Friday, 20 October 2017




One of the joys of being in a master's program like Museum Studies is the opportunity to learn directly from working museum professionals. I've always been especially interested in hearing the ideas of those who work in the field - and last week, some of my MMSt colleagues and I attended the Ontario Museum Association (OMA)'s annual conference in Kingston to do just that!

That's why I've decided to write a condensed conference recap for Musings' Research Column, as I believe research is made even more meaningful when situated within practical experience.

At the conference, my classmates and I were privileged to attend talks and panels by museum professionals across the province, which was extremely beneficial for our professional development. Having worked at the OMA last summer, I know the time and effort that goes into organizing the conference, and the OMA did an excellent job on #OMAConf2017!

Kingston City Hall. Photo courtesy of Serena Ypelaar.
The conference theme, "Road to Renewal", highlighted the idea of strong and successful museums moving forward. Ensuring that museums are relevant to the communities they serve meant that this year's theme embodied issues such as reconciliation, diversity, and inclusion, among other approaches. Over the next few days, my classmates and I got to learn from a variety of museums that are actively working toward renewal.


We arrived in beautiful Kingston amid gales of wind (and laughter!) as well as cold rain. We didn't let the weather put a damper on our experience, however; conference delegates enjoyed a 1000 Islands boat cruise on the lake for the Opening Reception.



Conference started bright and early at the Four Points by Sheraton. This year, the OMA Conference had a Grandmother-in-Residence, eartha, a Mohawk Community Member who was available throughout the conference to answer questions about local Indigenous cultural information and issues. Along with Judi Montgomery, an Algonquin Community member, eartha gave thanks to the living beings of the earth in a beautiful opening to the conference.

eartha gives thanks and opens the OMA 2017 Conference. Photo courtesy of Madeline Smolarz. 
Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson also gave opening remarks for the conference, welcoming us to the City of Kingston, which has the most museums per capita in Canada! Sounds like the perfect place to spend the next little while learning about Ontario's museums and how they're using new ideas to renew their practices.

Our opening keynote came from Dr. Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada, Library and Archives Canada. Dr. Berthiaume discussed how GLAMs (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums) need to work together in the digital age to ensure that they as institutions progress and remain relevant to the public.

Dr. Guy Berthiaume discussing GLAMs in the digital age. Photo courtesy of Serena Ypelaar.
The concurrent sessions of the morning focused on collaboration, community partnerships, and social engagement in museums. My former coworker from the Museum of Inuit Art, Lindsay Bontoft, and Janet Reid, both of the Markham Museum, outlined their project "In Our Own Words", in which they used both traditional diaries and social media platforms from new residents to examine life in Markham from the mid-19th century to present-day.

Melissa Eapen of Improbable Escapes.
Photo Courtesy of Serena Ypelaar.
Next, we heard from Melissa Eapen of Improbable Escapes, a Kingston escape-room attraction, about how to engage visitors with historic sites through gameplay. Funnily enough, some of my classmates and I had booked into one of their spooky escape games for this trip, in order to enjoy our Friday the 13th - so it was great to hear about non-traditional approaches to learning and get excited for Friday!

After lunch it was time for Ignite talks (one of my favourite ways to learn)! Among the speakers were MMSt alumni (and former Musings contributors!) Stephanie Sukhareva and Jocelyn Kent, who looked at "Engaging Youth Without a Hashtag". We also got to support our classmate Erin Canning as she spoke about introducing hackathons into museum settings and the benefits of making data available for these events.

I also got to attend a talk by Dr. Amy Barron of Scugog Shores Museums and Carey Nicholson of Theatre 3x60, in which they outlined their interpretive practice in creating historical vignettes of people buried in the historic Pine Grove Cemetery. Given that historical interpretation is my area of interest, I found it invigorating to learn about how this community animated the past and engaged visitors.

Assistant Deputy Minister of Tourism,
Culture and Sport, Kevin Finnerty.
Photo courtesy of Serena Ypelaar.
Our next keynote came from Glen Shackleton, founder and CEO of Haunted Walks Inc. I arrived at this talk with great interest, as I've been on the Haunted Walks in both Ottawa and Kingston before (but strangely never in Toronto, my home city!). Shackleton's approach to learning fascinated me; he also shared how his hiring process is unusual in that he holds improv activities to find out more about the natural personalities of prospective staff.

The day ended with an update from Kevin Finnerty, Assistant Deputy Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, one year after the Ontario Culture Strategy was launched back in Summer 2016.

