintage gems in one of the many second-hand stores on Vancouver’s Main Street or Commercial Drive.

Diversity springs from every corner with the city’s annual Pride Parade down by the West End—hello, men in Speedos ordering coffee at Starbucks—Chinatown with its Dragon Parade and the sheer number of ethnic restaurants found all over the city.

But at the root of it all, what makes Vancouver such an endearing home, is the very laid-back attitude that not only the people, but the whole city, seem to exude.

It’s a kind of laissez-faire, relaxed atmosphere where nobody is ever in too much of a hurry to miss the beauty of the simultaneous existence of mountains and the ocean side by side.

Banff, Alta.

By Vladimir de Baghy

You don’t grow up in Banff so much as you grow out of it. I don’t know of any other place where a backdrop of such rugged, natural splendour can inspire such antipathy. I also don’t know of any other place so revered by outsiders but treated so ambivalently by its own residents.

I don’t dislike my hometown. On the contrary, I find myself more attached to it with every successive visit over Christmas and every long summer spent working there. But therein lies the rub—only after one “escapes” the Bow Valley trap can the location be appreciated in a fair context.

What was once a stagnant bog of daily grind and routine excesses becomes hallowed ground. But the city also battles alcoholism, STDs, permanent jadedness and, most feared of all, “Banff Ass.” (That’s the inevitable weight gain coming from beer, a barstool and a constant plan to go out in the mountains to get exercise. The plan to exercise is never followed through, however, because of the constant nights of beer and barstools.)

I hardly need to promote the merits of visiting Banff, or even of spending a summer there—the mountains speak for themselves and there are jobs aplenty. It takes more than four months, however, to understand what the genuine local’s experience involves.

It is, by and large, two decades of never taking advantage of the vast opportunities around you (locals don’t go for hikes), working in subservient and pride-swallowing jobs (“Of course I understand how that dusty windowsill has completely ruined your honeymoon, Mr. Smith. You are totally correct to call me an asshole.”) and generally coming to grips with the people with whom you grew up: They are boring, never change and whine for hours about how crappy their picturesque hometown is.

Brantford, Ont.

By Nicholas Worby

The only way I could describe my hometown would be as a large, beer-soaked sack of idiosyncrasies. There was a television show on in the early ’90s called Eerie, Indiana. I didn’t think about it at the time, but I’m pretty sure they stole half of their ideas from Brantford.

Everything about our town is surreal. For starters, it’s full of ghosts. Colborne Street is the only street in Canada I know of that can double as a set for a zombie movie as soon as it’s closed to traffic. (This actually happened last April.) There are black silhouettes painted on the fronts of abandoned shops in order to give the illusion of development. Local lore has it—and my grandma will back me up on this—the mall built downtown has an Iroquois curse on it. Ever since the late 1980s nothing has ever prospered in the building, which was known as the Brantford Eaton Centre.

There are sad ghosts too. Mohawk Institute Residential School was one of the last to close in Canada. It finally closed its doors in 1969, one year before my mother started high school. The land where the Mohawk Institute stood is now the Woodland Cultural Centre, which supports Aboriginal language and culture initiatives.

If you’re ever in town, there are three places that must be seen to be believed.

First there’s the Rodeo. They serve $1 beers before 9 p.m. and after that it’s $1.75. Before 6 p.m. it’s 85 cents a beer—but do be warned, there’s a dress code: no work boots after 5 p.m.

Next, there’s Admirals. Their order of small fries is roughly the size of a human head. It is the number one cause of heart failure in Brant County.

Finally, there’s the Ford Plant. It’s an all-ages concert venue and art gallery. It’s probably one of the only positive influences on youth culture in Brantford. It’s great to see a place that enables kids to come to terms with the backwardness of their city through creative expression.

Hamilton, Ont.

By Emma Reilly
Copy Editor

There is a stretch of highway between Hamilton and Niagara that gives people the wrong idea about my hometown, since it showcases Hamilton’s industrial underbelly.

But Hamilton is so much more than what you passersby see on the highway. Did you know that Hamilton just opened up a brand spanking new art gallery that’s home to over 8,000 pieces? Or that Hamilton is known as “the city of waterfalls” and has more than 60 of these liquid cascades within its boundaries?

