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Toronto Tour Q&A: Betty Ann Jordan of Art InSite

Toronto Walking Tours - ArtHow did you become a tour operator?
In the mid-1990s as a freelance cultural journalist, I was doing a lot of advance research for my gallery-going columns and articles. Someone suggested that, as a way to further capitalize on this research, I should use my knowledge to plan walks and outings. The rest is history.

What’s your most popular tour?
The West Queen West and Ossington Art + Design + Food Walk is my most popular tour. There’s something for everyone, as we look at art, design, indie fashion and retail, unique restaurants, lounges, architecture, street art, and urban issues including gentrification, while meeting movers and shakers who define the neighborhood. I have introduced many visiting journalists, bloggers, film crews, and travel and lifestyle editors to this, Toronto’s official Art and Design District. That said, 90 per cent of my clients are individuals and groups from the GTA, people who want to keep abreast of the west end’s ever-changing culture and food scenes.

Is it necessary for a guest to have specific knowledge of visual art in order to enjoy an Art InSite tour?
No, the tour covers much more than visual art, which I consider to be but one part of the neighbourhood’s larger cultural fabric.

What can a person do to ensure they get the most out of their experience with you?
Eat something before they start so that their energy levels stay high. Wear appropriate layers as we are in warm places, cool places, dry places, wet places.

How has Toronto’s art scene evolved or changed since you began offering your tours?
It has grown in scale and diversified dramatically in terms of districts. There are also more diverse voices and forms of expression. It’s still a buyer’s market, though, in that there’s way more great art than there are buyers to support it financially—in a manner commensurate with the rampant talent.

Outside of your regular Queen West-focused walk, you also offer on-demand tours of other neighbourhoods. Can you discuss a few of the more interesting areas of the city that art- and design-lovers might want to explore?
We can visit Parkdale, Little Portugal, Dundas West, the Junction. Also Ossington Avenue, which has so many places to eat and drink. Harbourfront is always great: I love the Museum of Inuit Art as well as The Power Plant and Harbourfront Centre. And Kensington Market is getting more interesting all the time.

What question are you asked most often by your clients?
They want to know what makes a neighborhood special, how its past inflects the present, and, of course, where the great places are to eat and shop. There is also a general curiosity about street art.

Are there any sites in Toronto that you wish you could include in one of your tours, but cannot?
The McMichael Canadian Art Collection; Group of Seven murals at St. Anne’s Church.

What is the one thing you know about Toronto that few (if any) other people do?
The Textile Museum of Canada is a treasure house hidden in (nearly) plain view behind City Hall. OK, actually the museum’s entrance is hard to find: it’s on Centre Street in the first five floors of a condo. But once you do find it, you’re in for a treat.

• Art InSite, 416-979-5704 ; artinsite.net
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