After this update was the Awards of Excellence Gala, and finally, Trivia Night! This year's theme was "Canada 150+", and I'm happy to say that some of your friendly neighbourhood MMSt students won first place!

We won! Clockwise from left: MMSt students Serena Ypelaar, Charlotte Gagnier, Daniel Rose, Kristen McLaughlin, Emily Welsh, Aurora Cacioppo, Sadie MacDonald. Photo courtesy of Daniel Rose. 


After the OMA's AGM, we heard from keynote speaker Elizabeth Merritt, Vice President, Strategic Foresight & Founding Director, Center for the Future of Museums, American Alliance of Museums. She highlighted how we shouldn't let our fear of failure limit us in our work, and explored the role of empathy in museums.

Elizabeth Merritt speaking on the benefits of risk-taking. Photo courtesy of Serena Ypelaar.
Next, another of our MMSt classmates (and former Musings contributor) Maeghan Jerry spoke about object-centred storytelling in Show, Tell, Bridge, a SSHRC-funded project at the University of Toronto. In the program, people were invited to share an object of their own and tell the personal stories attached to it - it was compelling to learn what information people tended to share when talking about their objects.

The naked mole rat our table was given to scan digitally.
The result was even more bizarre-looking: the technology didn't
quite patch the images together properly, and we finished with a
3D image of a deformed rat! Photo courtesy of Serena Ypelaar.
I subsequently attended Julian Kingston's workshop, "Hacking Immersive Digital Content for Museums". As someone who loves the concept of Augmented and Virtual Reality but lacks the digital know-how to create content, I found this workshop particularly helpful. At our tables we each got a 3D object to scan using mobile software in order to make a 3D digital image, which helped show how museums can make 3D scans of objects and even 3D-print them.

The Indigenous Collections Symposium panel featured new OMA Council President Petal Furness, the iSchool's very own Dr. Cara Krmpotich, Bep Schippers of the OMA, and Jane Holland. This panel was probably one of the most insightful for me personally. I am always striving to learn more about Indigenous collections and decolonizing museum practices, and the panel offered recommendations on how we can move forward in reconciliation. Resources will also be available through the OMA.
"Indigenous Collections: Promising Practices & Next Steps" panel. From left: Petal Furness, Dr. Cara Krmpotich, Jane Holland, Bep Schippers. Photo courtesy of Serena Ypelaar.
iSchool Professor John Summers.
Photo courtesy of Serena Ypelaar.
I had the privilege of attending a workshop given by one of our Internship class professors, John Summers, which was all about rethinking the way we make meaning out of our collections in order to tell stories through exhibitions. After this enlightening workshop, I got to hear what happened when Glanmore House National Historic Site gave their museum over to 13-year-olds (check out their YouTube channel for the details!). 

Overall, my second OMA Conference was enlightening and enjoyable. It challenged me to think outside the box and to not be afraid of taking some calculated risks for the sake of progress: it's the only way museums are going to evolve and remain relevant in times that are changing.

My key piece of advice for MMSt students and for any first-time conference-goers: be not afraid! Try new things, talk to museum professionals and keep your mind open. The OMA conference is a great opportunity to learn about trends in the Ontario museum industry and hear what people are doing in various institutions. #OMAConf2018 will be taking place in Toronto, so all the more reason to attend next year!

To close out the conference, eartha and Judi once again thanked the living beings of the earth, this time drawing upon Mi'kmaq - but they didn't say goodbye to us. (In fact, there is no word for goodbye in Mi'kmaq.) "Goodbye is too final," eartha and Judi said - just as the road to renewal continues on, so must we in advancing our goals for museums.

Thursday, 19 October 2017





In fall of 2016, the London Science Museum was under fire for their latest neuro-science exhibition called, What Sex is Your Brain?, an interactive game that would determine if your brain was more PINK (female) or BLUE (male).

As the public raged against the museum in what social activists and neuro-scientists were calling “junk science”, I wonder – why are boys blue and girls pink? I wasn’t the only one pondering the deeper meanings of pink. In 2014, the Boston Museum of Fine Art had hosted the exhibition Think Pink, exploring, “the changing meaning of pink in art and fashion.”

Gendering colours wasn’t of much importance until the late 19th century, when ready-made-clothes became all the rage, and mail order clothing companies were growing. Marking campaigns were trying to find new ways of targeting audiences by creating new fashion styles to sell more products.

In a 1918 Earnshaw's Infants' Department catalogue, it was specified that,
“The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Source
Mamie Eisenhower, 1953. Source
In Jo B. Paoletti’s new book Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America, she details how a 1927 Times Magazine fashion article claimed blues looked best on blue-eyed blonds, and pink was better on brunettes.

