The Ward Museum and Strategies to Promote Community-Led Heritage Activities

Authored by Johnny Lau

The Toronto Ward Museum was founded in 2015 with the intention of preserving and interpreting Toronto’s migrant histories. It was named after the historical ward located in the city that was home to much of Toronto’s immigrant community, including Black, Chinese, Jewish, and Italian settlers. The Ward Museum was created with the intent to record and preserve the oral history of non-native and Indigenous residents of the city, and to provide and encourage public interaction and dialogue about the city’s migrant past and diverse communities.

The Toronto Ward Museum believes strongly in the importance of community-led efforts and engagement with locals to promote local heritage and history about migration. The Museum was founded by a multidisciplinary group of young professionals from a variety of sectors and who themselves are immigrants who have come to Canada or who have deep connections with those who have. In doing so, they wish to expand the inclusion of migrants in Toronto’s heritage sector by encouraging younger researchers with diverse backgrounds to become more involved with the heritage sector and by integrating stories from Toronto’s migrant communities and their heritage into contemporary discussions about Toronto’s redevelopment and path forward.

The Toronto Ward Museum and its partnership with 46 local, provincial, and national organizations across Canada to date have played a large role in the success of the Ward Museum since the Museum first began operations. These partnerships have played a large role in the Museum’s growth, allowing the Museum to be included in important discussions surrounding heritage in Toronto as well as helping to guide the Museum’s direction and path forward. The Museum’s partners play a large role in the Museum’s operating apparatus, working with the Museum to carry out its programs, serving on the Museum’s Programming Committee, helping to provide and arrange physical space and locations for the Museum’s meetings and programming exhibitions, and providing advice and recommendations to the Museum during the creation of the Museum’s policies. In return the Museum’s partners have recognized the work the Museum is doing as valuable for fostering connections and conversations between Toronto’s non-native and Indigenous communities, as many of the Museum’s partners have a deep and intimate connection with these communities.

The Museum’s largest program, Block by Block, showcases some of the strategies that the Museum is using in order to promote community-based heritage leadership among Toronto’s migrant community. Block by Block began in 2017 as a national program as part of initiatives and programs surrounding Canada 150 that aims to build connections among Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver’s historic migrant neighbourhoods by focusing on personal, individual narratives of migration and settlement. Since then, the Museum has continued the program with a focus on Toronto’s migrant heritage, singling out four neighbourhoods that have historically been destinations for Toronto’s minority and migrant population with the intention of recording oral histories from the residents.

Partnering with local organizations in these neighbourhoods to identify individuals and provide space for the Museum’s Block Party exhibits, the Museum hopes to shine a light on the personal oral history of individuals living in the neighbourhood and encourage conversations within the local communities as questions over the city’s redevelopment in these places are ongoing. It also hopes to encourage younger residents to become involved with the history and heritage industry of Toronto, and to form and foster stronger connections within their local community. The Museum does this by principally training young and diverse researchers, many of whom are newcomers with no prior experience working in the heritage sector, to interview and engage with residents about their experiences in their neighbourhoods. As part of this, they are taught important skills in building professional and community networks and conducting interviews, as well as being trained in exhibit curation and recording equipment. Many young researchers have gone on to use their newfound experience and connections within their communities in their future career paths, either in heritage or fields like social work and urban planning, and afterwards have recommended others become involved in the work the Museum is doing.


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