From the Royal Botanical Gardens to the Tiger Cats, Hamilton has something to offer even the most discriminating tastes.

My favourite part of my hometown is the neighbourhood where I grew up. My family and I moved there when I was only two years old, and I spent my formative years running around with various groups of neighbourhood kids.

The area is filled with enormous trees, century-old homes and parks in every block. I would challenge anyone to maintain their anti-Steeltown prejudices after coming to my neck of the woods.

The next time you whiz by Hamilton on the highway, you can scoff all you want at the factories and smokestacks. Nothing you can do will ever erase my love for Steeltown, the Hammer, my hometown.

Bolton, Ont.

By Janet Shulist
Assistant News Editor

Dear Bolton, Ont.,

Breaking up is always hard to do, and our shared history makes it even more emotional for me. We’ve been together for a very long time, and I’m sure you’ll agree that 17 years shouldn’t be taken casually. We grew up with each other and have seen each other through the good and bad.

We can certainly pick and choose our memories.

Remember the time when you thought a bus route through town was a great way to spend money? Well, I bit my tongue at the idea, but I still embraced you after you failed horribly.

And even when you started changing your residential appearance, I pretended to not notice too much. All the new neighbourhoods you were incorporating were something I learned to accept as a devoted resident.

As our relationship comes to an end, I do have a few regrets. I’ve always felt like I was cheating you when I’d say I was from the GTA. I’m sorry. I also didn’t do enough shopping in your local stores, which I am sure hurt your little economy. And I regret not spending more afternoons in your beautiful parks.

But as you are rapidly being swallowed by suburbia, I have come to realize that our relationship is getting too crowded and I no longer know who you are. This is why I am leaving you. It’s time for us to move on.

However, when my family relocates next spring, I want you to know there are two things I will miss about you. The first are the cheeseburgers at Cheek’s Restaurant. They are the best cheeseburgers I have ever had. And the second is the old tree that stands along Highway 50, the vena cava into the little heart of your town. You know the one—it’s monstrous and intricate. When I would suffer through your rush hour traffic, I always found it pleasant to look at.

And so, it’s not you, it’s me. Your changes haven’t been bad, but they aren’t right for me. I will miss you, but I know you’ll do fine without me.

Love, Janet

St. Catharines, Ont.

By Lauren Raham
Assistant A&E Editor

I’m not proud of where I come from. While I did enjoy some of the time I spent in St. Catharines, I harbour a mild resentment toward what my hometown stands for—it’s a fat city.

According to a study done by Statistics Canada in 2001, 53.7 per cent of the city’s population is overweight. And if you’ve ever visited St. Catharines, you’ve probably seen the fleshy evidence to back up that stat.

Or, if you’re like me and left St. Catharines after living there for 18 years, you would have found yourself startled by the lack of plump people walking around anywhere else.

St. Catharines is about 20 minutes away from Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake. The former is, of course, a natural wonder that attracts millions of tourists each year, but it’s also home to numerous strip clubs and lame tourist-oriented shops.

Niagara-on-the-Lake is like walking into a Norman Rockwell painting. Everything is clean and picturesque. And they make lots of good wine. Alexisonfire, the popular screamo band, is from St. Catharines. This is awesome if you’re an angst-ridden pre-teen, but not so cool if you have a more developed music taste.

Despite all of its shortcomings, St. Catharines did have one redeeming quality in a little café called Beantrees. Located on the main street, Beantrees was a secluded retreat for me and my friends in high school.

We knew the wait staff by name, they played the finest selection of indie rock and they had countless teas to choose from. But slowly, Beantrees lost its charm as it became more and more popular. Then it was sold and made into a Mexican restaurant.

Oshawa, Ont.

By Jon Thompson

You know how in Great Expectations, Pip discovers the wider world and finds himself suddenly ashamed of his sweet, loving-yet-socially-crude father figure Joe?

