Wednesday, 12 April 2017




Hello Musings readers! My name is Serena Ypelaar and I’m delighted to introduce myself as Musings’ incoming Editor in Chief for 2017/2018.

Some of you may know me as a Contributing Editor for the Throwback Thursday column. I have immensely enjoyed writing about history and museums this past year, and I’m blessed to have been given such a wonderful opportunity. Writing for Musings has been a highlight of my MMSt experience thus far, and I’m excited to be taking the reins as we move into our next academic year.
Serena Ypelaar, Musings Editor in Chief 2017/2018. Photo credit: Alison Ypelaar
I love sharing ideas about museums via the written word, and I believe that’s what makes Musings so outstanding. Our blog's readership has expanded across the globe, and my fellow writers consistently produce insightful articles on exciting developments in the museum world.

I would like to thank our outgoing Editor in Chief, Natania Sherman, for her exceptional leadership and guidance throughout the last year. Through your tireless work you have ensured that Musings is a thriving professional blog. Your eloquence and dedication is inspiring, and the Musings team has been so fortunate to have you at the helm. And to Madeline Smolarz, Editor in Chief 2015/2016: thank you for your encouragement and advice during my MMSt journey so far. It really makes a difference to have the support of stellar graduates like you.  

A heartfelt thanks to all our supporters, contributors, and readers! Source.
To everyone involved with Musings: Professor Irina Mihalache, for your continued advocacy and support; iSchool faculty and students who read and share our work; and our amazing team of Contributing Editors, both first and second years – thank you. Musings wouldn’t be able to publish thought-provoking reflections without you. To the graduating second years, best of luck in your future endeavours, and thank you for setting such an excellent example for the rest of us!

And finally, a sincere thanks goes out to you, our readers. You are a vital part of the Musings community, and it is only with your support that we are able to share in the dialogue surrounding the museum field. 

Our first year MMSt students will be at their internships at a variety of institutions this summer. Keep an eye out for 
Internship Check-In, where you can read about our students' experiences. Source.

Musings will be on a brief hiatus for the rest of April, but we will return on May 1st with brand new summer content, including our special columns Internship Check-In and The Grad School Guide. Until then, be sure to follow our Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates. Have a lovely April and we’ll see you in May! 

Monday, 10 April 2017




Seriously, though.
Well, we did it! In a few days, myself and about half of this year’s cohort of Musings contributors will become Masters of Museums. This means the end of my tenure as Musings Editor In Chief. No, these aren't tears...there's something in my eye. The past 12 months of my degree have flown by but I was glad to be able to have shared them with you.

...and I've been cutting onions, nothing to see here.
Being the face of Musings has been one of the most rewarding and challenging experiences of my graduate studies. When I started writing for the blog in 2015, with little museum experience, I did not how how important it would be for me as a student to have an outlet to explore my personal topics of interest in museum work, and to know that readers would respond with excitement to the things I had to say.
Myself at my internship with Art Museum at the University of Toronto (photo: Natania Sherman)

As Editor In Chief, my goal has been to make Musings an accessible space for MMSt students to write about the topics that they are passionate about. In doing so, I was also committed to continuing to build Musings community through social media posts and outreach to connect MMSt students to museum professionals. I could not have been more thrilled or surprised by the content that Musings contributors supplied in response. The quality of writing has elevated Musings from a student blog to a professional presence in our industry. Congratulations to Serena Ypelaar, Musings' New Editor In Chief. You are an amazing writer and I know that you will continue to make Musings a viable source of critical discussion in the museum field.

Before I leave, I would like to thank the Museum Studies and iSchool faculty and staff for supporting our work, promoting us and providing an academic environment for student projects to thrive. I am so proud of Musings' contributing editors for their hard work and commitment this past year and want to thank them for volunteering their time to the blog, even when they were busy with all of their coursework. And thank you to you, our readers, for continuing to follow, comment and support us along the way.

Raise a glass to all the MMSt'ers who are going to do great things this summer.
Finally I want to wish good luck to all of the first year students who will be doing internships this summer, and to all the graduating students who will be starting new jobs. I can’t wait to see what you accomplish!

Friday, 7 April 2017


Since a great deal of our cohort will soon migrate to our respective internships or employment, or journey far away from the iSchool for some well-deserved rest, travel has been on my mind. Perhaps it’s the recent fervour surrounding the VIA Rail Canada150 Youth Pass, perhaps it's the feeling of chugging into the final station as we close the term, but nevertheless my brain has been fixated on travel by rail in particular. 

 Like much of the African Canadian experience, the history of travel and migration is transnational, deeply nuanced, and is only recently being shared in the public forum. Stories of the underground railroad often overshadow the African-Canadian experience with travel, and so for my last African-Canadian post I want to spotlight the sleeping car porters. 

