Want to say the CN Tower was built to shoot laser beams at Rochester? Why not? The Skydome, aka Rogers Centre, is a monument to our city’s love of clam-digging? Sure.
Local sight?seeing companies don’t actually get that silly, but what’s stopping them?
Turns out that despite Toronto’s desperate interest in luring more tourists, the city exerts no quality control whatsoever over the folks who lead visitors on tours.
Odd, considering that Montreal, in an obvious attempt to show respect for its cultural and historical heritage, has licensed tour guides for 30 years.
According to Judy Morgan, Toronto’s director of tourism and development, tours “are handled by the private sector” currently, though the city is attempting to negotiate a certification program with the industry. No timetable is on offer.
Nonetheless, she says, there are voluntary controls, and the city is working with operators and the Canadian Tour Guide Association of Toronto to bring T.O. up to the standard of cities that do license guides.
In Montreal, a city bylaw ensures that guides dress properly, don’t work under the influence and are capable of providing appropriate historical, geographic, economic and cultural information. Most importantly, that info comes from the city and is regularly updated.
“If people are going to work professionally as tourist guides, they need to get a permit,” explains city of Montreal spokesperson Patricia Lowe. “It ensures that visitors are greeted properly, taken around in a pleasant way and get the right information about the history.”
At the Canadian Tour Guide Association, Teresa Archibald says Toronto’s nonchalant approach is appalling. “We want to get licensing so whoever [takes a tour in] Toronto will consistently be in front of a person [who knows] the history and geography of our city,” she says.
She says that in the meantime, her association is producing a guide manual “to prevent [guides] from saying, ‘City Hall looks like an angel’ or ‘Lady Pellatt had an unborn child.’ We hear so much stupidity.”
And as for those annoying tie-?ins between guides and businesses in Toronto, Montreal regs strictly forbid tour guides from referring visitors to enterprises the company has financial dealings with.
Fines are $100 to $300 for by?law violations, plus a one-year suspensions following two offences.
The city of Toronto actually does have its own official local sights manual, but it’s only used by Toronto Ambassador Program volunteer guides, residents who provide free neighbourhood tours to foreigners.
The city offered the manual to private operators but had no takers.
“Companies in the guide industry feel they know Toronto on their own,” says Morgan.