Pink only became associated with girls after World War Two. After the war ended, there was a power struggle in North America between men and women. Men wanted to return to work, but women didn’t want to give up their jobs. In an effort to move women back into the home, campaigns dedicated to redefining “femininity” were launched. Fashion and beauty were the most popular media methods, and with a powerful political voice was an unofficial leading figure.

Dwight Eisenhower, the general who won the war for America, became president in 1953. At his inauguration, first lady Mamie Eisenhower appeared in this enormous, rhinestone studded, bright pink ballgown. The luxury of such an impression dress, rarely seen during the war effort, made an impression upon America.

Maimi Eisenhower loved pink, and was known for it. News articles from that period would often reference pink in their tag lines about Mamie, and her favourite shade of pink was dubbed Mamie Pink. During Eisenhower’s presidential term, pink was used all over the White House, and came to be known as the “Pink Palace”.

Funny Face, "Think Pink," 1957. Source

There is a song in the movie Funny Face, produced in 1957, called Think Pink. One of the movie characters portrays a female fashion magazine editor, who is deeply based off Diana Vreeland, a New York fashion magazine editor in the 1950's. The movie fashion editor sings about who women need to “think pink”, and pointedly says, “Banish the black. Burn the blue,” which are two colours woman would have worn quite often during the war effort while working in the factories.

Donna Mae Mims, 1950s's. Source
Jayne Mansfield latched onto the idea of pink being the colour embodiment of femininity. Much like Mamie, Jayne incorporated pink into every aspect of her life, like pink car, a pink wedding gown, a pink mansion, and even dyed her pets’ fur pink. Jayne’s opinion that women should “wear pink,” and be delicate, coupled with Mamie’s opinion that women’s place was in the home, supported with statements like, “Ike runs the country, I turn the pork chops,” established a very different female role model than Rosie the Riveter had only a decade before.

Sales marketing used pink in every way they could to promote this ideal image of a dainty and delicate homemaker. Pink was seen all over women’s magazines during the 1950’s, colouring fashion, beauty, and interior decorating designs in shades of pink. “Pink as a bridal blush,” was an ad used to promote kitchen interior design, a space predominantly considered a “woman’s domain”.

Vanity Fair Cigarettes, 1950's. Source
Women embraced this change in social positioning. Working long hours in factories had to have been hard work, and many took up the opportunity to become the delicate house wives they were encouraged to be. Soon, both real and fictional women began appearing in pink, including women who didn’t fit the hyper-feminized female model. Champion race care driver, Donna Mae Mims, was known for her powder pink race car, racing helmet, and racing suit.

Now, women own pink. There are countless female icons in pop-culture who have appeared in pink, such as the Pink Ladies in their powder pink bowling jackets in the cult classic Grease. Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, and Sixteen Candles. And who could forget the Plastics from Mean Girls who wear pink on Wednesdays.

Pink is still found in contemporary politics, such as Kate Middleton at Queen Elizabeth II’s most recent birthday this past September. Hillary Clinton has appeared publicly multiple times, during both of her campaigns, in various vibrant shades of pink, including the cover of People Magazine. However, quite opposite to Mamie, Hillary makes statements like “We need to break the highest, hardest glass ceiling [for women].”

Mamie Pink vs. Millennial Pink

Mamie Pink, 1956. Source                            Millennial Pink, 2016. Source
The new generation of Millenials have embraced Mamie Pink, re-branding it as Millennial Pink, and it has taken over our homes just as much as it did in the 1950's. The popularity of millennial pink has given women the permission many needed to feel strong, and feminine, at the same time.

Jagmeet Singh, 2017. Source
The new trend in gender bending fashion means pink isn’t just for girls anymore. Pink has been prominently worn by music icons like DrakeLondon gender neutral fashion designer Lover Boy, and Canada’s latest political heartthrob and NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh.

Pink's pop-culture curated values for communicating femininity have been reshaped by contemporary have been reshaped by contemporary social media and activist campaigns challenging gender identity.

Hillary uses pink to say, “I’m just a girl like you,” and Singh uses his bright pink turbans to stand out in a political crowd with striking fashion choices. How will you use pink to shape the world around you?

