The White Torontonian’s Indian

Originally published as a “Historicist” column on Torontoist on June 6, 2015.

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Children’s Saturday morning classes, Art Gallery of Toronto, May 2, 1936. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 2, Item 86.

“The Indian of imagination and ideology has been as real, perhaps more real, than the Native American of actual existence and contact,” Robert F. Berkhofer Jr. wrote in his 1978 book The White Man’s Indian. This image was further elaborated upon a quarter-century by Thomas King, who refers to the clichés many of us grew up with as the “Dead Indian” in his book The Inconvenient Indian:

They are the stereotypes and clichés that North America has conjured up out of experience and out of its collective imaginings and fears. North America has had a long association with Native people, but despite the history that the two groups have shared, North America no longer sees Indians. What it sees are war bonnets, beaded shirts, fringed deerskin dresses, loincloths, headbands, feathered lances, tomahawks, moccasins, face paints, and bone chokers. These bits of cultural debris—authentic and constructed—are what literary theorists like to call “signifiers,” signs that create a “simulacrum,” which Jean Baudrillard, the French sociologist and postmodern theorist, succinctly explained as something that “is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none.”

Built into this image are elements of racism and excessive romanticism, all of which shaped how aboriginal culture was presented to generations of Torontonians, especially children.

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Excerpt from Eaton’s advertisement, the Toronto Star, November 17, 1923.

Dressing up in stereotypical aboriginal costumes was done with little discomfort for much of the 20th century. Homemaker columns in Toronto’s daily newspapers periodically offered tips on how to make your own Indian maiden outfit of the type often worn while pretending to be a noble savage or reciting Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Song of Hiawatha.” For example, take this suggestion published by the Star in 1911:

You could make an Indian costume out of khaki, coloured drill, or duck. Have leggings and a loose affair something like a midi blouse fringed at the bottom. Any bands of beading or bead charms available should be worn. Have a gilt or coloured band for the head with feathers or quills standing up all round it. The hair should be braided.

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Toronto Star, May 6, 1922.

Such an outfit might have been worn by public speakers while presenting travelogues of their adventures in aboriginal lands. Take the case of Martha Craig, who gave a slideshow at Massey Hall in March 1902 illustrating her canoe trips in both her homeland of Ireland and around Lakes Temagami and Timiskaming. “Miss Craig, who wore an Indian costume, has evidently given deep study to Indian lore,” observed the Globe, “and her lecture, though not as distinctly enunciated as one could wish, was a most interesting narrative.” We hope her diction problems didn’t include attempts to speak in pidgin dialect while discussing northern Ontario.

Similarly attired was Mabel Powers, who gave a three-day series of talks at an auditorium Eaton’s Queen Street complex in December 1921. “Dressed in Indian costume, and standing on a stage which represented a corner of an Indian encampment,” the Globe reported, “Miss Powers delighted her audience—particularly the children—with her quaint stories, so alluring in spirit, so suggestive of the great outdoors, and so indicative of the mind of the stalwart race that once possessed North America.” Powers, raised in suburban Buffalo, studied Iroquois culture and toured throughout the region, frequently lecturing at the Chautauqua Institute. Adopted into the Seneca nation as an adult, she was given the name Yehsennohwehs, which meant “storyteller.” Powers saw her talks, which stressed the spiritual aspects of aboriginal culture in ways foreshadowing the peddling of such beliefs to the counterculture decades later, as a means of building bridges between all races by offering “a better understanding of the hearts of the red brothers.”

Such understanding may not have been present when University of Toronto graduate students rang in 1929 with an Indian-themed ball at Hart House. The building was transformed to resemble a reservation in British Columbia, sans poverty. The décor, designed by Group of Seven artist Arthur Lismer, included spruce trees placed in alcoves and totem poles. These motifs carried over into Lismer’s cover for the ball program which, according to the Globe, depicted “a totem pole by the side of a lake, with Indian figures in the foreground.”

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Children’s Art Centre group in Indian costumes, December 20, 1934. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 2, Item 51.

During this period, Lismer was the educational supervisor at the Art Gallery of Toronto (now the AGO). Among his initiatives there was an innovative series of Saturday morning children’s art classes which evolved, with the help of a Carnegie grant, into the Children’s Art Centre. Opened at 4 Grange Road in 1933, the centre ran annual exhibitions of children’s works, and an Easter pageant. For the pageants, students were given a topic to research, collected materials to illustrate their discoveries, and created performance elements ranging from dances to puppet shows.

