Tales of Toronto

Do you sigh when you see the apartment where you had your first
threesome? Is there a park you can’t pass without thinking of the
dog you loved and lost? Is the city map covered with the stories of
your life? Stories don’t just live in our books and imaginations,
they belong to the buildings and homes where they take place.
Stories can haunt these places like ghosts, can bring a city’s
architecture to life. If walls could talk, they’d have a lot to
say; a project called [murmur] has given them a voice.

Shawn Micallef, Gabe Sawhney, and James Roussel are
[murmur]. They met at the Habitat New Media Lab at the
Canadian Film Centre in Toronto in the summer of 2002 and started
[murmur] as a way of letting Toronto’s vivid oral history
articulate itself. They collect real stories from real people and
archive them for anyone to hear. Pedestrian with cell phones can
call the phone number listed on a sign posted outside a place that
has a story and hear the story that took place where they’re
standing, while they’re standing there. And hear it told in the
voice of the person who lived it. This democratic approach ‘breaks
down the hegemonic ‘official’ history of Toronto . . . and offers
countless alternative histories,’ says Micallef. The pilot project
for [murmur] focuses on Toronto’s vibrant, multiethnic
Kensington Market, where craft stores and ethnic restaurants crowd
together in a rich mix. ‘We decided to launch the project in
Kensington because it’s a microcosm of Toronto: Layers of the city
are visible there, from the Victorian infrastructure to the
brand-new immigrant population. People are really attached to it,’
explains Micallef.

Why cell phones, and why pedestrians? While the boys of
[murmur] admit that cell phones may come across as a
rather elitist interface, they insist that they are the easiest to
use, the most appropriate, and the most intimate way to dole out
stories. The stories are told to pedestrians because one of the
aims of this project is to get people reacquainted with their
cities, at street level. ‘The city moves at the speed of walking,’
says Micallef. ‘Hearing a story in the space where it happened lets
you feel the story and reconcile it with what you see and feel
around you.’

Installations in Montreal and Vancouver were planned for the
fall, but the idea would work as well in rural Saskatchewan (find
out what’s really inside that grain silo), in the wilds of
Newfoundland (that antique store used to be Grandpa Percy’s hooch
distillery), or even in a suburb (one of those cookie-cutter garage
doors has got to have scandal behind it). To hear, tell, or learn
about [murmur] and its archive of urban mythologies, visit

Adapted from Broken Pencil (#23). Subscriptions:
$12/yr. (3 issues) from Box 203, Station P, Toronto, Ontario, M5S
2S7, Canada;

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