Additional Reading:

Devlin, H. (2016, September 14). Science Museum under fire over Exhibit asking if brains are pink or blue. Retrieved October 13, 2017, from

Donen, S. (2012, June 06). Funny Face. Retrieved October 13, 2017, from

Maglaty, J. (2011, April 07). When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink? Retrieved October 13, 2017, from (2016, August 03). Why women’s clothing sizes don’t make sense/. Retrieved July 16, 2017, from (2015, April 14). How did pink become a girly color? Retrieved October 13, 2017, from

Wednesday, 18 October 2017




This past September, I was privileged enough to be informed of a public event featuring 20 pieces of E. B. Cox’s works (1914-2003). After braving the public transport system and the frankly off-putting visage of exhibition loop on an unusually hot fall day down by the Gardiner Expressway, I made it to the private Muzik Night Club. Now called Toronto Event Centre, the site plays host to twenty of Cox’s sculptures. This event was hosted by his daughter Kathy Sutton. She regaled us about the history and circumstances of her father’s artwork; more specifically the Garden of the Greek Gods. I arrived at the event expecting to see a beautiful green garden, with artwork strategically placed. I was not prepared to end up at a Toronto Night Club. The event turned out to be surprisingly political.

Photo courtesy of Katlyn Wooder
On the day a host of people gathered together to visit E. B. Cox's hidden work, migrating from one sculpture to another whilst wandering between deck chairs and low tables, trying to not fall into pools. The sculptures themselves are stunning in their bulging forms, and timeless, raw depictions. The collection's central theme is mythical Greek figures. These stone works capture Hercules, Narcissus, the Furies, the Minotaur, and other widely known characters of antiquity through Cox's particular style. Most of the sculptures are substantial, made out of solid pieces of limestone, and reaching anywhere from three to eleven feet high.

Photo courtesy of Katlyn Wooder
Kathy Sutton gave a history of the collection, from its original placement at Georgian Peak's Ski Club to it's eventual placement on the CNE grounds. In 1979, Arthur Carmen donated the sculptures to the City of Toronto to be on permanent display on the grounds of the Horticulture Building. The Horticulture Building is one of five heritage buildings located in Exhibition Place. In 2004, it was leased to Zlatko Starbovski by the City of Toronto for twenty years. The sculptures are placed on a patio as decorative feature of the club, encircled by hedges and a fence.
Photo courtesy of Katlyn Wooder
In the construction of the club and the extension of the patio during renovations, the sculptures were damaged. There are dents and gouges on multiple sculptures caused by construction machinery. Furthermore, in an attempt to clean the sculptures, pressure washing was used on the artwork without authorization. It ended up blasting the surface off the limestone (removing the patina that helps to slow down the aging). This action permanently damaged the artwork; changing the colour and texture of the stone.

A group interested in preserving the public aspect of this collection found an alternative venue for the collection. The Rose Garden at Exhibition Place is an alternative grassy, open venue to host the sculptures, found by the Working Group for the Relocation of The Greek Gods. But because of the lease, the only way that the City of Toronto could move the sculptures would be if they had the permission of the owner to come in and remove the sculptures, which they don't have. In addition it would cost the city somewhere around $500,000 to move these sculptures. The Garden of the Greek Gods hasn't been moved yet.

Photo courtesy of Katlyn Wooder
Now in 2017, as I walked to the venue, I ended up walking along the fence (some of which had spikes along the top in what I can only assume as a deterrent to keep people from climbing over,) through the black, iron bars, sit enclosed five sculptures. What has happened, fundamentally, is that public art has been turned private. What is worse, is that it has been made private in direct violation of the artist’s intent. According to his daughter Kathy Sutton, Cox loved it when children played with or on his artwork. Truly, the artwork seems to be designed for this interaction as the broad forms and easy slopes of the curves of his artwork are easy to climb over.

To be honest, it is understandable that the business owners want the sculptures to remain on its premises. Multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of artwork in a night club improves it atmosphere and exclusivity, and admittedly, the city failed to move the sculptures before signing the lease. However, the enclosed space prevents public access to public art.

Photo courtesy of Katlyn Wooder
As I was leaving the premises through the metal detector, I spotted a group of women from the event making their way to a series of other sculptures by Cox. Three limestone bears on full display, and interacting with the public, in their intended condition and space. They encapsulate what was lost to the public when the fence was erected around the Garden of the Greek Gods. A lesson I have learnt from this experience is to be aware of where public art is, who owns the land, and whether or not the art that serves the community is protected.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017





The Philippines has been a country of recent international interest. From Cold War-esque standoffs with China over land claims to President Rodrigo Duterte's contested war on drugs consisting of the murders of thousands, the Philippines is currently undergoing a major shift in policy, mentality, and government.

Whenever a country gets a new, questionable leader, something that I always wonder about first is the status of culture: museums, heritage sites, archaeology, art, and so on. What happens to it? Where does it sit on a list for someone like Duterte and his government? Today, I will be writing a brief overview of the situation.

