This Art Exhibit Showcases The History of The Ward

Torontoist

culture

This Art Exhibit Showcases The History of The Ward

With its black-and-white photos and written memories, “Picturing the Ward” has a scrapbook feel.

"Picturing the Ward" is wraps around the construction site for the new Toronto Courthouse. The land was once home to a black congregation, which had served as a refuge for those escaping slavery via the Underground Railroad. Photo: Sharon Mendonca | Courtesy of STEPS Initiative

“Picturing the Ward” wraps around the construction site for the new Toronto courthouse. The land was once home to a Black congregation, which had served as a refuge for those escaping slavery via the Underground Railroad. Photo by Sharon Mendonca.

BY: STEPS Initiative (PATCH Project), the Toronto Ward Museum, artistic duo PA System, and Infrastructure Ontario
INSTALLATION: 2016
LOCATION: 11 Centre Avenue

To walk through the “Picturing the Ward” exhibit feels like stumbling upon an old scrapbook from a distant past. Black-and-white portraits, memory blurbs in quotes, and negative-style renderings of heirlooms and forlorn objects lend it a “scrapbook feel,” as Alexis Kane Speer, director of the STEPS Initiative, puts it.

The story it tells feels familiar, even relatable, but we may have long forgotten its significance. “Picturing the Ward,” an installation that wraps around the construction site of Toronto’s new courthouse, brings the experiences of Toronto’s early immigrants back into public consciousness.

A collaboration between the Toronto Ward Museum, Infrastructure Ontario, and public arts organization STEPS Initiative, the exhibit pieces narratives from former residents and descendants of St. John’s Ward, as told through memory or oral history. These are perhaps the kind of stories that your nonna or grandpa told you as a child.

X-Ray-style renderings of artifacts uncovered in an archaeological dig of the Ward. The project enlisted PA System--artists Alexa Hatanaka and Patrick Thompson--for this section of the installation. Photo: Sharon Mendonca | Courtesy of STEPS Initiative

X-Ray-style renderings of artifacts uncovered in an archaeological dig of the Ward. The project enlisted PA System, made up of artists Alexa Hatanaka and Patrick Thompson, for this section of the installation. Photo by Sharon Mendonca.

“The Ward,” smack in downtown Toronto, was once the neighbourhood where many of the city’s immigrants in the late 19th century to the 1920s first settled, before fanning out to the suburbs or other outlying areas.

Though the depth of the neighbourhood’s diversity can’t be summed up in a sprawling exhibit, the words of those with direct ties to the area give weight to the documented stories.

“In telling the story of the Ward, it’s often told through an ‘interpreter,’” says Gracia Dyer Jalea, founder of the Toronto Ward Museum. “Why not tell [these stories] through the folks who’ve heard [them]?”

The definitive record is often in the hands of those who are often removed from the history. This project takes a “participatory” approach, says Jalea, adding that they spent months going over drafts of the project with participants to ensure that their contribution—photos, quotes, or fleshed-out narratives featured online—captured the story they wanted to tell.

“We tried our best to represent different stories: love, hardship, entrepreneurship,” says Speer, referring to the themes the larger team sought to highlight. “They’re still relevant to stories of migration.”

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