Yeah, growing up in Oshawa is a lot like that. Here are three things you need to know about Oshawa that only a local could tell you:

•The “Shwa for Life” Award at my high school was eliminated, having been deemed “unnecessarily cruel.”

•“The O.C.” is generally accepted in Oshawa as referring to “the Oshawa Centre,” not the TV show.

•The University of Ontario Institute of Technology offers a “broad range of programming,” provided that you’re not interested in the social sciences or humanities. Suggestions that UOIT is a clever disguise for “GM University” are pretty well founded.

The easternmost part of the GTA, Oshawa is a city with about 150,000 people, a General Motors plant and a bad reputation. Despite everything you’ve been told about mullets, prosti-tots and the absolute lack of culture, Oshawa isn’t really a bad place to grow up.

Once you leave Oshawa, your perspective on the city changes. It seems like everyone in Oshawa longs to be someplace else, like nobody means to stay there forever. Young people dream of moving away to seek their fortunes, and older people look to comfortable retirements at a cottage somewhere either real or imagined. In the meantime, Oshawa’s reputation is forged by those excluded from these groups, who have neither the benefits of education nor the protection of industry.

As artist Olexander Wlasenko said, “Oshawa has come to embody the ethos of modernity, in all its promise and doubt. The local economy has prospered from its industrial complex, as the regional heritage and cultural identity slowly eroded.” With the announcements of cutbacks to Oshawa’s GM plant, one wonders what the future holds for my hometown.

Kingston, Ont.

By Rob Kempson

Kingston: a town of kings. Perhaps not kings, but at least Dan Aykroyd. Since I’m a proud townie at this University, I feel like I have to explain my love of Kingston for those who simply cannot understand why anyone would stay here for longer than the time it takes to finish a degree.

Kingston has many sides for me, and living in the Ghetto is not representative of the whole city in any way.

It’s true that Kingston may have a long history of unpredictable and extreme weather, excessive amounts of snow and squirrels that rival wolverines in both size and belligerence.

Yet, having said that, students don’t often get to know the Kingston I love—the Kingston that exists beyond the Queen’s bubble that includes major shopping centres, some beautiful parks, historic sites coming out the wazoo and a season called summer.

In the summer, Kingston is alive with festivals, tourists, sports, arts, recreation and many a waterfront patio. In the fall, students return and infuse the city with their energy, keeping Kingston young and fresh.

While we may complain about our landlords and the odd annoying resident, Kingston does its best to love students. So when I make the trek up Sir John A. Macdonald Boulevard to my parents’ house for the holidays, I’ll be returning to a different sort of Kingston, but one that I truly enjoy.

Ottawa, Ont.

By Emily Sangster
Editor in Chief

My hometown gets mentioned a lot in national newspapers. It’s usually framed like this: “Dalton McGuinty to ask Ottawa for extra funding,” or “Ottawa funneled ad money to Liberal party cronies.” Any Toronto Star or Globe and Mail reader outside the National Capital Region might be forgiven for thinking there’s nothing in Ottawa besides a federal kleptocracy, and judging from conversations with my fellow students here, many of them do.

Of course, the government made Ottawa a city in the first place, after Queen Victoria decided to move the nation’s capital to a tiny riverside logging station called Bytown. As tiresome as they are, the feds provide a good proportion of both the jobs and the public image of what, at a million people, is still a pretty small municipality.

The more I think about Ottawa’s image as a drab, homogeneous government town, though, the more I perversely start to wonder if I really want to do anything to change that perception.

After all, if the hip denizens of T.O. or Montreal think there’s nothing in Ottawa but government and nobody but bureaucrats, they might not want to skate on the Rideau Canal or ski in Gatineau Park. They might not visit the National Gallery or the War Museum, or watch the Senators mature into a hockey franchise to be reckoned with. They might not want to have dessert and drinks in a mellow café along Elgin Street, or take in late-night falafel after bar-hopping in the Market.

The more I think about that, the more fantastic it sounds. It means all those people with something to prove will stay away, leaving my relaxed, unpretentious hometown to me and all the other people who’ve succumbed to its charms. Given how fast Ottawa’s growing these days—I go home every four months to find a new Mississauga-like subdivision—I think I actually prefer it that way.

