Thursday, 23 February 2017




The title says it all ... this week I'm with some of my Museum Studies classmates in Ottawa, and today is our first full day in our nation's capital!

During my undergrad at the University of Ottawa, I would religiously keep Thursday evenings open so I could enjoy weekly free admission to museums in the city. It's surreal to be back at my old museum haunts as a U of T MMSt student, so I’ve decided to revisit the origins of each museum we'll be visiting. How were these key learning hubs founded, and how did they evolve into the landmarks they are today? Take a look and get acquainted with the history of these museums below.

Canadian Museum of History
Founded: 1856
Initially located at the Geological Survey Building, the Museum of History displayed minerals, biological specimens, and ethnographical artifacts. By 1910 the museum was named the National Museum of Canada and moved into the Victoria Memorial Museum. Eventually, in 1968, the museum was split into the Museum of Man and the Museum of Nature. The latter would remain in the building while the Museum of Man moved to its current location in 1989. To ensure a more gender-neutral name, the museum was rechristened the Canadian Museum of Civilization in 1986 before becoming the Canadian Museum of History under the Museums Act in 2013. The CMH operates in a shared network with the Canadian War Museum

Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec. Source.
What to look for: The Grand Hall isn't hard to miss, as it's one of the first things you'll see upon entering. The vast canoe-shaped hall hosts a dozen totem poles, as well as the plaster cast for Bill Reid's sculpture, “Spirit of Haida Gwaii”. The forest image spanning the back wall is thought to be the largest colour photograph in the world.

National Gallery of Canada
Founded: 1880
The National Gallery was formed by Canada's Governor General at the time, Michael Douglas Sutherland Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll. As a prominent figure in society, the Governor General even selected some of the Gallery's first paintings. As of 1882, the Gallery resided in the Supreme Court building, but it too would move to the Victoria Memorial Museum in 1911. The first National Gallery Act was passed in 1913, giving the Gallery its mandate. 1962 saw the museum move to an office on Elgin Street called the Lorne Building, and by 1988 the Gallery was in its current location on Sussex Drive.

"Maman" sculpture by Louise Bourgeois outside the National Gallery of Canada. Source.
What to look for: There's a large atrium nestled at the heart of the gallery, complete with a glimmering pool, high ceilings and skylights. It's a great place to sit and relax, or to take a quiet moment between viewing all the works. Keep an eye out for a similar garden oasis too.

Canada Aviation and Space Museum
Founded: 1964
More recently founded at RCAF Station Rockcliffe as the National Aeronautical Collection, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum was originally an amalgamation of three existing collections (National Aviation Museum at Uplands, Canadian War Museum collection, and the RCAF Museum). The museum was housed in World War II era hangars, but was moved into a triangular hangar in 1988, where it remained. A new hangar was opened in 2006 for additional storage of aircraft. The museum changed its name to “Canada Aviation and Space Museum” in 2010 shortly after reopening from extensive renovation and expansion. CASM is part of the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corporation.

WWI Sopwith Ship Camel biplane at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. Source.
What to look for: The Ace Academy travelling exhibition allows visitors to operate a virtual aircraft in an immersive environment, using their movements to steer a digital rendering of the museum’s Sopwith Ship Camel biplane.

Bytown Museum
Founded: 1917
The Women's Canadian Historical Society of Ottawa (WCHSO) founded the Bytown Museum, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Based on the collections of influential women in society, the museum was originally located on Nicholas Street across from the Carleton County Gaol. Today it is housed in the Commissariat building next to the Rideau Canal, between Parliament Hill and Château Laurier. The Commissariat dates back to the construction of the Rideau Canal as overseen by Colonel John By, and the Bytown Museum reflects the history of Ottawa and its roots in the building of the Canal. 

The Bytown Museum, situated alongside the Rideau Canal. Source.
What to look for: I'm a bit biased because I was on the Bytown Youth Council during my undergrad, but the museum boasts a number of unique political and military artifacts on the third floor. Look for Thomas D'Arcy McGee’s death hand in the flesh – or plaster, rather – the cast follows a Victorian death mask tradition and was taken just after his assassination in 1868. Keep an eye out for the pocket bible that intercepted a bullet in WWI and saved the life of the soldier who was carrying it.

Hopefully this list was a sufficient primer on the museums we’re visiting. If you’re not with us in Ottawa this week, with any luck you’ll able to visit these institutions in the near future!

Wednesday, 22 February 2017




Happy Reading Week everyone! Read on to learn about four current and upcoming events!


1. An Honest Farewell

Schedule for the four day festival honoring Honest Ed's. Source.

From February 23rd - February 26th, the Centre for Social Innovation Toronto is hosting a four day festival to honour Honest Ed's and to launch Toronto for Everyone, an initiative looking to co-create an inclusive city and carry on Ed's legacy. The festival includes free and ticketed events including:

-Amazement - an immersive maze of art installations (including photography, theatre, dance, & murals) inviting visitors to "come get lost one last time."
-Town Hall for All: Community Hub - a variety of organizations and individuals will be present to offer free community programming. Attendees are invited to register online and can sign up for a maximum of three sessions. Check out the schedule here.
-Goodbyes & Good Buys: Market City - Farmer's markets, flea markets, maker markets and more!