One year, the pageant theme was “North American Indians.” Participant William Withrow described the process of creating his outfit, and how his imagination was stimulated:

I wore a headdress—we went out to Kensington Market and got feathers, and dyed them and then we seemed to make a real deal of the use of cardboard that had corrugations so that you could stick feathers in the tubular corrugations and make the headband. I think it was subtly suggested that we felt that we were inventing it, and I think that was the real genius in the way [Lismer] trained his teachers. The children always thought that they had thought all these things up, but I think there were little clues dropped, there must have been, because the results were glorious.

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Photo by Barry Philip. Toronto Star, May 24, 1966.

Dressing children up in Indian garb was a staple of educational activities at cultural institutions and schools around the city. Even teachers in training donned the stereotypical outfits, as shown in a May 1966 Star profile of graduating students at Toronto Teachers’ College. Under the headline “It seems the natives are restless tonight,” 43 women enrolled in the Primary Specialist Course at the training school at Carlaw and Mortimer (later used as a set for the Degrassi franchise, now part of Centennial College) were shown practicing how to teach Kindergarten pupils—by exposing them to every aboriginal stereotype under the sun. The student teachers read a story about “Little Burnt Face” (reputedly based on a Mi’kmaq legend), built a teepee, and created songs. The “idea of the exercise,” according to the Star, “was to show how a Kindergarten class should work together and learn while almost playing at singing, dancing, and doing art work.” A group of 25 kids were then brought in as guinea pigs to learn the songs, drink “firewater” (juice) and eat “wampum” (cookies).

When it came to aiding and educating actual aboriginal children, there are stories scattered throughout early 20th century Toronto newspapers depicting religious authorities urging their auxiliary organizations to support residential schools in remote areas. Those who came out to hear Methodist archdeacons make their pitch likely had little inkling of the unfolding tragedy they would aid. Efforts to assist the construction of these schools may have been aided by speeches by the likes of Reverend John Maclean, who addressed the Methodist Young People’s Bible and Mission School in July 1902. Discussing the work of Methodist missionaries out west, “it appeared,” according to the Globe, “that he does not entertain a high opinion of the inland Indians of British Columbia, some of whom, he said, were too lazy to stand up when fighting.”

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Indian project – 10 year olds, Art Gallery of Toronto, May 5, 1936. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 2, Item 92.

The plight of some urban aboriginal children was exploited in the name of helping them. For years both the Star (Fresh Air and Santa Claus funds) and the Telegram (Hospital for Sick Children) published stories on the plight of poor, sick children which boosted fundraising efforts for worthy causes dedicated to improving their lives. From a modern perspective, many of these stories are jaw-dropping in their efforts to evoke pity, reaching depths which make Jerry Lewis’s most maudlin telethon moments look dignified.

Take the case of 11-year-old Louise and her two younger brothers, whose tale was published on the front page of the Star on December 3, 1932. The story opens with one of the most insulting descriptions of pre-contact Toronto we’ve ever encountered:

Years ago, just about where you’re standing now, the red man roamed. He loosed his deadly arrow at the fleeting deer, and sat over the campfire at night with his squaw and papoose. If the papoose got hungry, he let fly another arrow. And so on, season after season. And if the season was bad—they starved. Then came the “Great White Father,” or rather his representative, who fought and talked to the red man. The savage liked the fighting, but couldn’t stand the talking—so he finally gave in. What did it matter? The “Great White Father” said from now on things were going to be swell. There would be no more bad seasons.

Louise is described as “a little Indian girl—probably descended from coppery princesses, who followed he chase—proud, befeathered, fearless.” She wrote the paper to ask for help from the Santa Claus Fund as her mother was ill, her father had been unemployed for two years, and she felt pessimistic about her future.

How did the Star appeal to its readers to help Louise?

We know you’re not interested in whether the Indian shot deer on Yonge Street a couple of hundred years ago. You’ve got your own troubles. But what we wondered was, if we couldn’t just bring a little Yuletide cheer into Louise’s “teepee” and watch the two papooses laugh. It ought to be all kinds of fun.

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Women in costumes with Indian motifs, Canadian National Exhibition, 1956. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5778.

