Intercity Rail Ontario Travels

Trekking across Northern Ontario

IMG_2761-001.JPGVIA RDC train about to depart Sudbury for White River

Last month, I embarked on a journey from Toronto to Thunder Bay, a distance of over 1,300 kilometres. My journey took me nearly three days as I opted to travel by bus and rail, rather than by car or by air. Though I had to take three separate trips to accomplish it (an Ontario Northland bus, a VIA Rail RDC train, and a Kasper Transportation mini-bus), it was a very interesting trip.

IMG_2768.JPGUnloading a canoe from the RDC on the Spanish River, northwest of Sudbury

Once I arrived in Thunder Bay, I rented a car. Though I know Northeastern Ontario quite well, I had yet to visit Northwestern Ontario (a brief stop in Sioux Lookout on VIA’s Canadian notwithstanding). There are several beautiful provincial parks within a short drive of Thunder Bay, and the city itself has a few interesting sights. Highway 17 along the Lake Superior shoreline is probably Ontario’s most scenic drive.

Travelling without a car has its challenges, especially as the traveler is at the mercy of sudden schedule changes, traffic delays, and other hiccups, but it is still possible to get across Northern Ontario even after Greyhound’s withdrawal from Western Canada and Northern Ontario last year.

I wrote about my experience for TVO.

KasperBusWhiteRiver.JPGKasper Transporation bus at White River – filling the gap left by Greyhound

Maps Toronto

Mapping Toronto’s homeless shelters: an interactive mapping exercise

Earlier this week,  I mapped the locations of Toronto’s homeless shelters for Torontoist. While there are shelters located across the city, the capacity is located almost entirely within the old city of Toronto, especially in the Downtown east side, between Church Street and the Don River. This is despite the fact that the need for shelters, like all social services and affordable housing, is city wide. I obtained the homeless shelter data from the City of Toronto’s Open Data catalog.

Unlike previous mapping exercises, I used CartoDB to create an interactive map, rather than relying on Quantum GIS (open source GIS software) or ESRI ArcGIS (software developed and maintained by the leading GIS firm) to create static maps. Importing data into CartoDB is quite easy; the selection of simple base maps is also very helpful. Creating legends and classifications had a bit of a learning curve, but on the whole, I was quite pleased with the result.

Maps Toronto

Mapping Toronto’s Legal Rooming Houses


Rooming houses are often-overlooked in Toronto, but they provide an essential form of affordable housing in a city that struggles with the issue. In Torontoist, I looked a little more closely at this issue and created a map of all licensed rooming houses located in the City of Toronto. (The list from which the map was created can be found here.)

There are many, many more illegal rooming houses across Toronto that I didn’t map; currently they only legal in certain parts of the city  – the old City of Toronto and parts of the old cities of York and Etobicoke. These outdated laws predate amalgamation, and ignore the need for this form of affordable housing, as well as the variety of rooming arrangements. Illegal, undocumented rooming houses have the potential to be firetraps, licencing and inspections protect tenants from unsafe and unhealthy living conditions.

It’s time for updated regulations that cover all of Toronto; landlords should be able to rent out rooms right across the city. Happily, the city is conducting a city-wide review of rooming houses; one of the goals is to modernize the city’s by-laws; another is to improve the conditions in existing rooming houses.