Learn more: 


2. The Dumplings of Toronto


Example of a Kibbeh. Source.


Every month the Mackenzie House Museum invites visitors to explore the diversity and similarities of Toronto's communities through the dumpling. On February 25th, visitors can experience cooking demonstrations on the museum's 1860s wood burning stove and explore the Kibbeh (Kubbeh, Kubbah), a dumpling from the Middle East.

Learn more:
3. Winter Stations at the Beaches

Eight art installations are set up at the Beaches. Source.

Winners of the 2017 Winter Stations Design Competition are on display at the Beaches from February 20th - March 27, 2017. Eight art installations are located along the beachfront with this year's theme of "Catalyst : Converting one form or substance into another." The competition organizers saw the theme as representing several notions of change and being especially fitting for the 2017 social, political and cultural climate. Competitors were asked to design installations that would embody change by stimulating reconsideration of Toronto's waterfront and by being more ecologically friendly.  

Learn more about the competition and this year's theme:

4. Ice Breakers Exhibition

Five art installations are set up along the Toronto Harbourfront. Source.

Five art installations are currently on display around the Toronto waterfront, along Queens Quay from the Toronto Music Garden to the Harbourfront Centre. The installations, on display until February 26th, result from a collaboration between Winter Stations and the Waterfront Business Improvement Area. Explorers can also download the TO Ice Breakers app on Apple and Android to not only help them locate the art displays but also add to their experience by accessing more information about the art & artists and voting on their favourite installations.

Learn more: 

Additionally, from February 20th - 26th, Ontario is celebrating Heritage Week! If you know of any events celebrating Heritage Week or other upcoming events please leave a comment below! Happy reading! 

Tuesday, 21 February 2017




When I saw this video on Nowness, featuring Lil Buck dancing in the Fondation Louis Vuitton, I heaved a sigh because I had to write on it because there is a big fashion name over the door but not a garment in sight. 

 screenshot from Lil Buck at the Icons Of  Modern Art: The Shchukin Collection 
on display at the Fondation Louis Vuitton (source)
I had no idea how this would end up back with garments in museums. I think I get there eventually. This ends up being in a similar vein to my Met Gala piece back in the summer, but one more level removed. Mostly I end up with how museums fit into this larger world of lifestyle marketing. But first, lets start with a roll call of all the moving players in this video.

The video is also a beautiful deconstruction on motion.
It actually breaks down Cubism in a very poetic way. (source)
Andrew Margetson directed the short. He looks like he primarily directs commercial spots on UK television although he’s done more lyrical work for Nowness previously. Lil Buck, the subject of the short, is an American dancer that blends classical ballet with contemporary jookin. He goes into his own history in the video, so I’ll let him speak for himself. Nowness, who commissioned the video, would probably be characterized as a lifestyle website. They create video content that is undeniably timely and blends film craft, arts, celebrity, and fashion into a luxurious whole. As a business entity, a cursory investigation implies they rely on marketing through email newsletters as oppose to any direct marketing on site.

Which brings us to the meatiest entity in this matrix for Sew What, the Fondation Louis Vuitton. The building is designed by Frank Gehry for the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) conglomerate. At its core, it is a private museum for the LVMH corporate art collection and Chairman and CEO Bernard Arnault's personal collection and a stunning piece of architecture on the edge of a tourist's Paris. (source)

The building has been described an iceberg
rising out of the Jardin d'Acclimatation. (source)
LVMG, as a group, controls some of the most recognized spirit labels and cosmetic companies in Europe and North America. This is in addition to their fashion subsidiaries including Celine, Christian Dior, Fendi, Givenchy, Louis Vuitton, and Marc Jacobs. I think that may account for half of the luxury shopping strip on Bloor Street. They also control the Parisian park created by Emperor Napoleon III and the Empress Eugénie, which is the new home for the Fondation Louis Vuitton. Coincidently, they also own Nowness, the website that commissioned the video that started this train of thought. (source)

So, with the circular money trail, I should probably triangulate the luxury goods brands, the international cultural website, and the art museum involved. The three have a very different purpose but, as strategic investments, they should logically benefit the parent company in some way, no?

Successful commercial brands have an obvious benefit for their owners. So, if the luxury goods sit at the centre of this landscape, the other two should support them in some way. From this vantage point, the lifestyle website begins to make sense as a marketing tool. Publicly, the LVHM content is interwoven amongst both other cultural producers (e.g. Alvin Ailey and Florence Welsh) and direct competitors (e.g. Yoji Yamamoto). Taken together, the LVHM content is an object of appreciation for a creativity lifestyle that includes art & design, fashion & beauty, music, food & travel, and culture, to directly cite Nowness's content categories. (source)

In this mode of cultural appreciation as a lifestyle, the museum, especially the design museum, aligns with the same mode of contemplation and appreciation espoused by the lifestyle brand as noted in another Nowness video shot in the Design Museum in London. (source) It can also become complicit as a space for decontextualized contemplation of the objects of culture. (Burkholder, 1986, 410) They become places where the relationship between the manufacture and consumption of objects can be ignored, including the relationship between the name on the building, the object on the wall, and the economics that put both in place. With this rather cynical view, the Fondation Louis Vuitton feels like an alignment of their commercial holdings with non-commercial art culture by putting the Louis Vuitton name next to Picasso and Gerhard Richter paintings. Explicitly, there are lofty and altruistic goals that position the Fondation Louis Vuitton as a gift to Paris. (source) But there is also the reality that they are invested in created and curating an aspirational luxury lifestyle because that keeps their goods in demand.

