Meet Colin Boyd Shafer, Author and Photographer of Cosmopolis Toronto

October 17, 2016 | Diana L.

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From November 3 to January 8, in partnership with Toronto Public Library, Myseum of Toronto presents Cosmopolis Toronto, a city-wide photography exhibit exploring the journeys of newcomers to Toronto.

Colin Boyd Shafer
Photo credit: Cosmopolis Toronto

The idea started with Canadian documentary photographer and educator Colin Boyd Shafer, who spent a year photographing one person from every country in the world who now calls Toronto home. They are all documented in his book, Cosmopolis Toronto: The World In One City.

Cosmopolis Toronto Book
Photo credit: Cosmopolis Toronto

I caught up with Colin for a little Q&A session to give you a sneak preview of what Cosmopolis Toronto is all about:


What inspired you to create Cosmopolis Toronto?

I was finishing up my Master's in the UK and I knew I should move to Toronto to live with my grandmother. Aside from being there for her, I wanted something photography-related to work on. Diversity was the topic that jumped out at me, as Toronto is arguably the world's most cosmopolitan city. I wanted to tell a visual story of diversity, while avoiding creating a cliche. My plan was to create a project that tells authentic stories about the people who live in the city -- exploring what makes it home for them, while also illustrating what they hold dear from their past. I wanted to emphasize the faces behind the statistics.


Nadia from Bangladesh
Photo credit: Cosmopolis Toronto


What was the greatest challenge in putting together the Cosmopolis book?

Finding people, living in Toronto, from every country of the world was quite an undertaking. Luckily, as this project was crowd-funded, I was able to treat it as a full-time job. I would spend days messaging people on social media, and was even kicked off of Facebook a few times. It was amazing how, as the search narrowed, both the media and people who were already involved in the project rallied around to help. Some of the participants and I even took to Yonge-Dundas Square with signs asking people if they knew anyone from the missing countries. The search was an important part of the whole experience.

What did you have in mind when photographing the individuals involved in the book?

I really wanted the people I was photographing to feel like participants in this project, not just subjects. I know that their stories are precious, and I hope they all feel as if I did justice to their migration story. Some of the people I photographed have become great friends of mine.


Leila from Azerbaijan
Photo credit: Cosmopolis Toronto


Was there a particular individual or story from the Cosmopolis book that still moves you today?

There are many, but one that stands out would be that of my own grandmother. She is the reason I'm here. If she hadn't migrated to Canada by accident (true story!*), I wouldn't be Canadian, let alone alive! This project, while allowing me to get to know so many incredible Torontonians, also allowed me to better understand my own family’s story. It is important for all of us to remember that there is usually a migration story in our not-so-distant past.

*If you are interested in finding out more, here is my TEDxToronto talk about the project where I tell my grandmother’s story:

How has Myseum supported your book/project?

Myseum really cares about Toronto stories, and so there is a natural synergy between their mission and this project. From the first meeting we had, I knew we would be working together. I am so happy that they wanted to help make this exhibition possible, and I believe that this project and the conversations it creates are worthy of their support.

Are you working on any other books/projects at the moment?

I just finished photographing for a book on behalf of the Governor General of Canada. This book celebrates 50 inspiring Order of Canada recipients for our country’s 150th birthday and is due to be released in February, 2017. I am also exhibiting my recent project on interfaith relationships titled INTERLOVE, which I hope will also be a book someday. Finally, I plan on pursuing a project focusing on bullying as well as one telling the stories of Roma communities in Europe (as I am currently based in Bulgaria).

What you are looking forward to after the exhibit wraps-up at Toronto Public Library?

I hope the conversation surrounding topics such as migration, diversity and belonging continues. In a world currently full of so much negativity regarding migration, I think this project shows the incredible contribution migration has had in making Toronto the great city it is. If this city-wide exhibit of Cosmopolis Toronto makes even one person feel more at home in this city, I'll be a happy artist.

Thank you Colin! 


Do you have a question for Colin? Want to learn more about Cosmopolis? Check out these featured programs: 

Cosmopolis Opening Reception
Thursday November 3, 7:00 to 8:00 pm, Toronto Reference Library

Meet & Greet with Colin Boyd Shafer
Friday November 4, 6:30 to 8:00 pm, Northern District Branch


New to Canada? Join in on a casual conversation circle to practice your English over light refreshments:

Cosmopolis Toronto: English Cafe 
Monday November 21, 6:30 to 7:30 pm, Barbara Frum Branch
Monday November 28, 5:00 to 6:00 pm, Richview Branch


Human Library
Photo credit: Cosmopolis Toronto

The photos will be on display in 18 branches throughout the city, grouped into themes around the power of family, food, music and more.

Fourteen branches will also host 17 engaging programs which will give people a chance to meet some of the individuals featured in the book, including special guests:


Let's also help Colin find the #MISSING10! 

There are 10 countries that Colin was unable to find people to photograph:

  • Comoros
  • Kiribati
  • Marshall Islands
  • Micronesia
  • Monaco
  • Nauru
  • San Marino
  • Solomon Islands
  • East Timor (Timor-Leste)
  • Vanatu

Do you know someone from one of these countries who currently calls Toronto home, and who would be interested in being part of Cosmopolis Toronto? If so, contact Myseum of Toronto on Twitter at @MyseumTO or visit


For more information about Cosmopolis Toronto program and events at Toronto Public Library, visit

For more information about Cosmopolis Toronto, visit