In the 1870s, the Pullman Palace Car Company introduced a new luxury line of rail cars. Train passengers were treated to the finest amenities, including access to round-the-clock service in the form of a Sleeping Car Porter.  Chosen for their servile nature, porters were originally former slaves who would be at the beck and call of white travellers.  As the role evolved in later years, it was specifically designed for and dominated by Black men. 

 “Prevailing racist attitudes held that Blacks were socially inferior to whites and were meant to work in such vocations that reinforced this attitude, such as that of the sleeping car porter. Black men from across Canada, the United States, the Caribbean and as far away as Wales and the Dutch East Indies were hired as sleeping car porters for Canadian railway companies” 

Porter with Passengers from Canadian National Railway. Source.

As Black men, porters were denied any opportunity to advance to other roles in the company. Yet, there was a certain prestige associated with the role of porter that consistently attracted Blacks to the position. One advantage of the position was that porters travelled exceptional distances, moved from city to city, keeping abreast to the latest news on both the American and Canadian borders. This physical mobility was also connected to their social mobility. Porters were also in the unique position of occupying and existing in traditionally white spaces. The train car became a complex site of racial politics that showcased the struggle for power, agency and resistance. 

The height of this resistance came with the development of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP), a labour union that fought relentlessly to organize Blacks and improve conditions for porters.  An associated Ladies Auxiliary supported the Brotherhood and developed a complementary agenda that included progress in education.  Unfortunately, there isn't space to get into all the details in this post but there is a great National Film Board documentary on the topic here.

Ladies Auxiliary, Toronto Pullman Division, Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, 1940. Source.

This past November, one of Canada's most recognized names associated with porters passed away.  Stanley G. Grizzle (1918 - 2016), the son of Jamaican immigrants, was a leader in the Toronto Canadian Pacific Railway Division of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Moreover, he also served in World War II with the Canadian Army Medical Corps and was an active and influential leader in labour relations, immigration policy and served as a member of the Joint Labour Committee to Combat Racial Intolerance. He was an active voice in African-Canadian Civil Rights and the recipient of numerous awards. 

Governor General Michaelle Jean & Stanley G. Grizzle. Source.

I have always been fascinated by the ways in which roles that are deemed subservient are actually incredibly subversive, and I’d argue that sleeping car porters and porter agency exemplify this case.  In many ways the story of sleeping car porters is one that challenged representations of Blacks and Blackness.  One of my favourite examples of this can be found on the Virtual Museum of Canada website.

The plaque (seen below) originally hung inside one of Grizzle's sleeping cars. 

"Every porter was in charge of one sleeping car on a train. Because of at times, the demeaning names they were called by passengers, such as "George" or "boy," porters won the right in their first collective agreement with CP Rail in 1945 to have plaques erected in each car stating their name"

Stanley G. Grizzle Plaque  Source.
After years of misrepresentation and oversight, I'm excited about the ways in which the stories and the contributions of African-Canadians have been made visible and are represented in museums.  One prospect I am especially looking forward to is the exhibit Free Black North which opens next month at the Art Gallery of Ontario. There is much work to do to further integrate African Canadian history into the Canadian museological landscape. Fortunately, efforts are not slowing down. The number of exhibitions covered here in this column and the numerous others that did not receive adequate recognition are encouraging signs that this work will continue.  It is especially encouraging that new directions for Black history in Canada are not limited to one route, but rather this exploration is taking place under new conductors through roads less travelled and through intersectional terrain. 

It has been my pleasure to share the phenomenal work going on in the museum world related to Black history.  

Until our paths cross again…


Wednesday, 5 April 2017




If this column has been successful, I've convinced you that food is an exciting, emerging topic in the museum world. Before you turn your exhibit into the Museum of Ice Cream, I want to leave you with a few pros and cons. Food is a serious conservation concern for collections, but you can use food connections outside the exhibit space as a revenue stream and to connect with audiences.

Sprinkle pool, shudder. Source.

Once you start seeing through the lens of food, the connections are everywhere. The introduction to Levent and Mihalache's new book, Food and Museums (2017) states that “museums are looking into their collections for food objects, refocusing institutional mandates and curatorial practice to craft narratives through food”(p. 1).  If that isn't convincing, check out Elsa Vogts' challenging approach to the edible museum. Food is everywhere.

