Bruce Bell has become a big part of Toronto, well-known for his non-traditional walking tours.
Even though Bell is deeply rooted in the community he didn’t grow up in the city.
“I was born and raised in Sudbury,” the Toronto historian told Global News. “I came to Toronto to pursue a career in acting. It started out I was in a film – ‘Class of ’44’ in 1972. I met Mark Breslin around that time and he was putting together this comedy club, Yuk Yuk’s.”
“I became one of his very first comedians back in the ‘70s and for the next 20 years, I was a stand-up comic.”
But how does an actor, comedian and writer become an historian?
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“Even when I was a little kid I was always curious about what used to be there before this was here and I love history,” Bell said. “I moved away to Los Angeles for a little while and I was doing tours there for friends. When I turned 40, I said, ‘I cannot go on doing this.’
“My colleagues Howie Mandel and Jim Carrey where moving on, so I said, ‘I’m going to start a walking tour company in Toronto.’”
That was almost 20 years ago and today Bell is known as the famous Toronto historian. Earlier this year, Bell was recognized for his entertaining one-man show as a tour guide.
“It was Condé Nast Traveler – which is the number one travel magazine in the world. They didn’t just pick me as the best tour guide, they picked me as one of the top 16 attractions in the city,” Bell said. “That I have become an attraction, I was very moved by that.”
Everything that’s happened in Bell’s life has led him to where he is today. His time as an actor, the way he projects his voice, his past career as a comedian, all of it has been incorporated into his tours.
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“But also there’s an empathy, just to relate to the people,” he said. “This isn’t my job, this is who I am. And I’ve always said, ‘my apartment is my dressing room and the city is my stage.’”
Bell will put together a tour that suits you but his go-to place is always the St. Lawrence Market. Bell also tours the University of Toronto, Bay Street, Yorkville and the historic Distillery District.
“This is my audience. These are people who I’m welcoming onto my stage – which is our city,” said Bell.
“I’m so proud of Toronto.”