If the federal government wants to keep providing a stodgy front for my city and slow its transformation into a cookie-cutter megalopolis, that’s just fine by me.

Hampton, N.B.

By Pamela Beauchamp
Ads Manager

How do you sum up a town that has no traffic lights, few sidewalks and a bustling Tim Hortons? Oh wait, I think I just did.

Actually, there’s more to my hometown of Hampton, New Brunswick than those who speed by its sole highway exit—on their way to the province’s biggest city, Saint John—may think.

In the town of around 4,000 people, everyone seems to know everyone else. This can be both comforting and confining.

Having lived in larger cities before, I moved when I was 10 to what New Brunswick’s tourism website calls a “quaint community.” The first time I accompanied my mom to the local Save Easy grocery store, I was shocked by its size, with aisles that seemed to end before they began.

I’ve learned over the years to be careful when going there. A quick “milk and bread” trip can easily turn into an hour-long conversation with my grade six teacher. Located in the Hampton Mall (possibly an oxymoron) alongside a bank, pizza place, liquor store and “Timmy’s”—all the necessities, I guess—it is often more a grounds for socializing and town gossip than a place to buy groceries.

Further down Main Street, a similar locale for gossip—and Hampton pride—is ‘the rink’ that attracts hundreds to watch high school hockey.

During the summer months, living in the relaxed town feels like being at a cottage, with frog catching and bonfires in my own backyard. Traffic jams are nonexistent—unless of course a tractor or horse is slowing things down. Nature is a big part of the town, and the renowned Hampton Marsh adds to its quaintness.

A lifelong Hamptonian once warned me not to go to Ontario. He said I would come back all tattooed and pierced. While this hasn’t happened yet, some days I crave the peaceful porch of my home in Hampton and want to return to the days when I longed for more excitement and screamed, “I’m bored.” Is it too early to retire? My hometown hammock awaits ...

Halifax, N.S.

By Jennifer MacMillan
Editor in Chief

The first summer job I ever had was as a tour guide in my native city. The job mostly entailed heading down to Pier 20 a few times a week to greet a giant cruise ship loaded with shrimp cocktail and overweight Americans. The cruise ship passengers would barrel off the ship looking for a cheap and easy way to “experience” the city in the three hours before the lunchtime buffet.

So I would be there, waiting, with a double-decker bus and driver. As the tourists loaded onto the bus, I’d address the most pressing questions before getting underway. Does Canada still use the Euro? How long does the ferry to mainland Canada take? Is it true our socialized health care cuts off everyone over the age of 60?

After I’d assuaged even the most wary Texan’s questions, the bus would leave the Pier and wind up Inglis Street past the student houses to the ritzy, tree-lined South End. If there were Californians on board, they invariably wouldn’t be impressed by the real estate prices: “$750,000 can barely get a bungalow in San Diego.”

The bus would then chug up Citadel Hill, and on hot days the sight of men in thongs sunbathing on the hill would distract nearly everyone from the harbour panorama. Then down the hill and we’d keep rolling through Halifax’s vertical downtown streets. At this point, someone from the Midwest might comment about how it reminded them of their trip to San Francisco.

Just when people would start pondering the possibility that quaint-but-vibrant Halifax might just have it all, we’d head up Barrington Street past the public housing and the navy dockyards. And just past the dockyards and before the dump sits a lonely little park called Seaview. It’s all that’s left of Africville, a community of 400 African-Canadians who were forcibly moved from the village they literally made with their own hands by the city of Halifax in the 1960s. Reparations from the city for the eviction remain woefully inadequate to this day.

So while a three-hour tour might not be enough to really “experience” a city like Halifax, it’s enough to give you pause to think.

Scarborough, Maine

By Tricia Summers
A&E Editor

When I wear my weathered “SCARBOROUGH HIGH SCHOOL INDOOR TRACK” t-shirts around Kingston, people often raise their eyebrows.

“You’re from Scarberia?” they ask incredulously.

“No no, quite the opposite,” I invariably reply. “Scarborough, MAINE.”

