Toronto cabbie has the entire atlas memorized



Jennifer yang for metro toronto


Mohammad Saaed Collins, or “Mr. Geography,” can deliver the world in a cab ride.


“Understanding geography is very important because then everyone will understand what belongs to whom, in terms of land and people and forest.”

Want to know the size of Sudan relative to the United Kingdom? Or the altitude of the world’s highest island mountain? Toronto cabbie Mohammad Saaed Collins will have the answers, and they’re all squirrelled away in his brain.

“It is unprecedented, the knowledge God has given me,” he said. “The superiority of my knowledge is very, very huge.”

Known around town as “Mr. Geography,” the 49-year-old Kuwaiti has the entire world atlas memorized. Collins often offers free rides to his customers in exchange for a correctly answered geography question, although, on occasion, he will make it an easy one.

“Sometimes I give them very mild questions to make them feel good,” he laughed. “Even if I lose my fare, my money, still I like to put a smile on their face. People love free stuff!”

Collins, who likes to say he is the “Muhammad Ali of geography,” has enjoyed more publicity than any cabbie could hope for. He’s shown off his acute memory on several radio and television shows, including with CBC Radio, Citytv’s Breakfast Television and, in 2004, he was even on Late Night With Conan O’Brien where he met — and stumped — Snoop Dogg backstage.

His love for all things geography started when he was 15, working at the Ministry of the Interior in Kuwait. He claims to have had a sharp memory since childhood and says classmates were always sneaking peeks at his exam papers. Collins eventually owned his own grocery store and hot sauce factory, but they were both destroyed in the Gulf War. “This is a very, very bad memory,” he said. “Always thinking, cannot forget. Like a nightmare.”

Collins eventually moved to Canada with his wife and three of his kids (their eldest daughter stayed behind). In 1996, he settled in Toronto, a city he lovingly refers to as his “last address.”

Collins says that despite having to work up to 12 hours on some days, he loves his job because he gets to meet people every day and teach them about geography, a subject he considers both important and undervalued. “Understanding geography is very important because then everyone will understand what belongs to whom, in terms of land and people and forest,” said Collins.

While he wants to have his own television show one day, for now Collins is most likely found at the Westin Harbour Castle, where he often parks in the lulls between customers. Among the piles of atlases and encyclopedias that litter his cab, Collins also keeps several guestbooks for his riders to sign. Each one is filled with warm messages of how “Mr. Geography” has brightened their day. “My goal is to make the world smaller for people,” Collins says. “It is even smaller than you thought of it.”