Coming from the opposite direction, this equivalence between luxury goods, especially luxury garments, and high culture objects is fortified by the collection development by other museums. The recent Met exhibition of recent Costume Institute acquisitions is a mixed bag of historic and contemporary garments, but includes both LVHM companies and competitors they have identified as in the same tier of aspirational lifestyle. (source, source)

So, I need a shower, feeling a bit slimy after coming out of that rabbit hole. This isn't an outright dismissal of the value of the corporate presence in cultural spaces; they are a large part of contemporary society and that should be reflected in collection development and has amazing potential for the creation and maintenance of cultural spaces. I guess this is more of a call for media literacy, and to question whose agendas are being forwarded by the seemingly free and spontaneous cultural production that characterizes this moment in time.

Works Cited
Burkholder, J. (1986) The Twentieth Century and the Orchestra as Museum in Joan Peyser (ed.) The Orchestra: Origins and Transformations. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.

Elliot, H. (2011) LVMH Moves Forward With Gehry Art Museum. Forbes. Retrieved Feb. 21, 2017 from

Fondation Louis Vuitton (n.d) The Fondation Louis Vuitton.  Retrieved Feb 21, 2017 from

LVMH. (n.d) Houses. Retrieved Feb 21, 2017 from

The Metropolitan Museum. (2016) Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion [press release] Retrieved Feb 21, 2017 from

Nelson, C. (2016) The Met's Other Epic Fashion Exhibition. Hint Magazine. Retrieved Feb 21, 2017 from

Nowness. (n.d) Nowness Home. Retrieved Feb 21, 2017 from

Nowness. (2016a) Lil Buck at Fondation Louis Vuitton. Andrew Margetson (dir.) Retrieved Feb 21, 2017 from

Nowness (2016b) Fear and Love: John Pawson. Oscar Hudson (dir.) Retrieved Feb 21, 2017 from

Monday, 20 February 2017




Emily Welsh mentioned Art Museum at the University of Toronto's latest exhibit Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience in a January "What’s Happening Wednesday" column, so here I am to tell you just what is happening in this exhibition, and to convince you to see it if you haven't already…  because really, you ought to see it.

Kent Monkman, a Canadian artist of Cree and Irish heritage and a member of the Fish River band of Northern Manitoba, is the mastermind behind this exhibition. Created as a “Canada 150” project, Shame and Prejudice portrays Indigenous experiences of the past 150 years. These stories of devastation and deliberate destruction by the Canadian state, and the “resiliency and strength” of the Indigenous people who withstood it, are influenced by Monkman’s personal experiences and told in memoir format by Miss Chief Eagle Testickle.

Miss Chief Eagle Testickle in front of the Fathers of Confederation. The Daddies, Kent Monkman, 2016. Collection of Christine Armstrong and Irfhan Rawji. Photo Credit: Sadie MacDonald

Miss Chief is an alter-ego created by Monkman, and he has often dressed as her and depicted her in his paintings. With her flamboyant poses, high heels, and, often, a whip in hand, she uses sexuality and campy humour to make a point. Miss Chief is a symbol of Monkman’s Two-Spirit identity and a representation of Indigenous empowerment against colonial control. As Monkman puts it, Miss Chief “embodies the flawed and playful trickster spirit, teasing out the truths behind false histories and cruel experiences.” In this exhibition, she is the narrator and frequently a subject as she recalls Indigenous experiences of Canada.

The exhibition is organized by sections according to themes such as “STARVATION,” “INCARCERATION,” and “URBAN REZ,” though those themes are not numbered in chronological order. Works include installations and acrylic paintings by Monkman as well as historical paintings, documents, and other objects, which create a sense of reiteration and juxtaposition. For example, one room has historical works such as period paintings of John A. Macdonald and Wilfrid Laurier, a reproduction of Treaty 7, and Pîhtokahanapiwiyin's moccasins, which are situated alongside Monkman’s paintings The Subjugation of Truth and A Country Wife. The historical and modern styles appear to blend seamlessly at first glance, but a closer look at The Subjugation of Truth reveals anachronistic participants from the government, clergy, and RCMP forcing a grim-faced Pîhtokahanapiwiyin and Mistahimaskwa to sign a treaty; in A Country Wife, mascara runs from the eyes of Macdonald’s wife.

A wall in the "WARDS OF THE STATE / THE INDIAN PROBLEM" section of the exhibition. Kent Monkman's The Subjugation of Truth, 2016, is shown in the middle. Photo Credit: Sadie MacDonald. 