Unlike the Ontario version, Scarborough, Maine is a small, coastal New England town of about 18,000 people. Its proximity to Portland and Boston prevent Scarborough from being completely cut off from cultural diversity, but Maine’s the whitest state in the country, so it can seem pretty bland at times.

Most residents sit on the same social stratus: white, middle-class, simple folk who commute to nearby Portland for work every day. Land-wise, the town is huge—at 54 square miles, it always took me 20 minutes to get from my rural Northwest side of town to Scarborough High School, dead smack in the middle of town-—but we have one high school.

I have a love-hate relationship with my hometown. Growing up, I often felt stifled by the narrow-mindedness of my peers and lack of cultural activity, and I still feel that way if I spend any length of time there over school breaks. I spent, and still spend, most of my time in Portland, clinging to its tiny urban-ness for air.

Having to drive everywhere is inconvenient, and the fact that everyone knows each other can be irritating. I couldn’t wait to get out and see the world, and I still feel the same way.

But for some reason, I’ve gone home every summer since I came to university. Maybe it’s because being gone for an entire school year is enough to make me appreciate what I always took for granted: Scarborough is beautiful. The ocean, the beaches, the countryside and the woods are all at my fingertips. The breeze is clean, and the Maine idea of auto traffic is an utter joke.

I spent the past two summers behind the front desk of a swanky, quintessentially New England hotel on Scarborough’s east side, watching the sun set over the bay every evening, right down the street from where artist Winslow Homer had his studio.

While I’ve learned that I’m truly a city girl at heart, I know that for better or for worse, Scarborough will always be my hometown. Always.

Nairobi, Kenya

By Sheena Shaikh

When I tell people I grew up in Kenya, the reaction is often surprise, interest and sometimes even envy. It’s something you become accustomed to.

Answering eager questions about where I was from, while simultaneously dealing with growing feelings of homesickness, made me appreciate the place where I grew up.

Located in east Africa, Kenya is a beautiful tropical country blessed with an abundance of natural resources.

The country boasts beautiful sandy, white beaches where I have, in the past, spent many vacations. Since coming to Queen’s, I’ve often reminisced about serene and relaxing times spent with my family and friends at the coast.

Kenya is a place you could come to have a dream safari adventure, too. It’s renowned for wildlife game reserves and national parks. My most exciting memory involves petting a cheetah—it was tamed, though—at the Kenya National Park in Nairobi.

Visiting these parks and reserves was an exciting part of my childhood, but personally, I think no place can be fun if you don’t have the right people around you. Nairobi is a multicultural hub inhabited by friendly people of different ethnicities and racial backgrounds.

In all honesty, this peaceful diversity is probably the main reason why I loved growing up in Nairobi. It’s amazing how people so different were still so similar and were able to coexist.

Not forgetting that Kenya is a developing nation, it also sees its fare share of poverty. Performing community service in my last year of high school in one of Nairobi’s worst slums was a humbling experience.

I was amazed at how appreciative orphaned children were for the little they had. From the way they excitedly welcomed me and my fellow school mates, I never would have been able to tell they often go to bed without a meal.

Growing up in Nairobi made me appreciate what I had because I was also in contact with people less fortunate than me. I also got to enjoy the beauty of the country and form some of my fondest memories.

Bad Rappenau, Germany

By Mark Oesterle

After exiting one of Germany’s motorways three hours north of Munich, you will enter a beautiful rural landscape with a few small forests and many fields. My hometown, Bad Rappenau, is in southern Germany. It’s tiny.

Well, it’s actually not that tiny, but you can easily walk from one end to the other in about 30 minutes. The town has about 20,000 people, so it’s about the size of the Queen’s community.

Most people know each other, and that—as you can imagine—is not always a good thing. Bad Rappenau is a great place to grow up as a little kid. The landscape is ideal for all different types of outdoor activities like sledding, building dams, climbing trees and playing hide and seek.

If you come to Bad Rappenau in the summer, you’ll have a chance to go to an open-air festival of a special kind. It’s an artist’s fesitval called Roemersee Open-Air. The festival consists of artists, musicians, poets and buskers.

