‘Why do you think people live in big cities?’ I asked my six-year-old niece. We were walking west on Dundas St. in Toronto, about 75 minutes away from her charming small town of 35,000. I was trying to play detective: was she fond of cities, like I was? Surely, all these years of visiting her auntie in a city of almost three million people must have had some sort of impact. ‘Cities are fun!’ she said with a smile. ‘You get to walk everywhere, and there is so much to do. I love Toronto. Hey Auntie J—let’s skip to wherever we’re going next!’
Let me back up for a moment: about five years ago, when my niece Kaiya was 18-months old, I had just started grad school and was working at the best children’s bookstore in Toronto, ella minnow. I stumbled across the Kids Can Press book ABC of Toronto by Per-Henrik Gürth and fell in love. The alphabet book takes you on an illustrated journey to some of Toronto’s most iconic landmarks and activities, from A (the Art Gallery of Ontario) to Z (the Zoo). I’m not sure if it’s a consequence of who I am or the fact that Kaiya has seven grandparents and eight aunts/uncles (which translates to countless gifts!), but I’ve always tried to minimize the things I buy for her—and focus on experiences.
This book seemed to be my next crazy gift idea. Why not turn it into an ongoing urban scavenger hunt or bucket list? We could go on adventures together and ‘check off’ each activity (in kid speak: that’s putting a sticker on each page). Yes, they were experiences vs. things. Yes, I’d get to show her how awesome cities are. But, the truth? I just wanted more excuses to hang out with my awesome niece (and later, nephew, when her little brother was born and started joining in). In just under five years, we’ve completed 17 letters/adventures and have nine to go.
Above: A is for the Art Gallery of Ontario, C is for the CN Tower
There’s kind of an unfortunate twist to this story: four months ago, I moved from one big city to another, over 4,000 kilometres away. The hardest part about moving to Vancouver was leaving my niece and nephew. Of course I’ll be back to visit, and our Toronto adventures will continue. Although, it may take longer to finish the book than originally anticipated. However, this does not faze Kaiya. What does she want to do when the book is finished? Do it all over again. And, make an ABC of Vancouver book/list for when she comes to visit out west. (Toronto is the only city in Gürth’s Canada Concept books, but he does have some cross Canada titles, including ABC of Canada and Canada 123). Because, as she likes to remind me: ‘Vancouver is a city, Auntie J. Cities are fun! Plus, Vancouver has a CN Tower too.’ (She of course means the Vancouver Lookout Tower. But, I’m not going to correct her. She’s too friggin’ cute).
Above: D is for dinosaurs at the ROM, K is for Kensington Market
What we’ve done so far:
- A is for Art Gallery of Ontario
- B is for the Beaches
- C is for CN Tower
- D is for Dinosaurs (at the Royal Ontario Museum)
- G is for Gardens (Toronto Botanical Gardens)
- K is for Kensington Market
- L is for Lake Ontario
- N is for Nathan Phillips Square
- O is for Ontario Science Centre
- Q is for Queen’s Park
- R is for Roy Thomson Hall
- S is for Streetcar
- T is for Turrets (at Casa Loma)
- U is for Union Station
- W is for Ward’s Island
- Y is for Yonge Street
- Z is for Zoo
What are the other nine activities? You’ll just have to check out the book to find out. (Nope, Kids Can Press didn’t pay me to write that, I just love this book that much).
Above: T is for the turrets of Casa Loma, U is for Union Station