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Geek-out your walking with Ottawa (de)tours

By Ryan Saxby Hill on August 21, 2014

I love a good walking tour. I’ve been a fan of Jane’s Walk for quite a while and Apartment613 has run some pretty amazing walks over the years. That’s why I was so pleased to learn about the newly launched Ottawa (de)tours, an insightful set of walking tours and conversations that are addressing political and social issues. I shot a few questions over to Dan Monafu, one of the founders of the project, to find out more about what we could expect, and also had the pleasure of taking part in Ottawa (de)tours feminism tour a few weekends ago.

These aren’t your average walking tour: you’ve got to engage . There were introductions from the group and lots of discussion. According to Dan this was part of the plan.

“Many people are used to a walking tour in which they remain very passive (see Dan’s blog post about this here); we’re also taught in school to respect the authority of the teacher. So we’re experimenting with different facilitation tools in various tours to make people ‘unlearn’ what they think are proper rules of engagement for a walking tour (incorporating elements of ethnography that allow people to immerse themselves into the experience).”

The feminism tour hit a few hot spots for feminist history in the capital and the discussion moved from voting rights, to representation to the Charter. There are evening and weekend time-slots for the tours and for the summer, all for just two bucks. I’m looking forward to taking the newly launched money tour sometime this month too. It’s all very much still in “beta” form, so they are looking for feedback, building out the content, and getting the website content all up to snuff. Be patient with them while they work out the kinks, but my experience was relatively smooth.

Here’s more on the project from Dan:

Apt613: How did (de)tours come to be? What was your inspiration?

Dan: We love learning and exploring, and wanted to find a way to share that with others in a way that celebrated this curiosity at every step. Most of the projects we have taken on to-date stem from a desire to create places and spaces in our community where conversations about the present can happen in a meaningful and thoughtful way. More specific to walking tours, we were very inspired by the ethos of Jane’s Walk, and the idea that, in order to know yourself, you have to know your community. Finally, wanted to create an opportunity to explore a city and/or concept in the way that does justice to it, and does not necessarily just cater to tourists and popular places.

Apt613: What is your goal for the project?

Dan: Our goal has been to create a thoughtful yet enjoyable approach to exploring “big topics”: complex, current, and meaningful issues. We want to create a welcoming opportunity for people to connect and engage in good conversation, including about challenging topics that don’t always come up in everyday life. The final stop on all of our tours is always a place for a meal or drinks, to allow participants to share their perspectives.

Using Ottawa as our lab, we want to create walks that are based in the present, but imagine a possible future. We want to encourage our participants to question very basic assumptions about our society, and to consider alternatives. Our Local Food Solutions tour looks at urban spaces and the opportunities for sustainable food sources. Our Money tour (still in development) includes time to talk about Bitcoin, and about Bytowne Bucks, a local alternative currency that has recently appeared in Ottawa. Ottawa (de)tours is a labour of love for both of us. We have incorporated, and will be using profits to make (de)tours particularly engaging to youth.

Apt613: Can you describe what you love about a walking tour?

Dan: We love the opportunity to indulge our curiosity about places and current issues. We love to explore the links between places we walk past regularly and current issues, such that the spaces can take on new meaning. We love getting to know others with similar interests, and to talk with others whose perspective may be entirely different. We love to visit places and talk about issues that we read about in the paper that day, as opposed to just discussing the past. We love challenging ourselves to engage with various topics from new perspectives, and to make them accessible as a point of departure into more complex issues. Debate allows us to understand where we stand and to check our assumptions.

Apt613: You’re covering Food, Feminism, Money, Play. What else can we expect in the program?

Dan: This has been our #SummerOfBeta. Because this type of thing doesn’t exist elsewhere, we wanted to test our assumptions with real people ‘in the field’ (as opposed to armchair designing). We also wanted rapid prototyping, to remain lean, and try to scale once we have a good model (we’re already received some proposals to create it as a social franchise in other Canadian cities once we land on a sustainable model).

The summer of beta also means that all tours look very different one from another. For instance, our Play walk visits a classic tavern, and our guide is a beer expert. Our Local Food Solutions walk includes the chance to taste-test bounty from a backyard permaculture project. Our Money tour stops at the Standard Tavern on Elgin, which accepts Bitcoin.

In terms of what’s next, we’re looking for big national identity topics. We’re in talks to bring in a ‘Healthcare’ tour; we want to bring something to life on “Water’, and on “Canada as a warring/peaceful nation”. We are always looking for new ways to make our walks and talks. We would really like to put something together on “How (political) Ottawa works”.