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Guelph's 'Maps Guy' sets course for new home

Abhilash Kantamneni and his wife are moving to Winnipeg at the end of the month, but that doesn't mean his 'goofy hobby' is a thing of the past

Many refer to him as the 'Guelph Maps Guy.'

But as of the end of the month, Abhilash Kantamneni is navigating a new map toward his new home in Winnipeg.

The 36-year-old has been helping Guelphites discover new places through his maps posted online.

He created an interactive map of Guelph's wards ahead of the 2018 municipal election, complete with links to candidates for council and school boards, even though he wasn't allowed to vote because he wasn't yet a Canadian citizen. Other maps showed the best Christmas light displays and the best Halloween displays.

Most recently he's been providing maps of weekend garage sale locations.

The map-making took on a life of its own for the native of India when the pandemic began in March 2020.

"We had to find new ways of celebrating traditions that we all valued, like Christmas and Halloween, and it occurred to me that there's a lot of people who put a lot of time and effort (into decorating)," Kantamneni told GuelphToday.

"It came to me (after seeing my neighbour's Halloween display) that if I made a map of all the houses in Guelph that had these beautiful decorations, maybe that could be a new tradition that families could do together. You're socially distant from people, you're in your own car, you just drive around the city and try to go look at these houses."

The map-making isn't a time consuming thing to do. He told GuelphToday in an earlier interview it takes him about three minutes to complete, once he has the route figured out.

He then posts the maps on the Guelph This & That Facebook page, which has nearly 21,000 members.

He said the "goofy hobby" has been a way to help people connect with others, and develop their own sense of belonging.

It also helped Kantamneni do the same.

"It helped me develop a sense of belonging, and then I started making maps of all the parks in Guelph, and all the local stores, and it sort of snowballed from there," he said.

And in the age of COVID, where many professionals can do their work from home, he's able to make the move and stay in his position as a research associate with Efficiency Canada, a research group based out of Carleton University.

"It has been a work-from-home position for a long time, and I'm very thankful that my employer is supportive of my move," Kantamneni said. "And also because that work-from-home options let you make these changes to your life."

He, his wife Victoria Da Silva, and their cat have already calculated the route to the Manitoba capital. A pretty easy task, considering Da Silva is from Winnipeg, and they have had a home there for a while.

But instead of heading through Michigan – where Kantamneni went to grad school and met his wife – the three of them will take in views of the Ontario countryside, heading up through Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay.

"I've never really driven through northern Ontario," he said.

"I have the route all mapped out, and things I want to do along the way. As bittersweet as it is to leave my hometown of Guelph in some ways, I am actually excited for life in Winnipeg, and the road trip to get there."

As for his new home, Kantamneni said it would be easy to become the 'Winnipeg Maps Guy' - "I actually looked it up, and the domain is available and there isn't anyone who is making maps of Christmas lights and stuff," he said. But he doesn't feel it would be fair to Winnipeg.

"I think what I would like to do, what I'm excited about, is to show up in Winnipeg and just follow my own plan," he said. 

"Walk around in the community and listen actively to what people in that community needs, and then look around to see what goofy hobbies I have. Then use them to kind of help the community get there.

"It doesn't have to be maps. Who knows what form it could take."

But don't think he's going to select 'cancel route' on his map-making ventures. 

"One thing I would love to do is use the Christmas maps and Halloween maps as an excuse to come back to Guelph once in a while," he said.

"I've made so many friends here, and people that I think of as family. I will definitely miss Guelph a lot, It holds a very special place in my heart."