While most people walk, bike, or ride the tram with a destination in mind, almost every day YouTube personality Johnny Strides, known in real life as John Hicks, walks, bikes, and rides on trams (and subways and buses) just so he can record it all. And apparently people want to follow him. He has nearly 60,000 subscribers to his channel and more than 900,000 views on one of his most popular videos: a narrated walk downtown on Friday night.
Hicks, who has been doing this full-time since quitting his insurance job in August 2020, did not set out to be a virtual tour guide. Three years ago, he built a new computer, bought a GoPro camera, and started making what he calls “silly videos of hyperlapse hikes in Toronto.”
It didn’t have a large audience at the time, but when it switched to long-form videos, viewers began to pay attention. The comments on these videos reveal that they came home to people who are nostalgic for the neighborhoods they once lived in or who saw how areas of the city have changed. Longer videos came naturally to Hicks. “I’ve always loved walking and exploring cities,” he says. “When I travel, I am not a person from the mountains or the beach. I’m more of a ‘let’s walk through Saigon for two hours in 40 degree weather’ person. “
Hicks continued to shoot through the pandemic, seeing – and sharing – a very different Toronto than he was used to. He narrates everything, berating bad drivers, offering historical information or commenting on the state of affairs in Toronto, particularly during the shutdown. “I learned that it’s really the people that make the city vibrant,” he says, “because it was pretty desolate, especially in the financial district.” With Hicks’ videos, workers trapped at home could continue to feel the pulse of the city.
And it’s not just people who waste their commute or time downtown, or those who catch up on the old grounds, who enjoy Hicks’ videos. “There are people with accessibility issues who rarely go out and experience it,” he says. “I have received a lot of positive comments from them.”
To show the city without the crowds, Hicks defies all kinds of weather. “I’ll do it in the morning, in the afternoon, at night, in the rain, in the snow,” he says. “(Spectators) He really seems to like inclement weather. ”During a walk through Yorkville last winter, Hicks turned the camera towards himself, showing his touch and shoulders with a snowdrift. One YouTube commenter wrote that he appeared to be in a ball of snow. snow, while others noted how much they love to see snow, from the comfort of their home.
Regardless of the weather, walking, biking, and getting around the city has changed the way Hicks relates to the city. “I am more aware of what is happening in terms of developments,” he says, “witnessing what an area was, what it is now and what it will be, rather than just living in the present.” Parkdale is a neighborhood that comes to mind. Growing up, he had a bit of a bad reputation. It is now a vibrant place worth visiting, and I imagine it will continue to flourish. But I also fear that residents will be affected. Some have already been. “
For someone who has logged as many miles as he has, Hicks says his favorite video is one he made in the Annex. “I think it’s the best representation of why I love Toronto,” he says. “It has a subway line and the busy retail stretch of Bloor Street.” She also loves the retail shops of Harbord Village and the beautiful freestanding old houses mixed with mid-rise and high-rise buildings.
As for the best transit route? Hicks recommends 501, as long as you’re not in a rush. “I have a love-hate relationship with the Queen Streetcar. I think that from end to end is the best way to see the city, ”he says. “It’s almost like a greatest hits tour on a streetcar.”
While he makes money from YouTube ad revenue, channel memberships, and viewer contributions during live broadcasts, Hicks says, “I don’t see it as a workplace.” In addition to looking for other ways to show the city, such as top 10 lists or cheap food guides, Hicks, who has filmed Montreal, Niagara Falls and Ottawa, is eager to shoot international videos now that restrictions have been lifted. smoothed. “I love exploring other places,” he says. “And then of course I always love going back to Toronto.”