In the air again! Photography in Toronto

Contributed by Mary Birdsell

Last summer, I traveled to Tanzania to take photographs. In February, I followed my camera to Toronto. This was my first visit to Canada. It was a wonderful experience dotted with several visits to Tim Hortons.

When I traveled to Tanzania, I took photographs for stories that had not been written. There was no way the authors I work with could know what stories I would find. This time, I had stories that were already written, so I had specific photos that I needed to take. One of the authors I work with had spent two weeks last July at the Toronto Summer Institute. This international annual event focuses on the inclusion of individuals with disabilities. While she was at the institute she discovered two wonderful stories.


One took me to the Royal Ontario Museum, much to my delight. As a lover of museums, I can’t imagine a better setting to tell a story. The museum is visually striking both inside and out. Even more striking was the work being done. I followed a woman with cerebral palsy, who has worked at the museum for over ten years. With her friend pushing her wheelchair, Rebecca took her friend’s two young sons on a tour. These boys have been to the museum dozens of times, but their Rebecca helps them see something new each time they visit. The relationship between them was clearly close and enriching for both the boys and their museum guide.

In addition to going to the museum with the boys, I also visited their school. While giving a presentation to first to fourth graders, I wasn’t even five minutes in before the first hand was raised. This first question was, “Do you know Trump?” I’m not sure how I kept from laughing. My response was no. I’m not sure what shocked me more, that a first grader in Canada knew the name of our president, or that he thought I would personally know the President. Either way, it was a moment I will not soon forget.

I spent the afternoon in their inclusive first grade classroom. The children with all different abilities and interests were like the children in Tanzania. They were happy to get their photo taken! My plan was to take photos for six concept books. I had a written framework for each book but I wanted the children to decide the content.

One of my favorite experiences was when I asked a young boy what shape he wanted to use in the book. He said he wanted to use a circle. Then I asked he where was the circle he wanted to use.  He showed me a roll of tape. Lastly, I asked him how he wanted to use his circle. He laid on the floor and looked through his circle like it was a telescope.  What fun to see how a child’s mind works! I had the good fortune to discover delightful images throughout the afternoon as the children again and again presented their creative ideas.


The second story took place at the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club. This story also included a strong woman role model. Vivian had different sight ability and a seeing eye dog, Catcher. Vivian was the boxing coach for a young girl.  I had the text for the story with the challenge of capturing an extremely action filled boxing lesson.

In one of our previous books I had done a ‘real time’ photo shoot. I had that opportunity again as this was the day that Claire, the young girl in the story, was to learn her boxing name. Vivian had chosen it based on Claire’s work throughout the fall. Claire was so excited to find out her name and I had the joy of capturing her enthusiasm.

My experience in Toronto was very different from my trip to Tanzania and beautiful in a very different way. The cold, crisp bite in the air and skyline backed by water will be calling me back to visit again.


Mary Birdsell is a freelance photographer and a former Speech and Theatre teacher. She strives to create images that reflect the strengths of each child. Mary’s background in education, theatre and photography intersect as she visually creates our books. She uses colors and shapes to tell a story. For her each book is like it’s own theatre production. Mary has created thirteen books for Finding My Way books.  Visit for more information.

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