However, museum professionals need to be thoughtful about the risks such experiments present to  collections. For example, acidic wines pose a chemical threat to objects: it can stain or cause metals to degrade. Even the soda isn't splashed directly on the painting, it can still attract pests like ants and mice, that will leave a trail of artifact dust behind. Those "No Food or Drinks" signs are serious preventative conservation policies. The collections manager is trying to protect material culture for future generations. When they put their foot down, don't despair! Moving the edible components out of the galleries is an opportunity for new audiences and revenue.

 Cringing intensifies. Source.

 For my last article as a Musings contributor, I interviewed Shanlon Gilbert and Brenna Pladsen about their recent exhibition project fundraiser. Their mobile app about the Halifax Explosion is "exploding the museum," to steal Shanlon's pun. So it's fitting that their fundraiser took their project beyond museum walls. Selling garlic fingers with donair sauce raised revenue and created opportunities to talk to publics about their project. But I'll let them tell you.
Brenna kneads the dough for garlic fingers. Photo credit: Shanlon Gilbert

Can you briefly describe your exhibition project for those who aren’t familiar with it?
We are working on a mobile app about the Halifax Explosion called “Echoes of the Explosion.” Shanlon has created six composite characters using archival sources, news clippings, and oral histories. Each character represents different communities in Halifax at the time in order to provide a more complex view of the disaster. Brenna has created portraits and colour schemes for the characters, and designed the look and feel of the app. The characters take users on a walk through downtown Halifax, gradually remembering the events of December 6th, 1917. The audio experience is expanded on by archival materials and extra information in “footnotes” on-screen.
Why did you choose to make garlic fingers and donair sauce?
Brenna: Garlic fingers and donair sauce is a nostalgic dish for many Haligonians. It’s a traditional comfort food for a late night and we hoped to tap into fond remembrances from any transplants or King’s/Dalhousie grads. And it worked!
Shanlon: One woman was so happy to see garlic fingers she was almost in tears. We met a few Nova Scotians through the garlic finger fundraiser!
Brenna: Also, given that all the other bake sales have been primarily sweets (cakes, cookies, etc.) we thought it would be a nice change to have something savoury.
Shanlon: And garlic fingers are much easier to make than donair.
Did you reach your funding goals?
Brenna: We had a very successful recipe card sale during Christmas. The recipes were all traditional maritime holiday dishes, and cards are 100% gluten-free and vegan, so they sold well.
Shanlon: The cards are gluten-free and vegan, not the recipes--although you could alter most of them to be. Maybe not rappie pie though…
Brenna: In comparison, anything looks lackluster. All of this is to say we weren’t sure how well the garlic fingers would go over so we aimed to cover costs of the ingredients and some misc. costs we’d accrued. We hit that goal and exceeded it! We can’t thank the extra generous people that helped us get there enough.
What parts were challenging?
Brenna: Turns out that a very very garlicy food was not the best item to try and sell right before class. We got the impression that people didn’t want to bring such an odorous food into the classroom. Also, given how regional it is, we did have to explain what garlic fingers are.
Shanlon: The snowy weather that day didn’t help either. And some people were lactose intolerant or gluten-free and couldn’t have them even if they wanted. The were fun to make, although it took a while as we only had one pizza pan. And Brenna had to put up with me singing maritimey songs the whole time.
Garlic fingers, ready for tasting. (They were delicious.) Photo credit: Brenna Pladsen
 Would you recommend this strategy to future exhibition project teams?
Brenna: There is also a food culture in Nova Scotia that maps well onto our context; buttery, fatty, and salty carbs have a wide appeal.
Shanlon: It’s cold out there. You need food that sticks to your ribs. Mostly potatoes and fish.
Brenna: More importantly our project revolves around emotional connections. Sound and food are both mediums that connect people emotionally, so it made sense to use food to fundraise. Our garlic finger sale also worked as a PR tool. Apparently donair sauce brings all the Maritimers out of the woodwork, and hopefully they’re remember us when they’re back on the East Coast.
Shanlon: So we can’t specifically recommend garlic fingers to future projects, but food certainly has powerful affective associations to leverage. I would caution that food is a difficult fundraiser to coordinate, to deliver safely, and can be difficult because there are so many allergies and sensitivities to be aware of. If you’re going to fundraise with food be sure it’s connected to your project in a significant way.
Any key lessons if you were to do this again?
  1. Don’t forget to factor in leftovers when costing, there will be leftovers. (I has ~ 1/3 of the leftover garlic fingers in my freezer, although they are rapidly immigrating to my stomach).
  2. Advertise when/what you’re doing online and onsite. We more aggressively promoted the cards on campus and in our networks and saw much better returns.
I will help you with those leftovers, Brenna. Source.
  1. Arrange with profs to make class visits with your food if you can. The lobby is busy but mostly people just want to get to the elevators/class. Plus the middle of class is when people get hungry and tired and their willpower is depleted…
  2. Don’t be afraid to sell to people! A lot of people didn’t know what garlic fingers are and responded positively when we greeted them and told them stories about garlic fingers and late nights at pizza corner or on the Commons. 
If you're in Halifax this summer, I hope you listen to the incredible "Echoes of the Explosion." It's been a treat to see this project develop.
Thus concludes my last article for Musings. It has been an honour to associate with my fellow contributors and museum professionals. I hope to keep in touch as the Masters of Museum Studies class of 2017 moves from the iSchool into the world! Look for me in the Seattle, where I will keep snacking my way through all the incredible museums.





