How did you become a tour operator?
I became a tour guide in 1996 when I was a student at York University. I answered a classified ad looking for tour guides to take student groups to Ottawa and Quebec City. I was hired, trained and ended up working in the educational travel industry for more than a decade.
Some of your tour offerings are quite specific—focusing, for example, on beer, bacon and graffiti. How do you use these sorts of topics to help tell the broader story of Toronto?
Toronto has so much to offer, you really can’t do the city justice with a general tour. Since it’s a “city of neighbourhoods” with such a diverse population, and is visited by people from around the world, we wanted to highlight some of the coolest aspects of Toronto. Many tours are based on history and punctuated with fun facts and trivia. Our tours are built around our passions (like beer, ghosts, graffiti and bacon); by getting into the nooks and crannies of the city, we try to give people an authentic Toronto experience with a fun local guide rather than just going sightseeing.
You also offer a pair of free Toronto walking tours. How do they differ from your other offerings?
We’re going to be offering even more free tours this year, and we’ll changing things up to make them even more exciting. Our free tours differ from our other offerings in that they are a little shorter (90 minutes) and they cost less (the guide works for tips alone). Other than that, they are like our other tours, which are designed for both long-time residents and first-time visitors who want to connect with Toronto and experience something new and different.
What can a person do to ensure they get the most out of their Tour Guys experience?
To get the most out of your experience with us we recommend booking your tour online at least a few days in advance to ensure you get a spot. I’d also recommend wearing comfortable clothing and being prepared to walk outside, rain or shine!
What question are you asked most often by your clients?
People often ask why we offer free tours and how we make any money. Our answer is our guides are awesome and since they work exclusively for tips, people tend to tip them well. Besides being a lot of fun, our free tours are designed to whet people’s appetites for more of what we do! Many people on our free tours have actually never taken any sort of walking tour before!
Are there any sites in Toronto that you wish you could include in one of your tours, but cannot?
I would love to incorporate the Evergreen Brick Works into a tour, but it’s a bit of a hike (or bike, or drive, or shuttle bus) away from downtown. It might be something we do later, but for now we are focusing on the downtown core for our tours since that’s what most people come to Toronto to see.
If you could go on a tour that focused on an aspect of Toronto that you wish you knew more about, what would that tour be?
We’ve got some other tours in the development and research phase right now, but one that we aren’t currently working on that I’d like to know more about revolves around water—everything from storm drains to sewage, tap water to fire hydrants. Access to water in abundance is something we take for granted here and water issues are going to become even more relevant in the future. I’d love to spend a day with experts, touring the city to learn exactly how water plays a role in our lives and what it takes to keep it flowing in Toronto.
Tell us one thing you know about Toronto that few (if any) other people do.
I really enjoy taking my tour groups somewhere for butter tarts. It’s usually a mixed group of locals and visitors and I’ll ask them to raise their hand if they’ve never had a butter tart. Every one of the visitors raises a hand and all the Canadians go “WHAAAAT?!” I’ve found the vast majority of Canadians are completely unaware that butter tarts are unknown outside of our country and it’s shocking to them when they learn this. They can’t believe it.