A series of thought provoking art works commissioned by Toronto History Museums wants to shake up your understanding of local history. The collective project called Awakenings approaches tales from the past that have gone unheard, or highlight the efforts of people traditional ignored by historians. The project isn’t just about recognizing the past, it’s also about recognizing the present. The ongoing series features features local Black, Indigenous and artists of colour in all aspects of its creation. The short films are powerful and here’s hoping that they change the modern discourse of history.
“When you acknowledge this land and its history, what are you actually acknowledging? Do you know who these nations are?” asks actor Nadia George. Well, do you? Watch and learn a few things about the city’s Indigenous origins, such as the 250,000 acres, stretching from the lakeshore up to King City, sold to the British for a paltry 10 shillings, worth about $40 today.
“It’s really a call to action. So when you see all of the different … artistic interventions, they’re meant as a jumping-off point. So we’re not just illustrating what took place; we’re saying, OK, how does it relate to the present? And how can it help shape our future?”
When European explorers made first contact with peoples around the world both cultures changed. Unfortunately for those being contacted they were changed by a lot of diseases and exploitation (sadly the exploitation continues to this day). Europeans also ignored the long history of the peoples they met and devalued their oral traditions. A recent example of this in Canada is around the discovery of the HMS Terror.
Globally there are many stories that can be traced back to events thousands of years ago. It’s only now that the traditional sciences are listening to these stories because physical evidence can be found using modern techniques.
The extraordinary antiquity of such stories, which represent knowledge passed on largely orally, was not demonstrable until recently. This has allowed the full extent and implications of the longevity of the memories on which these stories are based to be appreciated. Another such oral history surrounds the Klamath people of Oregon, in the western U.S., who tell of a time when there was no Crater Lake, only a giant volcano towering over the landscape where the lake is today. As the story goes, the fractious volcano god, besotted with a local beauty, threatened the Klamath with fury and fire unless the woman acquiesced. But her people called upon their protector—a rival deity—who fought the volcano god, eventually causing his mountain home to collapse in on him and fill with water. For the next approximately 7,600 years, the Klamath taught each new generation the importance of avoiding Crater Lake lest they disturb the evil god within. With remarkable precision, geologists have determined that this is the time of the terminal eruption of the former volcano, Mount Mazama, and the creation of the landscape that exists today. The Klamath were there all along, and their memories of that ancient cataclysmic event have passed into global knowledge today.
If you’ve ever wondered about the history of the land you’re on then this website (and app) is for you! The website Native-Land collects historical data from around the world of what peoples claimed what land so any curious individual can investigate some cartographic history. Layers on the map include territory, language, and treaties which cover North America. Mapping territory can complicate reconciliation issues as it may inadvertently rewrite history; to counter this the online teacher’s guide brings up good resources and questions.
Temprano emphasizes that Native Land maps are constantly being refined by user input, and he welcomes data submissions. On the website, he also cautions about the nature of mapping. “I feel that Western maps of Indigenous nations are very often inherently colonial, in that they delegate power according to imposed borders that don’t really exist in many nations throughout history. They were rarely created in good faith, and are often used in wrong ways.”
Reorientation to the Indigenous perspective, though, just might offer an entirely new way to experience this continent.
Like other art forms styles come and go in architecture; and when styles go in architecture it can result in demolition of buildings (and thus history). In Canada university and college campuses sprung up in the 60s to accommodate the influx of baby boomers so the style of these campuses reflect the style of the times. Trent University captured the Canadian architectural style the best and, unlike other schools, has embraced their buildings as a reason students should attend. Hopefully other institutions can find the value in their older buildings – even if they look “ugly” today.
Today, Trent is engaged in a careful renovation of its original Bata Library, while new projects – including a new student centre by Teeple Architects – are being guided by attention to the original campus.
In this way, a small institution is setting an example for the entire country: how to retain Canada’s modern heritage, which is both critical and in a moment of real danger.
No wonder. Thom and his talented colleagues blended careful attention to the site, beautiful materials and fine craftsmanship. The buildings, crafted by Thom’s team, including Paul Merrick, are full of complex spaces and details that echo and rhyme with one another. Walking through the original campus is a sensory feast of complexity and nuance; if you ever had the idea that modernist architecture had to be inhumane, this place will cure you of that notion. In the Great Hall at Champlain College, the buttresses and high ceiling make it seem “Hogwarts-like,” as one student told me; but the structure is a lattice of very modern concrete that weaves together skylights and wood slats.
Even the landscape, often overlooked in modern sites, has been well conceived. The pathways across campus are paved with an orange brick, which feels right under your feet.
Ultimology is a new field of thought which may help is in the future when we need it the most and don’t realize it. It’s the study of of extinct or endangered subjects, theories, and tools of learning. The Department of Ultimology is an art project that has set out to interpret what the study of dead/dying studies could look like and how it can be accomplished. It’s a groovy project that explores the fringes of knowledge with some real world examples of how very recently required knowledge for some disciplines have already been forgotten.
Knowledge of how things work is always needed and it’s good practice to keep abreast of changes in how and why we keep certain knowledge sets while discarding others.
For example, we met with Dr. Sylvia Draper, Head of the School of Chemistry at Trinity, and asked her what had changed in the discipline of Chemistry. She spoke about how glassware used to be an essential part of research. If you were a student of chemistry, you might actually design a piece of glassware that goes with your research. Draper told us that Trinity College had a glassblowing workshop on site with a glassblower named John Kelly, but that he was going to retire in two years and would not be replaced. It ties back to the commercialization of the university: the reason he’s not being replaced is because he’s salaried and a salaried employee is a high cost for the university. And so he and his work become expendable because in theory the department can just bring in cheaper, standard glassware from abroad.
However, if you’re a student and you’re planning your experiment and it requires an intricate, strange, unique piece of glass, it might now be much more expensive for you to get it, which might impact how you look at your research. You might be less willing or able to do something weirder, essentially. I picture it like these tiny little cracks that maybe can’t be explored in a discipline as people are funnelled down into a more particular standard route.