Before getting too smug about rising above the insensitivity of many of these past appropriations of and reflections on aboriginal culture, it’s good to keep in mind the following perspective from Robert F. Berkhofer Jr.: “Although modern artists and writers assume their own imagery to be more in line with “reality” than that of their predecessors, they employ the imagery for much the same reasons and often with the same results as those persons of the past they so often scorn as uninformed, fanciful, or hypocritical.”

Sources: The White Man’s Indian by Robert F. Berkhofer Jr. (New York: Vintage, 1978); The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King (Toronto: Doubleday, 2012); The Gallery School 1930-80: A Celebration by Shirley Yanover (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario, 1980); the March 7, 1902, July 24, 1902, December 28, 1921, January 1, 1929, and May 3, 1933 editions of the Globe; and the June 29, 1911, December 3, 1932, and May 24, 1966 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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Sir Henry Pellatt in Queen’s Own Rifles uniform and Mohawk clothing, CNE Grandstand, June 1910. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 4012.

One of several archival photos I left on the cutting room floor, featuring the builder of Casa Loma. The occasion appears to be a celebration held on the CNE grounds to mark the semi-centennial of the Queen’s Own Rifles on June 23, 1910. According to the Globe, Pellatt “addressed the Indians participating in the ceremony, thanked them for the honour they had done him in making him a chief, and expressed the hope that they would have an opportunity of meeting again.”

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Performer in Maple Leaf Gardens’ Ice Capades in “Indian” costume, 1950s. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 6771.

Also left on the cutting floor – I suspect it was a toss up between this photo and the group shot used at the end of the original post.

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The Globe, December 28, 1921.

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The Globe, December 5, 1925.

A story introducing the Royal Ontario Museum’s indigenous collection to young readers. Note emphasis on the “primitive” nature of their culture and the odd declaration of “how we all love the name” of “Indians!”

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Toronto Star, December 3, 1932.

The whole cringe-inducing plea to help indigenous children via the Star Santa Claus Fund.

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Toronto Star, May 24, 1966. Click on image for full version.

Commemorating the Battle of York

Originally published on Torontoist on April 29, 2013. Not all photos from the original post have been used.

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In a documentary about the Battle of York that aired on CBC Radio’s Ideas last week, Sandra Shaul, project manager of the City’s War of 1812 bicentennial commemorations, noted she was “intrigued as to why the City of Toronto would want to commemorate a battle that we so badly lost.” She reflected that it might be our city’s nature to celebrate losers (“look at our sports teams”).

But even if the American invaders won on April 27, 1813, thousands of Torontonians turned out exactly 200 years later to show their respect for the British military units and First Nations warriors who took to the battlefield to defend what is now our home.

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Many of Saturday’s commemorations honoured the role the First Nations played in the battle. From the symbolic fruit samples distributed during a sunrise ceremony to a round dance at Fort York that closed the ceremonies, the native warriors who served as York’s first line of defence were saluted by their descendants. “We’ve waited for a long time for this moment,” observed Mississaugas of the New Credit Chief Bryan LaForme. “We will no longer be a footnote in Canadian history.” LaForme reflected that if it hadn’t been for the overall efforts of natives during the war, we would be “another star on the Red, White, and Blue.”

The military salutes began with the receipt of new colours by the Royal Canadian Regiment from its colonel-in-chief, Prince Philip. One of the largest military parades in Toronto history followed, with an estimated 1,700 members of the Canadian Forces marching from Queen’s Park to Fort York. (Military demonstrations and processions were once a staple of Toronto life—they figured in holiday celebrations during the Victorian era, and were used to send off deployments of troops during World War I.)

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While the parade wound through the core, over 500 people followed the path of the Battle of York during a two-hour walk from the Palais Royale to the fort. Heritage Toronto unveiled a new commemorative plaque at the American landing site, one of five stops where historians described the main stages of the battle.

Holding up a “Brown Bess” standard-issue British musket, Richard Feltoe used the backdrop of the Fort Rouillé monument to describe military equipment and techniques used during the battle. He explained how troops on both sides lined up in rows to fire volleys at each other, creating dense clouds of smoke. Bright uniforms and high hats allowed opponents to see each other amidst the fog of musket fire, ensuring continued carnage.

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At the site of the Western Battery near the Princes’ Gates, Ken Purvis talked about the antique equipment used by the British during the battle. The oldest artillery gun, which is displayed at Fort York, dated back to Oliver Cromwell and the English republic of the 1650s. (For perspective, imagine American Civil War equipment deployed in modern conflict.) Purvis also performed, on fife, the tune the advancing American forces played as they approached Fort York: “Yankee Doodle,” a song the British later used to taunt them while parading prisoners in Montreal.