The series of digital stories about Toronto history and culture which make up this project are the work of fifty-three Master of Museum Studies (MMSt) graduate students. The project was inspired by the 2015 Myseum Intersections – Telling Toronto’s Stories and invited each storyteller to select an object from local collections which has significance to Toronto’s past and present. The objects inspired the authors to connect historical events with contemporary context so that they tell stories about the multiple intersections that happen in the city.

Musings will be posting collected stories once a cycle. We hope that, after reading the stories, you will know Toronto a little bit better. And perhaps you will find similar stories in your own objects!

Our partners for this project, to which we are extremely thankful, are:
While most of are partners had several objects from their collection researched and profiled, some of the institutions are represented through single objects. To finish off Toronto Stories 2017, we are pleased to present single serving stories from around Toronto. Some stories are from right next door, others are in private collections. Now, without further ado, stories from John M. Kelly Library, St. Mike’s College Archives, University of Toronto, a private collection of Russian artefacts, and the Multicultural Historical Society of Ontario.



What could a 115 year old ball have to do with Irish immigration into Canada? How can this small object be a powerful marker of the history of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto? This small leather handball tells a story about sports, religion, and Irish Catholic identity at one of the oldest institutions in Toronto. 

Leather handball c.1900, University of St. Michael’s College Archive.
Photo credit: Jasmine Fisher.
In the mid 1800s, an influx of Irish Catholic immigrants came to Canada in the wake of the Great Famine, bringing with them what would become a popular sport at St. Michael’s College, Gaelic handball.

Irish Catholic integration into the culture of the city was not easy. For example, a proper Catholic-centred postsecondary education was difficult because large institutions such as the University of Toronto was firmly Protestant. St Michael’s College School, founded in 1852, was one option for Catholics in Toronto. It was attended by many Irish Catholic students, but they did not offer University degrees, as their graduates would become part of the priesthood. This changed by 1906, when St. Michael’s College became an official part of the University of Toronto.

Despite this integration, St. Michael’s College was still seen as different from the rest of the University, so in-house sports teams evolved as a way to interact with other faculties. Eventually, the success of St. Michael’s College teams became a instance of pride for much of the Irish Catholic population in Toronto. 

University of St. Michael’s College Handball teams, group photo, 1905. 
Photo credit: University of St. Michael’s College Archive.
Hockey and football had a large following in Toronto, but Gaelic handball was also well known. Similar to squash, players must throw or hit a ball against the walls until one player misses. Rather than the tennis ball and racquet which are used in squash, Gaelic handball’s main equipment is a small leather ball and the players’ hands to hit it back and forth, as can be seen here. This leather handball, 4.5cm in diameter, found in the University of St. Michael’s College Archive dates to c.1900, and it was part of a thriving tradition of both formal and informal teams.

This ball is a perfect example of the sporting equipment used during the early years of St. Michael’s College’s integration into the University of Toronto. The sport is still played today using a small synthetic ball rather than leather, and it even has several official leagues in Ireland.

Leather handball c.1900, University of St. Michael’s College Archive.
Photo credit: Jasmine Fisher.
This leather handball represents the development of a sports culture and the popularity of a quintessential Irish sport at St. Michael’s College, and thus the intersection of Irish culture grounded in Catholicism and the traditionally Protestant education system of Toronto. If such a small, everyday piece of sports equipment can represent such an important cultural connection, what stories can be found in the hockey pucks and soccer balls used by people in today’s Toronto?

Works cited
Wamsley, K. B. and D. P. Ryan. (2008). The Fighting Irish of Toronto: Sport and Irish Catholic Identity at St. Michael’s College, 1906-1916. In P. Darby and D. Hassan (Eds), Emigrant Players: Sport and the Irish Diaspora (163-181). London: Routledge.
Google books link:



Ciboria from St. Michael’s University Archives.
Photo Credit: Rebecca Jackson
The University of St. Michael’s College (USMC) archives, at the University of Toronto, houses two ciboria from the 1984 Papal Visit. These two ciboria were donated to USCM by the Archdiocese of Toronto. The photo here tells us that these ciboria were prepared for the Papal Visit by students in the Archdiocese of Toronto. A ciborium is a metal cup or container used to hold and distribute the Eucharist, the bread that Catholics believe to be the body of Christ, during Mass. Often, ciboria are quite ornate and have lids. While there is no official record of how or where the USCM ciboria were used, I would speculate that these were used at the Mass at Downsview during the Papal Visit of 1984 which drew a crowd of thousands.