The stage is put up on the ruins of a lakeside Roman manor and it’s an awesome place to spend the day.

Lazarevac, Serbia

By Dunja Lukic

Before I immigrated to Toronto, my life as a seven year-old in Lazarevac, Serbia consisted of days spent playing hide and seek from dawn until dusk, promenading my doll carriage along the glavna ulica—the main street of the small town—buying beer for my grandpa at the corner store, and watching my grandma produce sugary wonders in her hot kitchen.

From my balcony overlooking the busy main street, the voices of teenagers out past my bedtime would lull me to sleep during summer. In the morning, the chatter of the old women on their way to market for ripe tomatoes, blackberries and fresh eggs would shake me gently from slumber. A stroll by the café at which my grandpa sat—the air thick with smoke and conversation—would guarantee ice-cream money, which I always spent at the stand where the seller knew my favorite flavours and the names of all of my cousins.

The street in the dwindling daylight of August teemed with families: toddlers waddling, babies wide-eyed in strollers, mothers and fathers yielding to pleas for roasted corn sold along the crowded sidewalks. After the families left, teenagers filled the noisy cafés, and left the midnight streets to couples on whom I spied from behind balcony railings with several nosy cousins.

The short Serbian winters saw crowds of colourful kids clad in wool sliding down the hill on which the church sat, white and imposing, its bells ringing long into Sunday mornings. And there it is: one snapshot of one childhood in a small Balkan town.

Karachi, Pakistan

By Sukaina Mohsin Ali

Karachi is a busy bustling city, a metropolis too big for its own good. It seems to be bursting at its seams, with too many people, cars, houses, traffic, troubles and buildings—all packed into an area with not enough trees, parks and relaxing spots.

However, I love it anyway. Although I’ve settled in well at Queen’s, I think Karachi is as vital as Kingston is dull. It’s just that Karachi has a thriving culture Kingston lacks, a smell in the air, a taste, an identity all its own.

I love the food back home: the spicy curries and steaming rice, the daal (a lentil soup-like curry) and the thin rotis (a soft, warm and freshly baked bread). It’s nothing like the packaged pita bread found in stores here. And my personal favorite—a mixture of spices called masala spread on chicken, which is then barbecued and called tikka. Once you’ve lived and eaten in Pakistan, the food in Kingston tastes bland. I just can’t get used to it. I think if Canadians went to live in Karachi, they wouldn’t be able to get used to the chaos that reigns there: everything from the absence of people who follow traffic laws to the expected norm of arriving at a wedding one hour late.

Since it’s a coastal area, Karachi has warm weather—we have summer 10 months of the year. (Definitely not like the chameleon-like weather here.)

It’s funny how you always want what you don’t have. At home, I hated the blazing sun and wished for winter. Now that I have my winter, however, I miss the predictable sunshine of my hometown.

I remember how I yearned to move away and live independently. I couldn’t wait to go to Queen’s. I remember how my restlessness made my parents’ lives hell in the last few months before I left. Now, I miss the warm sea breezes and the soothing comfort of hearing people talk in your own language.

It’s funny. You need to be deprived of something to realize its value. I never thought I’d say this, but I miss the disorder and chaos so typical of Karachi.

Exploring the everyday history of our cities

By Brendan Kennedy
Production Manager

Shawn Micallef is an urban wanderer who believes that extraordinary things happen to ordinary people in ordinary places, all of the time. He is a leading member of the Toronto Psychogeography Society, whose members gather together each week to walk aimlessly through unfamiliar parts of Toronto.

He is also a founder of the [murmur] Project, which is an interactive archival audio project that collects stories set in specific Toronto locations told by Torontonians themselves.

In various parts of a neighbourhood, there are signs with telephone numbers on them. You can call the number from a cell phone and hear a personal story, from an “ordinary” person, about the particular area you’re in.

The goal is to weave the physical experience with the emotional narrative. [murmur] was first established in Toronto’s Kensington Market two years ago, and similar projects have since sprung up in Vancouver and Montreal. Micallef spoke to the Journal to explain the point of all this aimlessness.

The Journal: What is psychogeography?