Monkman’s paintings are large, making close inspection necessary. Viewers are able to get close to the art, and the details are then slowly yet startlingly revealed. Monkman’s immense landscapes are evocative of the romantic ideal of the sublime and pastoral scenes in nineteenth-century European art. He employs the characteristics of Western art as well as direct references to specific works, such as The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. These trappings are ultimately subverted by the details within.

Left: Le Petit déjeuner sur l'herbe, Kent Monkman, 2014. Right: Bad Medicine, Kent Monkman, 2014. Photo Credit: Sadie MacDonald.

Bad Medicine, the painting with the bears shown above to the right, has some disturbing details upon closer glance.

Detail, Bad Medicine, Kent Monkman, 2014. Photo Credit: Sadie MacDonald.

Here is a close-up of one such detail. A Picasso-esque woman is sprawled on the ground as a bear towers over her, the contents of her purse spilling onto the sidewalk. Among the contents are bear repellent, a container of pills, and a bottle of alcohol.

Starvation Plates, Kent Monkman, 2017. Photo Credit: Sadie MacDonald

Monkman bluntly explores the uncomfortable and unjust history of Canadian colonization. This table is in one of the last rooms of the exhibition. Under glass is a setting of European fine dining on top of commemorative plates, while the end of the table is uncovered and littered with animal bones. Here, plates created by Monkman depict photographs of the mass killing of buffalo. This installation shows that the spoils of colonialism created a feast for white Canadian colonizers, while their extermination of the plains buffalo left Indigenous people with scraps – and no seat at the table.

In a series of raw and painful remembrances, I found the most heartbreaking segment to be “FORCIBLE TRANSFER OF CHILDREN”, which focuses on the removal of Indigenous children under the residential school system. This section has its own room within the gallery. Dominating the room is a large painting entitled The Scream, which depicts Indigenous children being taken away by members of the clergy and the RCMP while their mothers resist and desperately fight to hold onto their children. Historical cradleboard baby carriers line the wall on either side of the painting, though some spaces on the wall are taken up by industrial-looking skeletons of baby carriers, or chalk outlines in place of a carrier. Even Miss Chief’s interpretive panel can’t bear to go into detail here: “The pain is too deep.”

The Scream, Kent Monkman, 2016. Photo Credit: Sadie MacDonald.

Yet through such pain, Indigenous strength shines through in the exhibition. Reminders of the determined courage and endurance of Indigenous people create a narrative thread throughout Miss Chief Eagle Testickle’s memoirs. She herself appears often as a symbol of reclamation and a rallying cry to her people. As she puts it: “The others cannot see our magic, they try to tell us it is not there, but they do not understand the power of Miss Chief and they sorely underestimate the resilience of our people.”

Shame and Prejudice is uninhibited, unsettling, and utterly remarkable. Monkman’s art provides a voice that is very much needed during our Canada 150 celebrations this year. Shame and Prejudice will be at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto until March 5 and will then go on tour around Canada (including to my home province at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia!). If you get the chance to see it, please do.

Friday, 17 February 2017




Risk Management Procedures

What is Risk Management? Well, originally, it's a term used by the insurance industry but is increasingly being used by cultural institutions, particularly when taking stock of ones collection. After evaluating a collection, steps can then be written up and taken to reduce the effects on collection in the event of a disaster.

Many museums are starting to implement risk management procedures in their procedures & policies collections. Why bother? Some may think. We don't have any disasters! There are no tornadoes or flood zones or earthquakes!

Risk management procedures can help museums plan for disasters that do affect them and help to take steps to protect their assets and resources. You don't need to plan for each and every one. But what about fire? What about a broken pipe that pours water on your artifacts in the dark backroom no one ever checks? What about theft, or for those that it does affect, earthquakes or floods?

It is important from a conservation standpoint to have a risk management procedure and policy in place and to make sure that all staff understand it. To prepare a write-up, the collections usually undergo a risk assessment. By undertaking this, there are two outcomes that should happen:

1. the creation of a risk management policy and procedure
2. steps to better protect collections as resources allow

Risk Assessment

A risk assessment is usually undertaken  by the team to determine what risks may apply and how to best reduce the risk to the collection. It can be formal or informal, entire collection or a portion, but it definitely should be done for a better understanding of not only the objects in the collection, but the storage procedures currently being used.

During a risk assessment, ask questions like:

-what is the probability of the event happening?
-what percentage of the collection is at risk from such an event?
-what would be the extent of the event?

According to the Canadian Conservation Institute, it is important to consider the 10 Agents of Deterioration when taking on a risk assessment and apply each agent against the collection.

1. physical forces (earthquake, vibration, dropping)
2. fire (flames, soot)
3. water (floods, leaks)
4. criminal (robbery, vandalism)
5. pests (rodents, insects) *
6. pollutants (dust, gases)
7. light and UV radiation
8. incorrect temperature
9. incorrect humidity
10. dissociation/custodial neglect

* many museums will create their own pest management procedure, otherwise known as IPM or Integrated Pest Management.

As risks are identified, they should be prioritized and evaluated for the best response. A good way of doing this is creating a chart and asking a series of questions that will place the events in that chart. Some examples of questions are: has the risk occurred before? What will make it more or less likely to happen again? Is immediate action required? Who is responsible for this risk?

