The Walking Diaries: Lissa M. Cowan, Author

Step into the shoes of people from different walks of life in Toronto! We ask them about their favourite places to walk in the city and what a walking-friendly city looks like to them in the Walking Diaries series.

Anita Neufeld, April 27, 2014


Walking Diary:
Lissa M. Cowan

Lissa M. Cowan is an author, storyteller strategist and writing coach. When she’s not holed up at her desk you can most likely find her in a Toronto cafe working on one of her stories or book ideas, or walking—of course. You can also find her on Twitter at @lissacowan.

When's your favourite time to go for a walk?

I love to walk in the early morning before rush hour when the city is peaceful and the birds (if it's spring or summer) are chattering in the trees.

What would a literary-themed walk in Toronto look like?

I would love to organize a walk that took people to the city's little known bookshops. Sadly, so many of them are closing in Toronto, yet there are still some gems out there. The Monkey's Paw, an antiquarian shop specializing in uncommon books and Art Metropole, an artist-run centre founded by General Idea, the Canadian artists' group, would be on my list of stops, as would Type Books on Queen West.

What is one thing you would do to make Toronto more "walkable"?

I really like how spaces under highway overpasses are being used as skateboard parks, jungle gyms or public art exhibits. Toronto still has lots of unused urban space that I think can be molded into community gardens and unique, nature- and art-inspired spaces for walking, gathering and contemplation.

Grass is a thing of the past - an aristocratic invention. Toronto needs to end its love affair with turf and say hello to food and flower gardens where people can not only walk but also learn about growing food, indigenous plants and the importance of slowing down.

What's the best Toronto walk you would suggest to others?

I love the walk along the Humber River starting at Old Mill subway station. The river has 60 species of fish and is alive with migratory birds and monarch butterflies depending on the time of year.

Find Old Mill Station >

What are your top 5 Jane's Walk choices for 2014?

  1. Walking and Working: A Woman's Labour History
  2. Nature in the City
  3. Dark Age Ahead
  4. Revitalization or displacement? A critical look at the idea of mixed neighbourhoods.
  5. Journalists and Editors in 19th century Toronto

What is the best discovery you've made while walking the city?

I moved to Toronto from Vancouver two years ago and am constantly surprised by all the parks and wildlife in this great, hurried city. My top recent discovery was the Allan Gardens Conservatory during a light snowfall. It was enchanting to leave the wintry landscape and step into the 100-year-old Victorian greenhouse housing banana trees, orchids and jasmine.

Find Allan Gardens >

How do you think Toronto and Vancouver compare in terms of walkability?

Both cities rank high for me in terms of walkability and are both known for being 'cities of neighbourhoods.' Whenever I'm in Vancouver now, I'm almost always meeting friends for walks by the ocean with a view of the Coast Mountains. In Toronto, it seems to be more about walking to galleries, local shops, and cafe or patio hopping while experiencing that frenetic city vibe that I find so electrifying and seductive.

If you could go on a dream walk, who would it be with?

Probably Jane Jacobs. I know it seems obvious, yet I would really love to see the city through her eyes. I would ask her, for instance, how she envisions strengthening and supporting Toronto's social fabric in the face of climate change.

Describe your favourite walking shoes.

I have a pair of lime green shoes by Netherlands-based MAG that are extremely comfortable, still fashionable and look brand new. I've walked all over Vancouver and parts of Vancouver Island with them, San Francisco, New York, Portland. Yes, I have to say it...these shoes were definitely made for walking!


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