The Philippines

A map of the Philippines and surround nations. Source.

The Philippines is a collection of 7,107 islands located in the junction of three seas: The South China Sea, the Philippine Sea, and the Celebes Sea. The Philippines was not always one nation, and in fact has a long and complex history of trade between islands as well as with China and Japan, as far back as the 3rd century, with Muslim Arabic settlements landing in the southern islands in the 1300s and retaining control until the 1600s.

In the 1500s Magellan, a Portuguese explorer who worked for the Spanish crown, landed in the southern region. Despite his death soon after, Spain continued to send explorers to the islands and retained control for roughly 356 years.

In the l898, the Spanish-American war changed the face of the Philippines, when the US attacked a Spanish base in Manila. Spain conceded defeat and gave control of the islands to the USA. One month later the Philippines declared independence under the leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo. The USA was strongly opposed, which led to guerrilla war until 1901. Under the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934, the Philippines was granted independence in 1946 and became the Republic of the Philippines. We can tell from this basic summary that the Philippines has centuries of colonial history, which still affects it today.

Making Museums in the Philippines: 1901-1998

What has been the trend in Philippine museum development in the last century? The first government museum was created under American colonial policy as the National Museum of the Philippines. In the first quarter of the 20th century, places that were rapidly urbanizing, such as Manila, became gathering places for Filipino artists. It was a time of museum creation. During WWII, much heritage was lost with the invasion of opposing forces. Under 3 years of Japanese occupation, the museum division was dismantled and approximately 95% of the museum's collection holdings was destroyed. This demonstrates war's destructive toll on a nation's cultural heritage and patrimony.

The National Museum of the Philippines in Manila. Source.

The Marcos era of the 70s was seen as the time of "high art", with many art galleries and cultural centres - as well as military museums - being opened. With the 80s and 90s and a new democratic government, these systems were reorganized to be more educational, local, and scientific; for example, this is when the Archaeology Division of the government came into being to help promote pre-Spanish Philippines history. More recently, ecomuseums have become a popular trend to showcase traditional craftwork.

Around 2011 and 2012, the government came under fire from journalists for not supporting museums and heritage conservation or protection enough, with national museums operating on budgets so small air conditioning had to be shut down on weekends and important collections left to grow moldy and rot.

Cultural Policies Under Duterte

But what does all of this history mean for the present? What are the museums in the Philippines today? One place to start is by looking at how the current president, Duterte, sees culture and heritage and if it has a place on his list (above or below murder?).

Man of the People or Human Rights Violator? Rodrigo Duterte. Source.

As of yet, all that I can find are policies on economic growth, the decentralization of power, and of course, his war on drugs. Based on his typical dictator-style leadership, it is possible to assume that he may promote certain aspects of culture if only to support the continued promotion of Philippines history and self-identity, similar to the Marcos era of the 1970s.

Museums and Repatriation

So far, it is interesting to see how museums are functioning under Durterte's leadership. Earlier this year, he made the Presidential Museum virtually accessible to everyone in the Philippines for free. The Presidential Museum houses artifacts and documents pertaining to the leadership of the Republic of the Philippines.

He has also been a strong supporter of repatriation of Filipino artifacts, particularly those that tell a story of Filipino independence. For example, as recently as July 2017, he has been vocal about the USA returning the Balangiga Bells from a 1901 Filipino uprising and particularly brutal US backlash. The bells have not yet been returned.

The Balangiga Bells are currently displayed in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Source.

Memorializing Duterte Regime: Now and in the Future

Interestingly, two museums have been created in Duterte's honour: one in his childhood home and one in the high school he attended. Both museums focus on Duterte himself and his assent to power.

This may tell us more than we realize about the focus of museums and culture under Duterte, and how he wants to be remembered into the future. The idea of Duterte and his current regime is a hot button topic, both in the Philippines and around the world. Despite not a lot of information on cultural policies and museums being out there, it will be interesting to see what happens over the next several years in this regard.

Do you have any thoughts on the current leader of the Philippines and what it may mean for cultural patrimony on the islands?

Monday, 16 October 2017




How much time do you spend thinking about your food? The everyday business of shopping for, buying, cooking, and eating food consumes enough attention that we can miss opportunities to consider the cultural, economic, and historical processes that shape our diets. If you’ve ever wondered why nutrition labels look the way they do, or who decided that carbs were bad for you anyway - or if this is the first time you’ve pondered this - the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History might be able to help you out.