Micallef: I guess at its most basic level, it’s about getting excited about location and getting excited about the space that surrounds you and paying attention to it in different ways. It has roots in 1950s and ’60s France with the situationists.

They did all these weird experiments where they would walk around France using a map of London and other stuff like that to try and break people out of their daily routines and try to see the city from a different angle. They had all this other Marxist theory and stuff too, but we just ignore that.

One of the main things that they do, and we do, is drift. We basically just drift through the city with no destination in mind and each corner is an opportunity to go in a different direction. By walking for the sake of walking, we end up in unplanned locations and get to see parts of the city we sometimes never knew existed and would never see on our normal routes.

What inspired you to create the [murmur] project?

I grew up in Windsor, and I knew the city from top to bottom. I spent 25 years there, and it was the most familiar place ever to me—there were no secrets. Then, when I moved to Toronto, I thought I knew the city, but when I got here I realized there were these vast amounts of space that I didn’t know. They were these blank psychological spaces on my mental map of the city. My solution to filling in those spaces was simply to walk around and find other people who wanted to walk around with me.

I thought something like [murmur] would be great because you can go to the library or read historic plaques to get the official history of a city, but you can’t really get the everyday lived history. So, I thought it would be great if you could walk down a street and learn about what happened there, on that street or in that neighbourhood, but you could hear about it on a very human scale, as if the neighbourhood people were telling you their stories.

We wanted to create a new media project that wasn’t on a computer screen and wasn’t in an art gallery, something that just sort of popped up in the daily life of people. They don’t have to go some place to hear these stories, it’s just part of life. And also, the physical space and the story are able to weave together, which just makes the story more powerful.

What do you think happens to people when they participate in the project?

I think, or at least I hope they begin to appreciate the city as a place where important stuff happens and the important stuff is very much the stuff that every day people do, not just politicians and “important” people. The daily life, how the city works and the things people do are important and interesting, and by listening to the stories, I hope people are able to appreciate that, and then maybe they’ll think about their own contribution of what it means to be a citizen and maybe think of their own experiences as important.

Canadian cities have this complex [where their inhabitants feel] important stuff happens somewhere else like New York City or Paris or London. I hope that with the [murmur] project, people will recognize their own spaces as important.

Why do you think it’s important to wander?

When we don’t, we just go from point A to B to C, every day. We have these very defined paths that we take every day and we don’t really get to understand how the rest of the city is put together, and maybe that’s fine for some people, but I think the more you can know about your surroundings and your geography, and the emotional spaces of the city, the more you begin to understand your relationship to your city.

There are people who hate Toronto, or big cities in general, but these are usually the people, when I talk to them, that only know A to B to C. When I start telling them about all the other places I’ve discovered walking around the city, they have no idea that these places exist and they have no idea that there is such a varied geography and a varied environment within their city limits.

It can make your life in the city a little more exciting and perhaps a little more adventurous, less boring.

Don’t have a hometown?

The dictionary defines a “hometown” as “the town or city where somebody was born or raised.” According to that definition, I have a hometown: I was born in Montreal.

But when I reached the ripe old age of 18 months, my parents decided that their futures lay in the warmer climes of Princeton, New Jersey.

In the years between birth and attending Queen’s, I lived in a few different places, but never for long enough to think of any one of those locales as my hometown.

They all hold memories from different parts of my life: my first words and steps in Montreal; my first day of school in Princeton; my first crush in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania; my first day of high school in Houston; my first kiss in Ottawa; even my first time living on my own in Halifax.

All these places with their different neighbours, different schools, different weather, have all had a hand in shaping me.

So now, as a 21-year-old university student, I don’t know what to answer when asked where I’m from.

But this lack of a hometown has given me a case of wanderlust. I want to live in so many different places. I can’t imagine living in one house for the rest of my life.

I have also learned that your home is more important than any hometown, and that feeling “at home”—wherever you are—is more important than identifying with a geographical location.

While sometimes I wish I had a hometown—it would certainly make answering questions easier—I don’t think I could give up the wonderful experiences and friends I’ve made in each town I’ve lived in along the way.

—Christina Bossart, Assistant News Editor

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