3,265 cross-Canada interviews later, Toronto couple brings storytelling project home

A husband and wife who spent three years gathering stories from people around the country are bringing their epic project back to Toronto and putting on a show.

‘The Tale of a Town’ project began in Parkdale before growing to national scale

Lisa Marie DiLiberto and Charles Ketchabaw criss-crossed the country with a 'storymobile' - a mobile recording studio - to gather people's memories about where they live. (Submitted by Charles Ketchabaw)

A husband and wife who spent three years gathering stories from people around the country are bringing their epic project back to Toronto.

Charles Ketchabaw and Lisa Marie DiLiberto, along with teams of artists hired to help out every spring and summer, have now travelled to every province and territory with mobile recording studios.

In the process, they've stopped in 200 communities and sat down with 3,265 Canadians to ask them about their own main streets and downtowns, using questions like, "What do you hope is never forgotten about this place?"

From B.C. to P.E.I., Canadians answered, sharing stories of beloved music stores, colourful local characters, and torn-down movie theatres.

Some of the stories they heard have been compiled into The Tale of a Town — Canada, a multi-media show that will run for four nights at Toronto's Theatre Passe Muraille as part of a national tour.

It's something of a full circle moment: the pair had their first major The Tale of a Town show on the same stage seven years ago, then focusing exclusively on memories of Queen West in the 70s, 80s and 90s.

Lisa Marie DiLiberto and Charles Ketchabaw with a tiny model used in the play of the storefront in which they began their theatre and media company, Fixt Point, about 10 years ago. (Kate McGillivray/CBC)

"So everyone talked about the Cameron House, a lot of it was focused on the music and the performance art of that day," said Ketchabaw.

The theatre is also just a few short streetcar stops from the area that inspired the project in the first place: Parkdale.

Ketchabaw and DiLiberto were living there more than 10 years ago when they decided to do a project that pushed back against the incursion of big box stores.

The concept eventually grew into the idea of gathering oral histories, as a way of celebrating "how awesome Parkdale is right now," explained DiLiberto.  

Since then, they've spent plenty of time listening to memories from different parts of Toronto, including Queen West, Corktown and Mimico.

The couple brought their two children on their journey, and weave stories from their family trip across the country with the oral histories they gathered. (Kate McGillivray/CBC)

"Here in Toronto we have this huge city but it's full ... of all these small towns that have their own main streets," said DiLiberto.

Like in the rest of the country, mourning and remembering lost places comes up often.  

"Sam the Record Man we've heard lots of stories about," said Ketchabaw.

The couple are also including footage in the Toronto show of the demolition of Honest Ed's  — sure to be the subject of wistful stories for decades to come.

Following the stint in Toronto, The Tale of a Town — Canada will move on to other theatres in Ontario.

After that, the couple — who now have two young sons — plan to root themselves back in the city and spend the next three years gathering oral histories from 30 Toronto neighbourhoods.

The Tale of a Town — Canada premieres Thursday evening at the Theatre Passe Muraille and runs until Sunday.