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Exploring Toronto, One Livestream at a Time

Johnny Strides

YouTuber John Hicks strolls through our city with thousands – socially distanced – in tow

By Gregory Furgala

It hasn’t been a banner year for exploration. Most of us have avoided travelling for the painfully practical reason of attempting to stifle a global pandemic. But as our day-to-day lives shrunk down to the four walls of our household and limited outdoor trips, wanderlust migrated online.

Enter John Hicks, who documents his walks through Toronto on his YouTube channel Johnny Strides, providing capsule histories as he goes. Armed with a gimbal- stabilized camera and smartphone, Hicks picks his route and livestreams for hundreds of viewers – thousands will watch afterward. To date, his channel has more than 50,000 global subscribers.

YouTube video player

Hicks has established himself as a likeable guide, providing the kind of tour you’d expect from a friend. In Koreatown, on Bloor West, for example, he recalls how Clinton’s, a popular local bar, closed and reopened as a Korean takeout joint. On the same strip, Hicks points out Paupers (great patio), Victory Cafe (formerly in Mirvish Village) and where the James Joyce used to be (packed on weekends, back in the day).

Why has his channel taken off during the pandemic? For locals, it’s a picture of life as we used to know it. For others, it’s a means of exploring Toronto. And for both, there’s the added benefit of chatting with others (at least during the livestreams). Hicks is an intermediary for those that miss the tenuous social connection of just being in the background and observing. He’s also a proxy for seniors and people with accessibility issues. During one cast, a mother praised Hicks because it allowed her autistic son to safely explore the city.

Like all of us, Hicks is ready for the post- pandemic world. His plan: to take “Johnny Strides” abroad, perhaps to Eastern Europe or maybe to Seoul, where he once lived for five years. Wherever he goes, you’ll know just where to find him. YOUTUBE.COM/JOHNNYSTRIDES

Categories: Arts & Culture

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