Creating the Management Strategies

Once you prioritize the risk, make sure to create a strategy to respond to the risk. This would be in your risk management procedure.

Risk management strategies should use common sense and sound judgement. Do not make it too technical or convoluted with unnecessary steps. Remember, the strategies are to be implemented in the case of emergencies and often fast action would be required. The best way to prepare for it is to create a simple and common sense strategy from the get go.

Cost-effective strategies are what to focus on; everyone knows museums have limited resources, so plan for effective strategies that work within your budget! Risk management strategies do not have to be fancy. It can be as simple as moving a table away from a pipe that is known to leak sporadically, or strapping boxes down onto a shelf in an earthquake-prone zone.


According to the BC Museums Association Risk Management Best Practices, creating a risk management policy & procedure help the museum in many other policies and procedures, including

1. insurance
2. appraisals
3. security
4. occupational health and safety
5. natural disasters
6. definition and clarification of responsibilities of staff
7. compliance with pertinent legislation

Once you and your team undertake a risk assessment for your new risk management policy & procedure, you will begin to realize the interconnection of all of this integral issues in the museum. With a better understanding of the current state of your collections, responsibilities, and possible risk events, you will be able to better protect and care for your collection. It is a bit of an undertaking and writing the paperwork can be a lengthy task, but it is not just a conservation tip or trick; it's a conservation must.

Note: Remember to check and update the procedure and policy regularly, perhaps more than the others. And celebrate with your team once it is created! You've just taken a large step in protecting your collection! Whoo!

Here are some examples:

National Gallery of Canada Risk Management Policy

ICOM'S Guidelines for Disaster Preparedness

Collections Trust (UK) Risk Management Procedure


American Museum of Natural History: Risk Assessment

Canadian Conservation Institute: Risk Management Workshop

Canadian Conservation Institute: Agents of Deterioration 

BC Museums Association: Risk Management Best Procedures

Museum SOS: Risk Management Applied to Preventative Conservation (Canadian Museum of Nature)

Thursday, 16 February 2017




We all have dreams of traveling. Some people want to explore more of Canada and some want to visit other countries (and have one or two in her five-year plan). Unfortunately, travel is expensive – airfare, gas, rental car, shelter, food, passports, time off work . . . as I said, expensive! But seeing new places and different cultures is a rewarding experience. Unfortunately, in addition to all the travel fees mentioned above, we also have to worry about admission fees. What is the fun of going to new places if you cannot experience their culture, visit their museums, and see the city?

Thankfully, many cities have developed programs that provide you with free admission to many of their museums for one flat fee! Simple on-line searches (ie. Ottawa museum card) will usually direct you to these programs. Today, we will be looking at the Ottawa program and comparing it to programs in Stockholm, Sweden and Barcelona, Spain.

Canada’s National Museum Passport - Ottawa, Canada

Ottawa is home to numerous museums and most of Canada’s national museums. Which can easily make your trip pretty expensive! The Canada’s National Museum Passport is available for $30.00 plus tax. This passport will cover general admission for three consecutive days to three national museums. The card can be purchased from the Capital Information Kiosk or any of the participating museums: 

Canada Agriculture and Food Museum
Canada Aviation and Space Museum
Canadian Museum of History  
Canadian Museum Nature
Canadian War Museum
National Gallery of Canada

National Gallery of Canada (personal photo)

While this is a great program, how does it compare to other countries?

Stockholm Pass – Stockholm, Sweden

The Stockholm Pass by Destination Stockholm gives you access to over 60 attractions in Stockholm, including galleries, museums, tours, and more. With this pass, the visitor is able to choose how long they want their pass to last and whether or not they want it to include travel.

The Vasa Ship at the Vasa Museum 

While these passes are a little more expensive, they cover much more and you only need to visit a few museums or galleries before the pass has paid for itself. This pass can also be bought on-line and comes with a guidebook to help you plan your trip.

I should, I really should. . . (source)

Barcelona, Spain – Barcelona Card

The Barcelona Card provides free admission to some of their best museums, free public transportation, and deals and discounts on over 70 other attractions. Like the Stockholm Card, a free travel guide is provided to help you plan your trip.

Beautiful (source)

The card can also be bought in person or online for 3, 4, or 5 days.

While I have only briefly looked at the travel cards available in Ottawa, Stockholm, and Barcelona, they are also available in AmsterdamHelsinkiFlorenceJapanCape Town, and many more! They all include museums!

Let's fly! (source)
These programs demonstrate that museum innovation is about more than any one individual museum. It is about coming together to support your community as a whole, from museums and galleries to public transit.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017





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:
Now, without further ado, object stories from Real Canadian Portuguese Historical Museum.


Guitarra Portuguesa belonging to Nuno Christo, RCPHM.
Photo by Anya Baker.
The Real Canadian Portuguese Historical Museum (RCPHM) displays three musical instruments used in different genres of traditional Portuguese music; one of these, the guitarra Portuguesa, along with instruments like the steel-stringed viola and the double bass is used in the popular genre of fado. Its owner, instrumentalist Nuno Cristo, plays fado in the Toronto Portuguese community. He was part of the local fado resurgence in the 2000s when new players entered the scene, at the height of musical exchanges between local Portuguese musicians and Canadian musicians outside of the Portuguese community, which reflects the long-standing musical exchange between local talent and visiting musicians from Portugal.