Some of you may know that 1984 was the first time a pope visited Canada. The late John Paul II, the only pope to visit Canada, came to Toronto twice on this thirteen-city marathon that spanned from coast to coast.

Much telling footage of the Papal Visit is preserved at the CBC digital archives. This material is worth a peek even if just for a reminder of some fantastic fashion from the eighties. During the first week of the visit, over 13.5 million Canadians tuned in to listen to CBC’s radio coverage of the Papal Visit. Some said the Papal Mass at Downsview, an area in northern Toronto, was the largest gathering of people in Canada to date! The archives reveal that John Paul II arrived at the Mass in a Canadian forces helicopter, like the one pictured here, to find a gathering of nearly half a million people. You can see the crowds for yourself on this CBC broadcast.

The USMC ciboria provide a window into this significant event in Toronto’s history. Events like these are often reported and remembered on a grand scale. These ciboria let us look at a smaller part of this grand event. Imagining a smaller community, like a school, and how it prepared for the Papal Visit can bring it closer to home. Do you remember the bustle and excitement when your school got involved in something like an Olympics, festival or parade? You can read one blogger’s recollection of the exciting event to gain some insight into what this might have meant to the kids who prepared these ciboria.

A moment in a city’s history that brings together so many people is worth remembering. Equally important are all the small moments that helped this event happen. So what do you think? Are you hoping Pope Francis I comes to Canada?

A big thank you to the University of St. Michael’s College Archive for their help and access to their collection.

Works Cited

Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto. 30 years since the first Papal Visit [Web log], Retrieved from

CBC Digital Archives. (1984) Pope’s First Visit. Retrieved from

CityPulse Tonight. (1984, September 14) Rewind [Television broadcast]. Toronto, Canada: CityNews. Retrieved from

Dmytrenko, K. (2014, September 11). A meeting of Saints in Midland. Retrieved from

News Staff. (2013, March 6). REWIND: Papal election stirs memories of John Paul II visits to Toronto. City News. Retrieved from ii-visits-to-toronto/

Stewart, B. (Reporter). (1984, September 21). The National [Television broadcast]. Toronto, ON, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved from



When Luba’s west-end Toronto neighbourhood announced that its annual Solstice Party would be retro themed, she was at a loss as to what to wear. When immigrating to Toronto from Russia in 1998, she and her family brought very little clothing with them. And of that, none of it was old enough to qualify as “retro.” So she pulled out her recently purchased hockey jersey, a replica of one worn in the 1970s by the Soviet Unions national team. 

Replica of hockey jersey worn by Vladislav Tretiak of
the former Soviet Union’s national team (Photo Credit: Jocelyn Kent)
Her outfit was an instant hit at the party.

Like many immigrants, Luba says, “I like to feel where I came from.” As such, she and her husband Yuri collect Russian objects. While the jersey evokes a period of their lives in the former Soviet Union, it also reminds them of the particular day in 2009 in Toronto when they bought it at a charity auction at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, hosted by the famous former Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak.

Whenever friends host parties to watch Team Canada play hockey, Yuri now proudly wears his red Soviet jersey, no matter whom Canada’s up against. And why wear any old Soviet jersey, when you can wear the jersey worn by Tretiak who countered shots attempted by some of Canada’s greatest players during his career? 

Detail of Tretiak’s name and autograph on reverse
(Photo Credit: Jocelyn Kent)
It’s a humorous jab at his friends’ confidence in the national team, reminding them that Canada’s hockey supremacy is not absolute. Despite sportswriters predicting an easy victory for Canada in the historic eight-game Summit Series with the Soviet Union in 1972, by the end of the tournament’s first game (Soviet Union 7 – Canada 3), it seemed Tretiak and the Soviets might give the Canadians a run for their money.

Tretiak’s skill as goaltender helped the Soviets force Canada to a suspenseful final game. As the tied last period waned, for the millions of Canadians anxiously glued to their televisions and radios in their school gymnasiums, offices and homes, he was the man to beat.

When Canada’s Paul Henderson scored the winning goal in the last minute of play against Tretiak, it became a never-to-be-forgotten moment of national triumph. It confirmed Canada’s self-image as a great hockey nation. To this day, the Summit Series remains etched in Canada’s collective consciousness.