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Also mentioned on the walk was the last letter American Brigadier General Zebulon Pike wrote to his wife Clarissa. Written the night before the invasion, Pike hinted that the battle might cause his demise: “I shall dedicate these last moments to you, my love, and tomorrow throw all other ideas but my country to the wind.” When Fort York’s grand ammunition magazine exploded, a boulder crushed Pike’s spine. It was reported that the dying Pike was presented with a captured British flag, which he used as a pillow. One source reported that upon receiving the flag, Pike whispered, “I die contented.”

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At Fort York, the public mingled with period re-enactors and modern military. Visitors perused displays of objects ranging from wampum belts to pre-painless-dentistry surgical instruments. The ceremonies included the unveiling of three plaques to be placed in a new visitor centre, scheduled to open next year: two were refurbishments of fading bronze plaques installed shortly after the fort converted to a museum in 1934, and the third was a new marker honouring the First Nations.

Additional material from Capital in Flames by Robert Malcolmson (Montreal: Robin Brass Studio, 2008).

Natives and the War of 1812

Originally published on Torontoist on April 15, 2013.

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Three of the last surviving Six Nations members who fought in the War of 1812, photographed in Brantford in 1882. Left to right: John “Smoke” Johnson, John Tutela, and Young Warner. Library and Archives Canada, C-085127, via Wikimedia Commons.

While no one agrees on who won the War of 1812, there tends to be consensus among experts regarding the loser: aboriginals on both sides of the border. Any power they held during the conflict was lost soon after, as they were shunted onto reserves or forced to move further west. Yet the complexities of the natives’ war experience left positive and negative consequences which linger into the present.

Recent celebrations surrounding the war, alongside a shift toward exploring the conflict from all perspectives, have created an opportunity for descendents of the Six Nations to discuss their ancestors’ roles and relate them to present concerns. Issues surrounding jurisdiction, land rights, and treaty matters remain unresolved two centuries later. Meanwhile, movements like Idle No More are tackling the war’s legacies. As Six Nations historian Rick Hill observes, “The conversation of congratulations just isn’t enough.”

Hill chairs the Six Nations Legacy Consortium. It’s a group, formed in anticipation of the war celebrations, that is dedicated to ensuring his community’s historical perspectives enter the public discourse.

Prior to the War of 1812, the American Revolution had scattered the Six Nations. Some members lived in upstate New York, while others had accepted a British offer to move west to a tract of land along the Grand River. In 1812, as war loomed once again, appeals to Six Nations members to support either of the main combatants led to calls for neutrality. This was followed by inter-tribal warfare as natives lined up behind the Americans or British, depending on who they felt would best look after their long-term interests or crush them the least. In Hill’s case, his paternal Mohawk ancestors from Grand River battled his maternal Tuscarora ancestors from New York. When the war ended, the Six Nations used what Hill calls “old cultural protocols” to broker peace among themselves. Hill finds it significant that there have been no internal wars since that time.

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Portrait of Major John Norton as Mohawk Chief Teyoninhokarawen, circa 1805, by Mather Brown. Yale Center for British Art, via Wikimedia Commons.

When it comes to natives involved in the war, the public usually thinks of Tecumseh, whose Shawnee nation had uneasy relations with the Six Nations. In a lecture this Wednesday night on the role of the Six Nations in the conflict, Hill will spotlight lesser-known figures. “One of the problems with history,” Hill observes, is “it focuses on just a few individuals. There were countless other people who didn’t participate in the war, but were then part of the making of peace.” In an appearance on the Agenda last year, Hill noted that it’s easy to herald a fallen leader like Tecumseh, less so the nameless people who fought hard and worked to create a peace settlement which allowed their nation to survive. While some Six Nations figures like John Norton and John “Smoke” Johnson gained attention through their leadership skills, others are known only through oral histories or surviving council records from the early 19th century.