Fado started in the 19th century in Lisbon. With its simple harmonic progressions and sentimental lyrics, it was considered the music of the lower classes, sung in taverns. It was suppressed and then re-branded as music of national prominence during the Estado Novo (1932-1973), the five decades of authoritarian rule in Portugal under António de Olivieira Salazar and Marcelo Caetona. [1] Fado’s history is reflected in what Cristo calls its saudade: a kind of bittersweet, melancholy, but pleasurable feeling.

Mariano Rego was one of the first fado players in Toronto in the 1970s, when many Portuguese immigrants settled in the area. “Immigrants tend to retain the ‘old’ culture,” Cristo explains; Toronto fado performers tend to rely on traditional arrangements, in contrast to more innovative fado coming directly out of Portugal. Still, a musical dialogue exists: artists from Portugal have been visiting Toronto under the invitation of Portuguese clubs and organization since the 1970s. Local Toronto musicians open for the shows of these visiting musicians, and often a local singer will perform.

For younger fado performers born in Canada, fado is a way to explore Portuguese heritage, while also representing the Portuguese community within the wider Toronto music scene. Older fado performers who immigrated from Portugal seek to keep their community’s connection to their homeland alive. Cristo entered the Toronto scene in 1985 playing traditional Portuguese music. He started playing fado in Canada during the 2000s. He was part of Anima Fado, a group of musicians and singers new and old playing fado and incorporating Canadian musicians outside of the Portuguese community. The group eschewed traditional costumes and setups, and was booked in non-Portuguese venues such as music festivals, the Gladstone Hotel and Lula Lounge.

Despite challenges that forced many younger performers to quit the scene, including rivalries, competition for gigs, and changing public tastes, fado groups continue to play at venues like Lisbon By Night Restaurant and Chiado Restaurant. The innovation of the resurgence is not forgotten, but nostalgia for authentic fado maintains the community’s ties to Portugal, even as it forces Toronto fado to set itself apart from the Portuguese scene. Bringing fado to Toronto created a new Canadian Portuguese tradition--this is Toronto’s music.

1. Gray, Lila Ellen (2011). Fado’s city. Anthropology and Humanism, 36(2), 142.



Many Portuguese pescadores or fishermen sailed across the Atlantic in search of codfish during the mid- to late-1900s. After having undergone many voyages aboard different vessels, some decided to return to Portugal, but many decided to call Canada their new home. I was introduced to the story of one of these fishermen through the Real Canadian Portuguese Historical Museum, inspired by the museum’s many panels on the history of their arrival on the coast of Newfoundland. His name is José Peña and he started his journey at sea in 1951 at the young age of 15. Peña would spend many years exploring the waters and coast of Newfoundland before he would finally settle down in Toronto in the late 1960s with his family. So for some Portuguese, codfish carries a significant meaning. It is what brought them to Canada and to later seek a home in Toronto.
One of the panels on the history of codfish and the Portuguese in Newfoundland
displayed at the Real Canadian Portuguese Historical Museum.
Photo credit: Amanda Barbosa with permission of the Museum.
The journey experienced by José Peña has made me reflect on the ways that food often travels together with those who move to different countries. The Portuguese who migrated to Canadian cities, such as Toronto, brought recipes of codfish or bacalhau, as it is called in Portuguese, along with them. Bacalhau is one of the most important ingredients in the Portuguese cuisine. In fact, it is said that there are over 300 different ways of cooking the fish! I want to share this story of how the Portuguese-Canadian community has continued to practice their food customs and how, as a result, they have transformed the “food-scape” in Toronto.

One of the areas where the Portuguese first began settling into was Kensington in the 1950s and 1960s. [1] There, they found themselves sharing the neighbourhood with many other immigrant communities, such as Italians, Jews, Hungarians and Ukrainians. [2] In the late 1960s and early 1970s, many Portuguese, including José Peña, would start moving into the area known today as “Little Portugal” or “Portugal Village,” located west of downtown Toronto. [3] Here, the Portuguese began to open restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores, along with other businesses. Codfish - boiled, fried and baked - was one of the most common food found on their menus.

In Kensington, these food businesses influenced the area so much that it went from being “known as a ‘Jewish market’” to being called a “Portuguese market.” [4] Augusta Avenue, where many of these stores and restaurants were and still are located, even became “known as the street of Portuguese!” [5] Although this shift occurred, to this day, Kensington Market remains an area where different immigrant groups have come together to share the tastes from their homelands. Even in Little Portugal many other eateries can be found, such as Italian, Asian, and of course, Portuguese. If there’s one thing I have learned, it is that food is one of the ways different immigrant groups have been able to connect in the city.

Teixeira and Murdie, 2009, p. 192.
Teixeira and Murdie, 2009, p. 192.
Teixeira and Murdie, 2009, p. 195.
Teixeira and Murdie, 2009, p. 192.
Teixeira and Murdie, 2009, p. 192.