Despite the loss, Tretiak became a hero across the Soviet Union and garnered the respect of Canadians as well. He went on to win three Olympic gold medals and eight world championships between 1972 and 1983. As Luba notes, in Canada, more than any other Soviet athlete or politician, “everyone knows him.” She and her husband feel proud wearing Tretiak’s jersey around other Canadians because he espouses sportsmanship and presents “a good image of Russia” to the world.

The Summit Series is part of the former Soviet Union and Canada’s shared heritage, as reactions to the jersey demonstrate. It is in an object from their homeland, surprisingly, that Luba and Yuri find common ground with their Canadian-born friends.



Tea drinking in Russia is an important daily ritual and has been for hundreds of years. Since the introduction of tea by Mongolian rulers to the Tsar Michael I in the early 17th century, it had become a staple in high society. In the late 18th century, tea was imported at such a rate from China that most Russians could enjoy a cup.

An intriguing element of Russian tea culture is the use of the podstakanniki, or glass holders. Tea in Russia is typically consumed from a slender cup that fits in the podstakannik, which literally translates to “thing under the glass” (‘pod’ = under; ‘stakan’=glass). It is usually made of silver or nickel-plated metal. The stability of this object, as opposed to narrow-based mugs or cups, led to its prevalent use in Russian trains as they were less likely to tip over. However, the podstakannik is predominantly used at home, sometimes alongside intricately-wrought tea kettles called samovars. The highly individual and beautifully decorated podstakanniki, the plural of podstakannik, demonstrate the importance of tea in Russian culture.

Podstakannik: View from the front of Yuri Dolgorukiy.
Source: Stephanie Read, 17 November 2015 

The owner of this podstakannik is a warm and friendly woman of Russian descent, who purchased it as a memento while studying and visiting her family in Moscow in the early 2000s. This vintage Soviet-era glass holder features whimsical acorns and foliage wrapping around its sides, framing a depiction of a sculpture of the founder of Moscow, Yuri Dolgorukiy. Dolgorukiy sits upon his horse in full armour, one arm outstretched out in a powerful stance.

Podstakannik: View from the side.
Source: Stephanie Read, 17 November 2015
During the Soviet era, many podstakanniki depicting important people and events in Russian history, such as Dolgorukiy and Sputnik’s launch, were sold as souvenirs in Moscow. Such podstakanniki of this time period were made in the Central Russian town of Kolchugino, about 170 kilometers northeast of Moscow. This glass holder would have been made sometime in the late 1950s or early 60s, as the statue of Yuri Dolgorukiy depicted on the front was raised in Moscow in 1954. It is interesting to see as decorations for such everyday objects some of the symbols of Soviet Union’s national identity. 

Statue of Yuri Dolgorukiy. 2008 Moscow Victory Day Parade.
Source: Vitaly V. Kuzmin, 3 May 2015
Luba, the owner of the object, has fond memories of travelling on the trains with her mother and using podstakanniki. In her home, each glass holder is of a different pattern and shape. They make for a pleasantly eclectic set such as many Canadians might have in the form of various souvenir, gift and prize coffee mugs.

Items like podstakanniki, samovars, teapots and other items for tea-making in Russia are ornate confections often depicting flowing organic shapes or complex geometric designs. They are associated with social occasions, and in Luba’s case, travelling in Russia with loved ones. This podstakannik bearing the image of the founder of Moscow is still used for tea-drinking and is a cherished souvenir of home. What is on your favourite tea or coffee cup?

Works Cited

Personal communication with Luba (did not want her last name to be known). Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

Personal communication with Egor Surahev (a Russian friend whose father collects antique podstakanniki) Thursday, November 19th, 2015

Encyclopedia of Contemporary Russian Culture. 2007. Eds. Tatiana Smorodinskaya; Karen Evans-Romaine; Helena Goscilo. Routledge: New York, NY. p. 611 of 693

Gaylard, Linda. 2015. The Tea Book. DK Publishing: New York, NY. p. 104-108 of 224Fodor’s Moscow and St. Petersburg. 2006. Eds. Christina Knight and Mary Beth Bohman. 7th Edition. Random House: Toronto, New York. p. 38



Standing at the corner of Beverley and D’Arcy Streets, I admire the house Mrs. Csók and her husband owned in 1937. William Lyon Mackenzie King and his family lived here in 1893 while he attended the University of Toronto, but I’m here to honour a less famous life. I imagine the factory workers returning from their shifts at the Swift meat factory in the West Toronto Junction, exchanging a quarter for a hot bowl of Mrs. Csók’s homemade goulash and a pastry eighty years ago.