Take a moment to stop and think about food. Source. 

From Oct 26 to 28, the Smithsonian Institution will host the third annual Smithsonian Food History Weekend under the theme ‘Many Flavors, One Nation’. The weekend brings researchers, culinary practitioners, writers, and the general public to the National Museum of American History to discuss and understand the history and role of food in America. The meat of the weekend lies in the moderated roundtable discussions (free to attend and streamed online) and Saturday’s Food History Festival, a day stuffed full of food-related public programming.

Commendably, the SI keeps its yearly weekends topical; last year’s theme was ‘Politics on Your Plate’, in keeping with the end of the 2016 election campaign season. Each Food History Weekend wrestles with big and often difficult questions and themes, including identity and the politics of farm labour, nutrition, and health. In 2016, participants and attendees asked, “Whose voices are influencing food policy today? What are the critical issues, and what role does democracy play in the future of food in America?” This year, the weekend will centre on stories of migration, cultural exchange, tradition, and identity. The theme suggests that the weekend will embrace pluralism and emphasize the diversity of American food history: the ways in which all of our foodways and traditions influence each other. A public discussion on culinary diplomacy (“A new soft power, culinary diplomacy has the ability to bridge conflicts in situations where traditional forms of diplomacy have been ineffective”) seems almost comically well-timed for the current political climate.

The Food History Weekend is only one pea in a pod full of food-history initiatives at the Smithsonian. The NMAH boasts a full slate (or perhaps a full plate?) of exhibitions and programming that examine why and how Americans eat the way they do. Most famously, the museum houses Julia Child’s kitchen, which was featured in her later cooking shows and relocated from her home in Massachusetts, complete with her signature copper pans.

Julia Child's iconic kitchen, preserved at the NMAH. Try to resist doing the Voice. Source. 

Child’s kitchen serves as the gateway to the ongoing exhibition FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000, which examines the changes wrought by innovation, industry, and cultural change on American diets. A demonstration kitchen hosts regular historically-inspired demos hosted by Smithsonian staff and guest chefs, and the museum runs programming outdoors in its gardens, including a recreated wartime Victory Garden. 

The Smithsonian’s commitment extends into the history of beverages. In January of this year, it hired Theresa McCulla as overseer of its American Brewing History Initiative (described by more than one media outlet as ‘the best job ever’). McCulla, a Harvard scholar whose background is in social history and food literacy, began by surveying the museum’s beer-related collections. She stated in January that she especially hopes to illuminate the overlooked role of women, immigrants, and enslaved people in the early history of American brewing.

Cheers to that. Source. 

Why this commitment to food history, and why does it matter?

Food history as demonstrated in museums (one of the most publicly accessible media through which people can learn about food) often takes the shape of demonstrating pre-industrial processes and recipes from the history of white settlement in North America: this is how pioneers made bread and brewed beer. Less frequently, museums and heritage sites may expose visitors to Indigenous foodways, usually also rooted in the distant past. These approaches are limited in time and scope: food history isn’t just about what white pioneers ate, but how all people have fed and continue to feed ourselves. What’s missing is a discussion of how we got from breadmaking in the eighteenth century to Yelp reviews of sushi in 2017, how culinary traditions have been adapted to meet the needs of the recent past and the present, and a critical look at how we think about food, including diet culture, food labour, and food literacy.

Food is both universal and highly specific. The ways in which we eat and think about eating are determined by and reflect our time, place, class, ethnicity, and gender. The universality of food as an experience makes it an ideal starting point for education: visitors already have a strong personal connection to the subject.

It’s loaded with meaning, and that means it’s well worth talking about everywhere in the public sphere, but especially in museums. At the same time, food can act as a gateway to topics we need to address more than ever: health, politics, labour, the environment, and racial and cultural difference. The Smithsonian’s food history programming recognizes that we are what we eat, and if what we eat isn’t ideal, that’s an interesting avenue to discuss, too. 

Can food history programming tell me why millennials are obsessed with pizza? Actually, yes, it probably can. Source. 

The Food History Weekend programming champions diversity, research, and critical thinking, which will be increasingly important as we face a changing intellectual landscape, in which there are facts, "facts", and Twitter. 

As stewards of material culture and historical record, heritage institutions are well-placed to help people think through historical processes and current events, and institutions like the NMAH have the resources to do this in a big way. The museum was the third most-visited Smithsonian institution last year, after the Air and Space and Natural History Museums, and welcomed 3.6 million visitors. Even without the impact of online content such as podcasts, blog posts, and the streamable Food History Weekend roundtables, that’s a pretty impressive reach, and it represents 3.6 million opportunities to get people thinking critically about their food.