Works Consulted 
Andrieux, J-P. (2009). Portuguese Fishermen in Newfoundland. In C. Teixeira and V. M.P. Da Rosa (Eds.), The Portuguese in Canada: Diasporic Challenges and Adjustment (pp. 61-77). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Baptista, L. D. B. (2009). Peixe, Patria e Possibilidades Portuguesas: “Fish, Homeland, and Portuguese Possibilities.” Text and Performance Quarterly 29 (1), 60-76. 

Belas, Antonio. Personal Communication. November 6, 2015.

Padolsku, E. (2005). You are Where you Eat: Ethnicity, Food and Cross-cultural Spaces. Canadian Ethnic Studies 37(2), 19-31.

Peña, José. Personal Communication. November 4, 2015.

Teixeira, C., and Murdie, R. A. (2009). On the Move: The Portuguese in Toronto. In C. Teixeira and V. M.P. Da Rosa (Eds.), The Portuguese in Canada: Diasporic Challenges and Adjustment (pp. 191-209). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.



Antonio Amorim’s scale, in the Real Canadian Portuguese Historical Museum.
Photo by Jane Campbell.
The most humble object can tell a fascinating story. Even a scale! Antonio Amorim’s scale may not draw too much attention, but the story it tells is one that reflects a strong community and a compelling Toronto narrative. Amorim, the scale’s owner, immigrated to Toronto in 1955. According to his daughter Suzy Soares, president of the Real Canadian Portuguese Historical Museum (RCPHM), life in Portugal was difficult after the Second World War, with paying jobs few and far between. Soares recounts that her father had initially worked at St Michael’s College in maintenance, until 1960. Her mother was still living in Portugal at this time, working as a teacher. When Mrs Amorim joined Antonio in Toronto, they decided to rent 5 acres of land and cultivate potatoes, carrots and onions. The farm’s crops were taken to the city to be sold in Kensington Market, which was at the time a prominent Portuguese neighborhood1. The scale, now on display at the museum, managed by his daughter, was purchased by Amorim to weigh the farmed goods for customers in the city, and, while humble in its appearance, was important to Amorim’s life story. 

Kensington Market produce trucks, circa 1963.
Via the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5612.
In its current home, Amorim’s scale holds its own amidst the rest of the museum’s treasures – antique flags, countless oil paintings, musical instruments – because its story livens up its unassuming appearance. The scale testifies to Amorim’s story of making a life for himself and his family in Toronto through hard work. Amorim’s scale also speaks to the important intersection between the Portuguese community and commerce in the city. The entrepreneurial vigor of Toronto’s Portuguese community is visible in the sheer number of Portuguese owned businesses and operations in Toronto, which number over one hundred 2. The Portuguese business history in Toronto is written into the very walls of the RCPHM as the museum and archive is housed in the headquarters of Portuguese-run Ferma Foods. Businesses like these rely on the community’s support, much like the museum does. The museum has ties to agriculture as well – in the early years of the institution, the collection was held in the working space of agricultural equipment manufacturer Massey Ferguson 3. Amorim’s scale fits in the intersection of these aspects of the community’s presence in the city.

Suzy Soares donated her father’s scale to the museum in order to tell his story. The pride he felt for his business and his entrepreneurial roots in Toronto are embedded in the object. The scale reminds us as well to take a closer look at those objects in our own families that may not call attention to themselves. If you look around at the everyday items from your own home, you may just find a portal to a personal and collective history.

Works Cited

Costa, Daniela. 2012. “From Minho to Macau: The Portuguese Canadian Historical Museum.” Heritage Toronto, December 7 2012. Accessed October 19, 2015.

Federation of Portuguese Canadian Business Professionals. N.d. “Business Directory.” Federation of Portuguese Canadian Business Professionals. Accessed October 19, 2015.

Kensington Market Historical Society. N.d. “Kensington Market in the 1950s-1960s.” Kensington Market Historical Society. Accessed October 30, 2015.



Group postcard of Saturnia’s Portuguese immigrants, from the Real Canadian Portuguese Historical Museum, Received via e-mail from Suzy Soares
On May 13, 1953, at the Halifax harbor, the first eighty-five Portuguese immigrants to modern Canada arrived on board the Italian liner Saturnia. [1] Brought over by Canada’s post-war demand for workers on railways and farmlands, this was an opportunity for them to leave behind their country’s political authoritarianism and economic underdevelopment. [2] Coming to a nation the knew close to nothing about, and leaving Portugal all alone without money, what life will be like was unknown.

One of the men in the postcard photo is named Antonio Sousa, who witnessed his fellow passenger’s homesickness as they wept, unsure when they will meet their family again. [3] At the arrival to Canada, they lacked their Portuguese communities, stable employment, and social integration programs, making their early life in Canada distinctly challenging. [4]

After parting with the passengers in Halifax, Antonio stayed in Toronto briefly before going to Sarnia. Failing to be employed in Ontario, he found work as a cook and a shopkeeper in distant Labrador. [5]

In 1954, after securing sufficient income in Labrador, Antonio felt confident about returning to Toronto, settling in Kensington Market. What surprised him was that the number of the Portuguese residents in the neighborhood has grown since he left for Labrador nine months prior. There were no more than ten Portuguese families when he left, but now there were dozens more, with new residents moving in every month. With his savings, he opened a restaurant at the intersection of Nassau and Bellevue Streets, a gathering place for the growing numbers of Portuguese. [6]
Portuguese immigration increased tremendously in the next two decades. At least 7000 arrived annually between 1965 and 1975, with Montreal and Toronto as primary destinations. [7] This demographic change expanded the Kensington Market’s Portuguese neighborhood westward towards Landsdowne. By the end of the 70’s, this new community became known as Little Portugal. [8] Antonio must have marveled at the dramatic changes in the city’s Portuguese presence since the first eighty-five arrival aboard Saturnia.