This historic mansion was Mrs. Csók’s Beverley restaurant.
Photo by Erika Robertson
Elizabeth Csók made her own place in Toronto through hard work and entrepreneurial spirit. Born in Hungary in 1905, at eighteen she fell in love with a Catholic man despite the disapproval of her Presbyterian family. When the Treaty of Trianon divided Hungary in 1920, Elizabeth’s family lost their home. Fifty years later, she told historian Carmela Patrias, “My parents have house and grapes on the other side. They put the stamps on the money. When they get the money to Hungary from Czechoslovakia, it worth nothing.” So at twenty-one, she boarded a ship bound for Canada, where she married her fiancé.

The Great Depression, illness, xenophobia, and language barriers kept Mr. Csók from finding a good job. Elizabeth’s options were also limited: employers often wouldn’t hire married women because they were considered unskilled and expected to raise children. Through ingenuity and hard work, she found a way to do both.

When the Csóks moved to Toronto with their two young daughters in 1937, they saw an opportunity: a Hungarian restaurant on the corner of Beverley and D’Arcy Streets. She recalled, “Very old people owned it and it was for sale and we buy it. All the money that we have. So we start working in that restaurant.” They simply called it the Beverley Restaurant.

Mrs. Buyer, the former owner and cook, taught Elizabeth how to run a business and how much meat to order from the Slovak butcher who spoke a little Hungarian. “Mrs. Buyer show me everything, how much, because I have no idea how to cook for that many people.” After a month, Elizabeth ran the kitchen with the help of another woman and a dishwasher from Quebec. Her husband, who had “no clue to do any cooking” and a waitress looked after the dining room. Forty years later, she remembered the Sunday menu with pride: homemade paprikash chicken, salads, coffee, and strudel for thirty-five cents.

Paprikash chicken. Photo by Kobako (,
via Wikimedia Commons
Before hearing Elizabeth Csók’s story, the brick houses of Baldwin Village were anonymous to me. Now, they remind me of an industrious woman who made a place for herself and her family in an inhospitable city. I find myself wondering whose histories occupy other buildings I pass on my way to school.

Discover more stories like hers from the Multicultural History Society of Ontario. MHSO has made a selection of its oral history collection available online. I’m thankful to the researchers at the City of Toronto Archives for their help locating the Beverley Restaurant.

Works Cited
Frager, R. A. & Patrias, C. (2005). Discounted Labour: Women Workers in Canada, 1870-1939.

Henderson, G. F. (1998) Chronology of Mackenzie King’s Life. In W.L. Mackenzie King: A Bibliography and Research Guide. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

MHSO & Patrias, C. (29 November 1976). “Hungarian Interview—Mrs. Csok” from 1956 Hungarian Memorial Oral History Project. Retrieved from

Patrias, C. (1994). Patriots and Proletarians: Politicizing Hungarian Immigrants in Interwar Canada. Montreal, QC: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017




When I first started writing for Collections Corner, it was always part of the plan to deconstruct the collections themselves. In my first post I went a little beyond that; I discussed (or mused, if you will) about the nature of and act of collecting. I wanted to better understand why we collect and why the act is so important to us not just on an individual level, but a societal level as well. The foundation of museums is the act of collecting objects and information, but there are also millions of artifacts that museums turn away. There is a constant push and pull between placing value on objects we think are special

and knowing when we've crossed the line

Then are things that are universally accepted as special, but are destroyed anyway. That's the catch-22 of preservation: once it is publicly known that an item or building has been deemed worthy of saving, it automatically becomes that much more vulnerable. Special objects and buildings implicitly target themselves by definition. Would the Parthenon have been targeted in 1687 if it weren't so magnificent? The ruins now have their own archaeological and historical value, as people specifically photograph the most damaged parts:

As fascinating as it is to see the physical evidence of an ancient war, I personally would rather see the remains of a well-preserved Parthenon. Just like I'd love to see the millions of objects that were destroyed or stolen from the Nation Museum of Iraq in Baghdad. 

That's just one many horrific and recent examples of Western armies either actively participating in the destruction of artifacts, illegally confiscating them, or standing by and doing nothing as profiteers and looters ruin centuries of methodical scholarship. This is a heinous crime that happens on all sides of conflict, and the West is far from innocent. The propaganda that we are saturated with will have its own historical value eventually, but for now I do my best to willfully ignore and denounce it whenever I am able to spot it. But I am not immune to political manipulation. No one is. And because I am a very flawed individual, so too will I at some point feed into a systemic issue that will result in the destruction of something that cannot be replaced.