If you’re interested in food history at the Smithsonian, I suggest checking out the NMAH blog's food history tag and the Food History Weekend page for videos of past roundtable events. If you're podcast-inclined, there's an interview with beer historian Teresa McCulla on the Smithsonian podcast, Sidedoor.

Friday, 13 October 2017




If we haven’t already, soon we’ll all have heard the name Grace Marks. Netflix’s miniseries Alias Grace, based on the Margaret Atwood novel of the same name, debuted at TIFF just a few weeks ago and will be available to stream on November 3. Alias Grace is a fictionalized interpretation of a gruesome murder that happened in 1840’s Toronto, a time when the city was still largely built of wood and had only recently changed its name from York. Grace Marks was accused of murdering her employer and his housekeeper, and the question of her guilt befuddled society at the time — and still does to this day (as this anticipated Netflix adaptation implies). We seem to love a ‘good murder’, particularly a scandalous one, and particularly when it’s a woman who’s done the murdering. 

For my first post as the Heritage Moments columnist I thought I’d jump on the Alias Grace bandwagon that’s shedding light on some of our city’s early history, and offer up three stories of women, murders, and Not Guilty! verdicts. From Richmond Hill to Parkdale to the Annex, the courts of Toronto have a strange history of murderesses, sensationalized trials, and verdicts that ultimately let these murderesses walk free. Read through the stories of these three women who have played sensationalized roles in the darker side of Toronto's heritage. 



Let’s begin our murderess tour with Grace Marks, now a star of a Netflix drama but who, at the time of her trial, was a recently-immigrated Irish maidservant. At only 15 years old, Grace was arrested in 1843 alongside fellow servant James McDermott for the double murder of their employer Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery. Wealthy farmer Kinnear had been found dead from bullet wounds outside his Richmond Hill home, while Montgomery’s body had been strangled and hacked to death with an axe then dumped in the cellar; the post-mortem autopsy results showed she was pregnant at the time, most likely with Kinnear’s child.

McDermott was found guilty of murder and hanged, but rather than being given the death sentence Grace was sent first to an asylum and then to Kingston Penitentiary where she spent almost thirty years. She divided those who encountered her, both during her trial and after she was locked away: some thought she was naive and innocent, while others thought she was just as guilty as the deceased McDermott. 

A group of Reformers convinced of her innocence appealed repeatedly to various government officials for her release. Eventually granted a pardon, the now old Grace was released. No records of her exist after her release from Kingston. The issue of her guilt or innocence is still unresolved.

Read more here:


c/o Toronto Then and Now
Perhaps the most charismatic of the three women in this article, Clara Ford was arrested in relation to the Frank Westwood murder case in 1894. 18 year old Westwood had been shot on the doorstep of his family’s Jameson Ave mansion. He died several days later, maintaining that his shooter had been a stranger, a moustachioed man dressed in a dark suit. As the young son of a wealthy Toronto family, Westwood’s murder caused a city-wide uproar. Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was called in to speculate: on a visit to Toronto, the creator of detective Sherlock Holmes was asked to weigh in on the murder case. Doyle declined to comment, and with the police force working on very little information, the mystery of the moustachioed man prevailed for weeks.

Things took an interesting turn when the police arrested Clara Ford, a biracial female tailor. She was known to regularly dress as a man, owned a gun with bullets to match Westwood’s wound, and frequented the Parkdale area in her social circles. She wasn’t surprised to be arrested and frankly confessed to the murder. According to Clara, Frank had tried to take advantage of her and she’d retaliated by biding her time then dressing as a man, going to his house and shooting him. Known for her charisma and bravado, Clara navigated the trial with self-confidence and won over the jury: despite the overwhelming evidence against her, Clara was acquitted. Toronto loved Clara and her eccentricities so much that when she left the courthouse she had to struggle through cheering crowds in order to take her jurors out to eat. 

Clara became a household name and even placed the dark suit she’d been wearing when she shot Westwood into a local museum. She left Toronto to join a performing group, where she toured the States as a 'murderess' spectacle.

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c/o Development of Toronto

Torontonians will recognize the name Massey (Massey College, Massey Hall) but in 1915 the name was tinged with scandal. Sharing similarities with the Westwood murder, young Charles Massey was shot in front of his home on Walmer Road. The wielder of the pistol was 18 year old Carrie Davis, Massey’s young English maidservant who accused her victim of ruining her life as she shot him. Police found Carrie preparing to turn herself in and confess. She claimed that Massey had attempted to rape her the day before: she’d felt powerless as a young female servant and had resolved to defend herself. 

