It’s Been a While
Created by Mammalian Diving Reflex and Commissioned and Presented by the City of Toronto’s Museums & Heritage Services as part of its Awakenings programming; through the lens of young people, It’s Been a While addresses the lack of representation in the stories of Toronto’s history and focuses on the stories that may have been hidden. Storytelling is an integral part of our collective and individual understanding of the world, starting from early childhood. Young people are usually told stories, but now the stories are re-told once more by 20 youth across Toronto and the GTA.
This oral history project opens up 10 heritage sites for them to explore. The youth examine and question the sites with their sharp eyes and fresh sense of reality: They re-imagine Toronto’s past and tell its stories as they see them.
Ruby and Tara explore Todmorden Mills and give their thoughts on its many roles over the years; from being used as a dumping ground for waste, to grounds of industrial buildings, to a space for the homeless to reside. They discuss these changes and its environmental impact, the importance of recognizing those who were here first and child labour at the time.
Listen to It’s Been a While – Todmorden Mills (Audio Tour)
Katya and Amyra visit Montgomery’s Inn which at its peak had individuals from all walks of life coming to eat and sleep; however, not all stories were told. They discussed Joshua Glover’s life, who fled slavery from America and the significance of his role at the Inn. The two youth touched upon Willie Chung, who was born at the Inn, along with the Chinese Head Tax that was imposed to restrict immigration.
Kayden and Zoe drop into Spadina House which was home to the Austin family. They emphasized the importance of individuals being recognized rightfully, especially women at the time. Kayden and Zoe imagine what life was like for those working for the Austin family like Mrs. Pipkin, the laundress who escaped slavery in the 1850s.
Lily and Tristian visit Scarborough Museum and talk about how Indigenous people may have felt not being represented and how life would look like if immigration was even more restricted. They touch on what makes an apology genuine and the importance of talking about history so nothing is forgotten.
Aaron and Noah tour Fort York, which acted as a military fort and barrack in defence of the Toronto Harbour. The two highlight the role the Indigenous Anishnabeg Warriors had in the War of 1812 and discuss the idea behind the ‘Coloured Corps’, a military unit composed of free and enslaved Black men. They dive into ways to combat discrimination and what they would change.
Rya and Mya visit where Toronto’s first City Council chamber once was, as well as St. Lawrence Hall where the 1851 Anti-Slavery Conference was held. The two talk about how inspiring Mary Ann Shadd is, as she was a strong female voice for the abolitionist movement. The two go into what they would change if they were elected and touch on the significance of William Peyton Hubbard, who became the city’s first Black elected politician.
Ahnaf and Amare visit Zion Schoolhouse, a school built in 1869 providing free public education for children in the small farming community of L’Amaroux. They talked about the difference between the education system from back then to now, and what they would like to change today. Ahnaf and Amare also share their view on Residential and Segregated schools and discuss the hypocrisy of those behind these institutions.
Oscar and Reefat talk about what kind of person deserves to have a street named after them and speculate if the street named after Samuel Peters Jarvis should be changed, given his history. They go back and forth on what true freedom means and dive into Mary Ann Shadd’s legacy as a role model and the respect William Lyon Mackenzie had for her.
Emily and Julia visit Colborne Lodge, home to Jemima Frances Meikle and John George Howard. Located in High Park and surrounded by acres of greenery, they talk about preserving the natural landscape and honouring the Indigenous ways of knowing. They discuss the erasure of Jemima’s story and the stigma on women’s mental health.
Alik and Jermaine visit the home of David Gibson, who worked as a land surveyor. The brothers explored the ethics of his job and the effects it had on the Indigenous community. They discussed the nature of the Toronto Purchase and questioned the fairness of the deal, while getting into a squabble about a previous deal they made with each other.
Commissioned by City of Toronto Museums & Heritage Services, for Awakenings.
Directors: Virginia Antonipillai and Ngawang Luding
Project Producers: Virginia Antonipillai, Tina Fance and Ngawang Luding
Artistic Advisors: Wendell Williams, Anthony Tran, Kanon Hewitt and Darren O’Donnell
Sound Designer: Nicholas Murray
City/Site & Youth Liaison: Ron James
Curator: Umbereen Inayet
It’s Been a While was created with support from the Ontario Arts Council’s ‘Artist-Presenter Collaboration Projects’ and Ontario Trillium Foundation’s ‘Resilient Communities Fund’.