BLOCKS T.O. brings historical photos to life

Lovers of adventure and scavenger hunts took to the streets of Toronto on Saturday. Armed with cameras and archival photographs of buildings, their mission was to find the same building in their photos and take a present-day photo as close to the original as possible. Contestants young and old paired up and wandered the streets in search of history. The only catch: no travel by car. Participants were allowed to use transit, bikes, or their own feet.

This was the inaugural BLOCKS T.O. event, hosted by Keep Six Exhibits. We spoke with Rafi Ghanaghounian, curator and Keep Six Exhibits founder, about the event.

Spacing: Where did the idea for this come from?

Rafi: After viewing archival pictures of Toronto dating back over a hundred years, I was curious to see if the buildings still existed. I thought this would be a great adventure for my son and me, and that this is something we could both experience together. We started in our neighbourhood, Kensington Market, where he was born. We downloaded some images of houses from the early 1900s, grabbed our cameras, hopped on our bikes and the hunt was on.

Spacing: What do you hope participants get out of this?

Rafi: This is a great way to experience the city on your bike and with a camera. It’s more intimate. I hope that people take the time to appreciate the architecture as well as the neighbourhood to learn about the people as well. Also to have fun doing it!

Spacing: Why do you think it’s important people know some of Toronto’s history?

Rafi: Toronto has great history — many great buildings built by important people. Also understanding the immigrants that make up this city: Little Italy, Portugal Village, Kensington, and so on.

Spacing: How did you pick these buildings?

Rafi: I picked buildings firstly that are still around, for the sake of the game. Second, the buildings are unique in their respected categories and quality of design.

Spacing: Are you anticipating this will become an annual event?

Rafi: I have plans for BLOCKS Montreal, and NYC in the coming years.

Spacing: How did it go?

Rafi: We were all very excited about our first BLOCKS event. It was a perfect day for it. We all met at the Toronto Historical Rail Museum (our partner) which provided a fantastic start, then ended with a reception at our host venue, the Gladstone Hotel.

Spacing: What prizes were awarded?

Rafi: The family team won tickets to the PICASSO exhibit at the AGO and the adult team won a bike and accessories from Bateman’s Bike Co.

Spacing: What sort of reactions did you get from the participants?

Rafi: The reaction from all was very positive. Team members shared stories of the journey but also about the buildings. They discovered their own city at a comfortable pace. The judges as well had fun trying to figure out what building was where. Their thoughts and input were very informative and positive. All the judges want to participate in the next one and many of the teams will be with us for the next one.

Spacing: How do you feel about it?

Rafi: We have been planning BLOCKS Toronto for many months and the people’s reaction made me feel that this is an important event no matter what city it’s in. I was excited to hear about people’s adventures and I was not let down. Many came back with smiles on their faces and that’s enough for me to continue with BLOCKS.

Spacing: What will you do differently next year?

Rafi: For the next BLOCKS, there will be an exhibit featuring original photographs also a panel to discuss the importance of our cities history and architecture.

Spacing: Where can the public see the photos?

Rafi: Photos will be uploaded on our site

The photos were judged by a team of people who decided which groups best captured and reflected the past. They included:
• Josh Fullan of University of Toronto Schools, Jane’s Walk and Maximum City;
• Derek Flack, Editor of BlogTO;
• Michael Awad, Artist and Photographer;
• Yvonne Bambrick, Photographer and Coordinator of Kensington Market and Forest Hill BIAs

The next BLOCKS T.O. event will take place this October.