Most people ride the TTC as a way to get from point A to point B.
But not Ian Welsman. The Toronto teen prefers to ride the “Red Rocket” — for the thrill of a challenge.
“I wanted to ride every single regular bus route in Toronto before my 13th birthday,” the now 13-year-old told Global News one afternoon.
And Ian did just that — not only conquering bus routes, but every regular TTC route, including the subway and the streetcar. For him, that makes 147 routes in total, though as he’s quick to point out, his goal was a moving target, since “new routes are being added all the time.”
Ian reached his goal earlier this month, crossing the finish line on the 124 Sunnybrook with time to spare — one whole week before his 13th birthday.
“I was at Lawrence station and I took the Sunnybrook bus to the hospital and back,” Ian said.
“When I got off, I just raised my hands in the air. It was a very happy day.”
To understand his excitement, it is important to understand Ian’s journey. Ian and his father, Derek Welsman, began what they call their “TTC Adventures Challenge,” when Ian was only five years old.
“I’ve always had a fascination with transportation,” Ian says.
“When I was younger, I watched a lot of Thomas the Tank Engine and every morning, we’d go to daycare and take the streetcar, and I learned to say the stop names as they went by, so it kind of just comes from there.”
“It’s kind of where he learned how to read,” Derek Welsman explains. “Because, he’d be looking at all the signs. … So there was a point when he was two or three when we’d do the ‘stop alphabet,’ so ‘A’ was Ashdale, ‘B’ was Broadview, C was for Coxwell.”
So great is Ian’s love for the TTC, that he even penned and recorded a song about his favourite TTC station, called The Bessarion song. The ode, available on Soundcloud, shows love to a station that according to Ian, doesn’t get a whole lot of love.
“Bessarion is, I think the least used subway station on the whole system, and I also like saying the name. It’s a fun name to say,” Ian says.
Perhaps most impressive is that Ian doesn’t need a map anymore to get around the mélange of subway, bus and streetcar routes in the city. After all these adventures, he has got every TTC route memorized, which he is quick to demonstrate if asked for directions.
For Ian’s dad, tagging along for the ride has meant not only discovering new places in Toronto, but creating priceless memories with his son.
Derek Welsman says it’s a bonding experience. “We refer back to the adventures that we’ve had and as soon as we get onto a streetcar, all the stories come out again.”
With all the experience he now has under his belt, Ian has some expert advice and encouragement for other kids his age who may want to embark on a similar TTC challenge.
“Start with routes that are in your area, and encourage your parents by saying, ‘Instead of taking the car, why don’t you take the bus?'” Ian says. “Oh, and you’re not weird for (doing) this, too.”
Read more: Proposed Yonge North TTC subway extension to have fewer stations, change route due to rising costs
As for whether a career with the TTC is on the horizon, Ian says he’s still deciding.
“Maybe something in the musical field … because I’ve been playing the piano for as long as I’ve loved the TTC,” Ian says. “But sometimes I consider being a TTC driver because I know the system well — so who knows? We’ll see.”
One thing is for certain, Ian will need to consider getting a summer job now that he’s 13, if he wants to keep up his adventures on the TTC. As his dad says, “Free rides are over, my boy.”
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