I don't mean to place inordinate value on things over human beings, but our material culture represents the intangible things we value about ourselves and our loved ones. We don't keep photographs because we love flimsy paper, we keep them because we want to remember the important things in life. It's perfectly valid to have a clean and empty sanctuary, but my sanctuary is filled with things I love, and it is made exponentially more valuable when it is filled with people I love, people with whom I can share those objects and share stories. I've been lucky enough to connect with people on such a level that going into their home and seeing their stuff is like seeing another part of myself:

This might be my last Collections Corner entry, and I want to end it by saying what a joy it's been to re-examine my relationship with objects and material culture. I've been pleasantly surprised at how thought provoking and emotional a journey it has been. I was always aware of the power of objects and how they connect us to ourselves and others through storytelling, but it's one thing to understand that on a rational and academic level, and quite another to feel it in your heart. I hope that my musings have been enlightening in at least the first way. 


Monday, 3 April 2017




There are a number of reasons as to why we enjoy taking selfies: are we narcissistic? Is this a new way to show that we love our bodies and are not afraid to show it? Or, are we buying into a celebrity culture where we photograph and edit (x5) photos of ourselves?

How could we possibly see an object behind all of these people?! Source
The reasons, of course, differ for every selfie-er. But selfie culture becomes even more complicated in the space of museums and memorials (I'm using the term 'selfie' here very loosely to also include photos taken of just you in the space).

What made me think of this topic are my own experiences when visiting museums and memorial sites. I usually have no problem indulging in selfie culture or having my photo taken beside a particular object or within a certain space. Sooner or later, though, I come across spaces where I question the appropriateness of taking a photo: should I even be in this photo?

To selfie or not to selfie? Source.
On the one hand, selfie culture has become part of museum culture. Selfies can be used to create an educational and creative experience. The "Pointilize Yourself" application in the Indianapolis Museum of Art, for example, turns visitors' digital self-portrait into a Neo-Impressionist style painting. The museum world has even dedicated a day to selfies in museums (FYI: the next one is January 17, 2018. Follow @MuseumSelfieDay).

A before & after example of the Pointilize Yourself app. Source.

On the other hand, as I visit memorials and museums that are representative of sensitive and difficult histories, photographs are taken of others, and me, quite awkwardly. As a tourist, it is only natural that we would want a photograph taken of us at the places we are visiting: we want "proof" that we actually visited said place, photographs to share with family and on social media, and photographs to decorate our homes.

However, when do we draw the line? There is photographic evidence of me at the U.S.S Arizona Memorial (the site of Pearl Harbor) posing very oddly, with the "smiling-but-not-smiling-I respect this space and history-but I still want a photo" pose. Many of us might feel more comfortable being photographed alongside pre-20th century memorials, which in the time might have been our WWII or Pearl Harbor. Is there an "appropriate" time limit that must pass which allows us to take self-portraits and not be criticized?

Taking photographs for the sake of taking photographs is one thing. But, disrespecting memorials through selfies seems to be an increasingly disturbing trend. Satirical author Shahak Shapira created the project "Yolocaust" to tackle this very subject. Shapira uses self-portrait images of visitors at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin and superimposes them onto images of extermination camps. His message is clear: to show how peoples' behaviour appears ignorant and disrespectful towards such a sacred space.

A similar situation is occurring at the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial and museum. While the site imposes restrictions on where you can and cannot take photographs, visitors tend to still photograph themselves as if they were in front of the Eiffel Tower. As the images for both examples are quite alarming, I did not include them in this blog, but you can read more about it, as well as see the images on the following links: and

While such images show a clear misunderstanding of the significance to humanity that these spaces possess, what if on March 27, 2117 and henceforth, taking these photos will become as natural as taking selfies at the Roman Coliseum? Who and where are the 'selfie culture police'? In fact, a Tumblr account has become a sort of vigilante in this department, addressing and exposing "selfies at serious places":

Perhaps peoples' behaviour at certain sites may be indicative of, but not excusable by, a discomfort or even confusion about the trend of minimalism to create memorials of difficult moments throughout history. In addition to the memorial in Berlin, sites such as the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. follows what Adam Gopnik calls the "sublime simplicity" (Gopnik 2014). Often times these moments are difficult to convey through words, nonetheless a physical structure. It seems that minimalism and more 'eccentric' and contemporary aesthetics appropriately matches this difficulty and our lack of consensus on how to effectively portray the past. Yet, is the lack of a transparent structure and meaning contributing to a lack of respect?

As we visit popular cities and sites, whether a memorial or a museum, we must consider and reevaluate our behaviour and the message we are transmitting through our tech-savvy actions.

Sources consulted:

Gopnik, Adam. (2014, July 7). Stones and bones. The New Yorker.