Carrie had been brought to Canada as part of a government scheme to recruit domestic servants from Britain. She was known as being quiet and modest in her spending, sending most of her income home to her poor family. Massey, on the other hand, was notorious for his womanizing and his casual approach to finances. When the case went to trial, Toronto sympathized with the vulnerable Carrie and her desperate attempt to protect herself from abuse. Certain newspapers weighing in on the crime emphasized her good character and suggested that the murder was justified: she was a young, vulnerable female protecting her honour in a difficult situation.

The jury didn’t meet for very long before deciding Carrie was not guilty. Even though she’d confessed to the murder, the courtroom was relieved to see her walk free. The judge himself was reportedly teary-eyed at the verdict. Carrie decided not to seek more employment in Toronto and instead left the city for the life of an Ontario farmer’s wife. She never told her children of her crime. 

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Thursday, 12 October 2017




I love dust. I love rust. I love grime.

Before you question my sanity and scroll past this post, I let me explain – I love cleaning these things off an object. In this two part series, I’ll outline a practical beginner’s guide to conservation. By using stories from my time in the Markham Museum’s curatorial department, I’ll show you how to defeat dust, rust, and all the gross grime that attacks artifacts.

Part one will look at planning your war on dirt and part two will show you how to execute your plan and annihilate your foes.

Why conserve?
Removing layers of dirt and neglect from an object is insanely satisfying, and not just for the conservator. To the object, conservation is life or death (seriously): surface dirt and grime promotes deterioration, interferes with the aesthetics and the interpretation of an object, and attracts pests.

I think most people are more frightened of conservation than they should be. I’ll take this moment to clarify what I mean by “conservation” – it is by no means restoring an object to perfection. Cleaning an object doesn’t mean taking the object back to its original state: it means preventing further deterioration.

Definitely not the kind of cleaning I mean. Source.
Before cleaning, ask yourself...

Is it required? Does the object need to be cleaned?
Look at the object itself and how the museum (or entity that owns the object) wants to use it. If the object’s purpose depends on it being hygienic, then a deeper clean makes sense. Case in point: the curator of the Markham Museum, Janet Reid, restored a brass and chrome Babcock tester by removing layers of oxidation. Her goal was to clean it to a level appropriate for "Dairy Testing Clean", as it was a dairy testing tool. In consultation with Miriam Harris, Professor of Cultural Heritage Conservation and Management at Fleming College, it was determined that certain mechanical cleaners would be safe for both object and conservator.

Babcock tester from the Markham Museum after being restored. Layers of green corrosion were removed. Photo courtesy of Anna Kawecka.
The tester is now fully functioning as the corrosion was removed from all surfaces. Photo courtesy of Anna Kawecka.
What is a reasonable level of clean?
Determine how dirty the object is and what resources are available to you. Conservation is a lengthy and expensive process. So how do you balance the needs of the object with limited resources?
Triage the object: identify areas that need immediate attention (those that put the object in danger of irreversible damage) and areas that are not hazardous but not ideal. Figure out how much time and how many resources you can devote to the object. From there, it’s a matter of making a plan: the entire object needs to be brought to a uniform level of clean.

At the museum, Janet Reid wanted to add a cast iron horseshoe to an exhibition. Two hours were devoted during a busy exhibition installation to improve the appearance of this horseshoe (which was to be added to the upcoming exhibition) and stop the active corrosion. From a compromise between curatorial goals and conservation ideals, the horseshoe was taken from this:

Pretty gross, right? Photo courtesy of Julie Daechsel.

To this:

Two hours of conservation work. Photo courtesy of Julie Daechsel. 
Notice how it is uniformly clean? Equal amounts of time were spent cleaning every surface.

What is the dirt? How should it be removed?
Without intensive curatorial training, it’s next to impossible to look at an object and diagnose its dirt. Never blindly guess what dirt or corrosion is on your object: make an educated guess.

Look at where the object acquired its grime: was it outside, in a barn, in a basement? Could the grime be dirt, dust, or a combination? What is the object made of? When in doubt, ask other museum professionals: send a picture to the OMA listserv and wait for the responses to pour in. Museum professional love to share their wisdom and are only an email away. If you’ve identified the material, consult the CCI Notes before drafting your plan of attack.

But remember, never clean something without express permission from the object’s owner and never touch an object without complete confidence. Even the smallest inkling of uncertainty should give you pause.

Tune in to part two where I get down to the brass tacks (pun intended) of actually cleaning!