Antonio’s son, Charles Sousa, was born in Kensington Market in 1958. Today, he is the MPP of Mississauga South and the provincial Minister of Finance, a significant feat for the Portuguese Canadian community in Canada. [9] Antonio’s interesting life stories represented the nature of the intersection between Portuguese Canadians and Toronto, where an immigration community expanded and become a significant part of the city’s social fabric. This postcard is a reminder of how different the Portuguese community was upon its arrival. It marked a time before the existence of Little Portugal and the birth of one passenger’s son named Charles Sousa. 

To discover more of Saturnia’s arrivals and their life stories, visit this website. How can these immigrant experiences be a mirror to today’s migrant experiences?

1. Marques and Medeiros, 26.
2. Libertucci, 6-8.
3. Marques and Medeiros, 54-55.
4. Libertucci, 16-17.
5. Marques and Medeiros, 64-65.
6. Ibid, 136-137.
7. Ibid, 32.
8. Libertucci, 19.
9. Morrow.

Works CitedCandido, F. (2010). The Saturnia Ship Portuguese immigrants. Retrieved October 22, 2015 from

Libertucci, A. (2011). Schooling in Little Portugal: The Portuguese experience (Dissertation). Retrieved from University of Toronto Libraries. (Catalogue key 8309127)

Marques, D., & Medeiros, J. (1980). Portuguese immigrants: 25 years in Canada. Toronto: West End YMCA.

Morrow, A. (2013, April 27). Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa calm, collected. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from



The Pedro da Silva Commemorative Stamp on Display
at the Real Canadian Portuguese Historical Museum
photographed by Orvis Starkweather
With Canada Post slowly phasing out door-to-door delivery, perhaps it’s a good time to look back on its history. Pedro da Silva was the first European formally appointed as a mail carrier in New France. While some of the details of his life, such as his birth year - either 1647 or 1651, we know that he was living in Canada by 1673. Da Silva married Marie Jeanne Greslon and the two settled in Beauport, now a suburb of Quebec City. He and Greslon had fourteen children, and one of his sons, Nicolas da Silva, became a stonemason, working on many prominent houses. Known simply as “the Portuguese”, in reference to his country of birth, da Silva was granted official permission to carry the King’s letters in 1705. Pedro distinguished himself from other couriers because he delivered the post in all seasons, unlike many of his competitors who only worked when the weather was favourable.

At the Real Canadian Portuguese Historical Museum (RCPHM) in Etobicoke, Pedro da Silva is remembered through a stamp. Designed by Clermont Malefant, the stamp combines a painting of Quebec City, with the King’s coat of arms, and a reproduction of the letter with his official designation. Released in 2003, the stamp marks fifty years since Canada endorsed accepting Portuguese immigrants. While Portuguese people have been visiting the shores of Newfoundland since the 16th century to fish for Cod, a change in Canada’s official policy in the 1950s made it easier for Portuguese to immigrate, many of whom helped establish the thriving community in Toronto. According to Sylvie Soares, director of RCPHM, starting in 1950s, several stereotypes were circulating in Toronto about Portuguese, one of the most popular being that all Portuguese-Canadians worked in construction. Many children of Portuguese descent living in Toronto grew up with this stereotype. By celebrating a different profession, postal carrier, the stamp challenges some misconceptions about Portuguese and their professional paths.

Twelve years after the release of the stamp, the object now resides at the Museum. The stamp, which originally was intended to be used and discarded, gives us important clues about the life of early Canadian-Portuguese immigrants, and could be the start of a great oral history project where Portuguese people are asked to remember how images of their heritage depicted in popular media altered their sense of identity. 

If you’re searching for more information on the stamp, check out Bill Moniz’s documentary on da Silva’s life. Then again, there is nothing quite like a trip to the Real Canadian Portuguese Historical Museum to see the stamp and hear more about it from the expert, Suzy Soares.

Canada Post. (2015, June 6). Pedro da Silva. Retrieved November 25, 2015, from

Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. (2015). The Portuguese in Canada. Retrieved November 25, 2015, from

City of Toronto. (2015). Diversity - Toronto Facts. Retrieved November 24, 2015, from

Lord, Gail Dexter and Ngaire Blankenberg. 2015. Introduction: Why Cities, Museums and Soft Power. In Cities, Museums and Soft Power G Lord and N Blankenberg (eds), pp. 5-28. Washington: AAM Press.

Vaillancourt, M. (n.d.). Pedro Da Sylva « Nos ancêtres de la Nouvelle-France. Retrieved from