In the Battle of York, which celebrates its bicentenary next week, the Six Nations didn’t play a direct role. Three hundred warriors were ready to participate, but were held at bay by the British. When they heard the grand ammunition magazine explode, they assumed the Americans would hit Burlington Bay next and prepared themselves for a strike that didn’t happen. During the actual battle, an advance group of approximately 50 Chippawa, Mississauga, and Ojibwa warriors commanded by Major James Givins was sent to meet the first wave of American invaders west of Fort York. The warriors were outnumbered, which led to, as historian Robert Malcolmson put it, “a murderous game of hide and seek among the trees, and as the minutes went by, the warriors’ resolve slackened and then dissolved.” Up to eight warriors were killed. The only name recorded among the fatalities was Yellowhead, who is said to have been buried along Yonge Street. The rest joined the mass of nameless native casualties during the conflict.

Sources: The Iroquois in War of 1812 by Carl Benn (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998) and Capital in Flames by Robert Malcolmson (Montreal: Robin Brass Studio, 2008).

Picturing the Americas at the AGO

Originally published on Torontoist on June 17, 2015.

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Wall dedicated to the Toronto Purchase.

The press kit for “Picturing the Americas: Landscape Painting from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic” is filled with numbers. In the 118 works on display, created by 85 artists and collected from 51 institutions in 11 countries, sharp-eyed viewers will note 116 birds and 105 horses lurking within the frames.

Scheduled to coincide with the Pan American and Parapan American Games, the Art Gallery of Ontario’s latest major exhibition spotlights painted interpretations of the landscapes of the Americas, covering a timeline from the dawn of the United States in the late 18th century through the Second World War. These pieces show, according to the AGO’s Associate Curator of Canadian Art Georgiana Uhlyarik, how the artists were “trying to understand how the environment shapes them, how they find themselves in this new place, and how ultimately they end up shaping the environment and understanding that they have to find a new way of belonging to this place.” Or, as Uruguayan artist Pedro Figari put it in 1924, “until we have shaken off the stupor that befogs us, we will not be able to perceive the beauties of our own earth and sky, nor the poetry of our own traditions, nor the greatness of our mission…[to] create the work of America.”

The exhibition’s 13 themes touch on topics ranging from landscape-painting techniques developed to capture landscapes unknown to those of European origin, to the depiction of railways as part of the environment. There’s an underlying narrative about how these works were used for deceptive or exploitative purposes, such as romanticizing the land to promote immigration or depicting the wealth of natural resources ready for investors to capitalize on.

That sense of exploitation carries over into the last, Toronto-centric portion of the exhibition: a wall dedicated to the Toronto Purchase, the treaty where the Mississaugas signed over much of the land the city currently sits on. There are no paintings of landscapes accompanying the deal, just cold hard maps and signatures. The Toronto Purchase can stand in for the many treaties (or outright land grabs) made with indigenous cultures by colonial officials across the Americas over the period covered by the exhibition.

Of the artists represented, the most familiar will be those from North America. Canadians on display include Emily Carr, Cornelius Krieghoff, Paul Kane, and members of the Group of Seven, while from south of the border come pieces by Thomas Hart Benton, Georgia O’Keefe, and Grant Wood. Works from Latin America provide some of the exhibition’s most revelatory works, from José María Velasco’s depiction of indigenous Mexicans walking in front of ruins in Oaxaca, to Brazilian Tarsila do Amaral’s playful postcard-style depiction of monkeys in a tree.

Following its Toronto engagement, the exhibition will continue to follow major sporting events in the Americas. After a stop at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, these works will be displayed at the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo on the eve of Brazil’s hosting of the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The AGO Expands Its Horizons With New First Nations Exhibit

Originally published on Torontoist on July 23, 2014.

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Patrick DesJarlait, Maple Sugar Time, 1946. Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa. Image courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Toronto has increasingly strived to honour the region’s First Nations—whether by acknowledging the historical presence of the Mississaugas of the New Credit on current City land or commemorating pre-European communities and trade routes. Now the Art Gallery of Ontario is following suit, staging an exhibition that highlights Anishinaabe artists from the Great Lakes region and making a greater effort to include indigenous art in its Canadian galleries.

“Before and After the Horizon: Anishinaabe Artists of the Great Lakes” is a collaborative effort of the AGO and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, in New York City, where the exhibition recently wrapped up after a one-year run. The displays are organized by themes relating to Anishinaabe concepts of place and spirituality, and how they interact with the outside world. One of the most intriguing themes is “cottager colonialism,” which suggests that the colonization of indigenous land continues by way of vacationing tourists. Political statements are scattered throughout the exhibition, from Nadia Myre’s bead-covered pages of the Indian Act to the use of historical indigenous status documents in Robert Houle’s “Premises” series. Floral beaded bags and leggings, meanwhile, provide inspiration for the contemporary paintings of Christi Belcourt, an Ontario Arts Council Aboriginal Arts Award recipient.

