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Staycationing: Internal tourism takes off in Toronto

Whether visiting local parks or libraries, there is plenty for Torontonians to explore in their own backyard.

Jake Tobin Garrett is an internal tourism advocate in Toronto. He’s in the middle of an ambitious plan to visit a park in each of the city’s 44 wards.

Liz Beddall/Metro

Jake Tobin Garrett is an internal tourism advocate in Toronto. He’s in the middle of an ambitious plan to visit a park in each of the city’s 44 wards.

A growing number of Torontonians are becoming tourists in their own city.

It’s a phenomenon known as “internal tourism” and its proponents describe it as everything from a fun adventure to a civic duty.

“When you visit a city you’ve never been to before, you’re more open to spontaneous experiences, but when you live somewhere you can get stuck in your own bubble,” said Jake Tobin Garrett, who is in the middle of a year-long project to visit a park in each of Toronto’s 44 wards.

Since starting in January, Garrett has cleaned up garbage in Rexdale, got lost in the city’s expansive ravine system and ice skated with new Canadians at Morningside Park in Scarborough.

“I chose parks because I love parks,” he said. “But if you’re not interested in parks, you can do something else.”

Daniel Rotsztain, another internal tourist, has spent the past year visiting each of the city’s 100 library branches and sketching them. His collected drawings will be published in a colouring book next month.

“I did it because I wanted to see every corner of Toronto,” he said.

While sketching all 100 branches may have been the goal, Rotsztain said the journey was as important as the destination. Whether biking through trials to reach a branch in Malvern, or sampling “delicious” ethnic food outside a branch in Etobicoke, he learned – and experienced – a lot about the city he calls home.

“I think people tend to write off parts of the city, but I learned that’s just not possible,” he said.

Both urban explorers described their travels as a kind of civic engagement.

“It’s our civic responsibility to explore a little,” Rotsztain said. “When people argue about the routes of the new Scarborough subway, for example, it’s all pretty abstract until you get out there and see it.” 

Tips for urban exploring

1. Set a goal

Jake Tobin Garrett said choosing a structure for his project helped him stop procrastinating.

“One year. Fourty-four wards. Forty-four parks,” he said. “It had a beginning and an end, and now I want to finish it. It’s pretty satisfying to have a list and cross things off.”

2. Don’t drive

In his bid to sketch all 100 Toronto Public Library branches, Daniel Rotsztain insisted on biking or taking transit to each one.

“Experiencing first-hand what transit is like outside of the downtown core gives you the opportunity to experience the culture more ,” he said. “You’re not stuck inside your little steel box by yourself.”

3. Find a map

Having a visual reminder of how big Toronto is, and how much of the city is left to explore was a big motivator, said both Garrett and Rotsztain. 

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