For AGO curator Andrew Hunter, “Before and After the Horizon” serves as a “bold catalyst for rethinking parts of our permanent collection space.” The gallery is focused on acquiring and commissioning more First Nations art, contextualizing that art with displays of First Nations artifacts, and labelling Anishinaabe works throughout the institution with a thunderbird symbol. Hunter says these moves will encourage “thinking about how a certain history is represented, how certain communities are present within an institution whose history is largely a Western European model.”

Regular visitors can see the effects of these changes in the Canadian galleries. In the 19th-century salon room, a display of bandolier bags and a Chester Brown drawing of Louis Riel are nods to First Nations history. Norval Morrisseau’s six-piece Man Changing into Thunderbird has moved from a hallway to a prominent space across from Group of Seven works. Another Morrisseau work, the colourful Psychic Space, may be the first to catch your eye when walking into “Before and After the Horizon”—or perhaps it will be Michael Belmore’s Shorelines, a map of North America hammered out in copper, a metal sacred to the Anishinaabe.

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Robert Houle, Parfleche for Norval Morrisseau, 1999. National Museum of the American Indian. Image courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ontario

The Toronto incarnation of “Before and After the Horizon” features artists active in the city. Among them is photographer Keesic Douglas, who contributed his work Lifestyles, a quartet of photos depicting a contemporary urban First Nations couple living in a hipsterish apartment filled with stereotypical cultural artifacts. Interested in concepts of indigenous identity and representation, Douglas used historical paintings for reference when composing the shots.

Douglas was on hand for yesterday’s press preview, as was Bonnie Devine, who contributed two works to the exhibition. Inspired by the Canadian Shield landscape where she grew up as part of the Serpent River First Nation near Blind River, Devine’s contributions mix photos of rocks with “letters” drawing on the era of the Robinson Treaties of 1850, documents that turned her ancestors’ land over to the British.

Devine also contributed a piece installed in a regular gallery—one of several First Nations works that will continue to be displayed after the exhibition closes. For this piece, she took a wall map of Upper and Lower Canada, and transformed it into Battle for the Woodlands, where the Great Lakes are represented by animals, the St. Lawrence River runs red, and treaty boundaries are outlined. Accompanying the map is Treaty Robe for Tecumseh, a tribute to the War of 1812 hero.

Meanwhile, in the Walker Court, Robert Houle’s Seven Grandfathers transforms the roundels that encircle the space into ceremonial drums. This installation will provide the backdrop for the exhibition’s official public opening on July 30.

Heritage Toronto Leads a Historical Bike Tour of the Huron-Wendat Trail

Originally published on Torontoist on June 18, 2013.

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Riding a bicycle along the Finch Corridor path near Jane Street and Finch Avenue takes you past plenty of grassy fields and hydro towers. The serene surroundings make it hard to imagine that over 500 years ago the area already had its present-day population density.

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The path runs through the Parsons Site, a former Huron-Wendat village that is now considered one of the city’s major pre-European archaeological discoveries. On June 15, Heritage Toronto staged a historical bike tour through the area.

The ride, Heritage Toronto’s second bike tour this year, was run in collaboration with Community Bicycle Network (CBN). Those who couldn’t drag their bikes out to North York were accommodated with Bixi bicycles.

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The ride followed an unveiling ceremony for some new trail plaques. City Councillor Anthony Perruzza (Ward 8, York West) read a proclamation from Mayor Rob Ford declaring June 15 Huron-Wendat Day. Speakers included descendants of the Parsons Site community, who currently reside on the Huron-Wendat reserve in Wendake, Quebec. Starting in 2010, the band consulted with the City on the trail’s creation.

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Riders pedalled back and forth along the trail from Jane Street to Sentinel Road. At each stop, archaeologist Ron Williamson discussed different aspects of the significance of the site, which was the largest of four major Huron villages between the Humber and Rouge Rivers. He addressed why the trail honours the Huron-Wendat, when most people associate Toronto’s aboriginal past with other tribes. The answer: the Huron-Wendat (also known as Wyandot) remained in the area until they were displaced in the mid-17th century because of a combination of epidemics of European diseases and war with Iroquois tribes, who were subsequently pushed out by the Ojibwa. Williamson discussed the importance of maize to the Huron diet—it made up half their daily food intake—and how trading maize and other items changed their language from an Algonquian tongue to Iroquoian long before they were physically displaced.

Williamson also discussed how the Parsons Site has been excavated and protected over the years since the University of Toronto first dug there in 1952. Just under the grassy surface sit palisades and the remains of at least 10 longhouses. The last major dig in 1989 was prompted by a watermain project.

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Members of the CBN marshalled the ride. Among them was Thomas Hasan, whose Heritage Rides organization seeks to bring together historians and cycling advocates to provide guided tours. While there aren’t any other rides scheduled at present, Hasan has had interest from groups stretching from Mimico to The Beaches. He notes that he would “like to work more closely with the BIAs, local businesses, and other sources of funding, including crowdsourcing, to support the development of new heritage rides.”

Heritage Toronto’s Chief Historian and Associate Director Gary Miedema hinted that there might be a remount of the first heritage bike tour, which had taken place a week earlier on the Toronto Islands. He imagines future tours drawing on longer stretches of off-road trails, like those along the Don and Humber Rivers, as well as rides exploring the histories of communities like Don Mills. He finds the participation of cycling groups like CBN critical to making tours work smoothly. Expansion of the program will depend on finding volunteer tour leaders.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Short Cuts 1

Some weeks while working on Vintage Toronto Ads my mind overflowed with ideas. Others, whether due to brain fog, a heavy load at my then day job, or a hectic personal life, produced ridiculously short pieces I’m amazed the editors accepted. Rather than give all of those pieces their own posts, I’m collecting them in batches such as this.

Suitable Attire

Originally published on Torontoist on July 29, 2008.

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The Globe, May 12, 1883.

While P. Jamieson tried to raise a ruckus with their dare to the dozen or so other dry goods retailers located in the vicinity of Queen and Yonge, two competitors would have the last laugh—T. Eaton and R. Simpson expanded rapidly after 1883, with the early versions of their landmark stores in place by the end of the 19th century.

Who Are the Educational Trustees in Your Neighbourhood?

Originally published on Torontoist on September 2, 2008.

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The Leaside Story, 1958.

With today marking the first day back to school for most students in the city, we take this opportunity to let parents know who runs the institutions that will mould your children into upstanding young citizens…or at least the people who ran the show in Leaside 50 years ago.

Founded in 1920, the Leaside Board of Education operated out of Leaside High School by the time today’s ad appeared. Besides the high school, the board’s responsibilities in 1958 included three public schools (Bessborough, Rolph Road, Northlea) and one separate school (St. Anselm). The board merged with East York’s educational overseers when the two municipalities amalgamated in 1967.

Do 1010 Ads Use Stereotypes? We Need to Talk

Originally published on Torontoist on January 27, 2009.

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Sources: Toronto ’59 (left) and CFL Illustrated, July 4, 1978 (right).

The provocative stunt-based advertising campaign currently employed by CFRB has been one of Torontoist’s favourite targets for ridicule. This prompted us to dig deep and see if “Ontario’s Family Station” had any promotional skeletons in the closet, as most old CFRB ads we have encountered tend to be warm and friendly.

You be the judge as to whether this pair of ads, one designed to tout the station’s potential reach during the city’s 125th anniversary, the other meant to draw in Argos fans, retain the quaint, humorous charm the ad designers intended or demonstrate how attitudes towards First Nations people and leering football players have changed since they were published.

Look for representatives of either of these groups holding signs for the station on a street corner near you.

When Restaurateurs Go Editorial

Originally published on Torontoist on February 3, 2009.

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Source: Upper Yonge Villager, July 16, 1982.

Most ads for restaurants tout the eatery’s virtues (smart decor, well-prepared food) or highlight special offers. Less common, unless the restaurant has bought ongoing advertorial space, are spots where the owner takes a stance on burning issues of the day. Ads for Oliver’s in community papers usually highlighted the menu, but today’s pick tackles the economic problems of the early 1980s with the subtlety of a talk radio caller, though modern callers would not tack on an apology to those who enjoy statutory holidays.

Opened in 1978, Oliver’s was the first of a series of restaurants Peter Oliver has operated in the city on his own and as part of the Oliver Bonacini partnership.