23 February 2018

DON'T FORGET TO REMEMBER

GHOSTS OF TORONTO'S PAST

BY: KATIE PAOLOZZA

This is the first in a short series of blog entries that attempts to explore the Indigenous history of Toronto. I'm very excited to shift the focus from a post-colonial, post-modern bias to a narrative that is more inclusive of Indigenous Peoples. More importantly I want to question our notions of home and identity, and how fragile those concepts are when we remember that we live on stolen land. In this first article, I'll muse about our collective ignorance.

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How do you define yourself? More specifically, how disenchanted with your native country would you have to be to leave your nationality out of a description about yourself? I acknowledge that it's a particularly difficult question to answer as a Canadian. Canadians as a culture tend to admire modesty and an understated approach to nationalism. However, I could argue that it's equally Canadian to shrug off any sort of nationalistic, umbrella designation. 

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There is, of course, probably a middle ground that is closer to the truth. The issue is not what percentage of a traditional Canadian stereotype we happen to embody, since no one is immune to their environment, especially during their formative years. It's a difficult question for anyone living in a post-colonial environment because our homes and cultures are transparent artificial constructs. There are signs everywhere of other cultures that had deep roots in this land before British and French occupation. I couldn't count the number of times I cut through Huron Street on campus.

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TheBata Shoe Museum has these moccasins from the Wyandot people in their collection
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The Huron-Sussex neighbourhood is just one example of a historical place that has its own post-modern identity, though a large part of that identity seems to have been shaped around acknowledging its own complex history. A few years ago it was even featured in the Globe and Mail, but like a lot of charming and distinct Canadian places, it cultivated a post-colonial identity and only retained small vestiges of its Indigenous past.

Everywhere in Ontario there are places like this. I grew up east of the city in Whitby, a town that borders Lake Ontario and takes its name from a similar British port town made famous in literature as the place where Count Dracula enters England. As a child, Mississauga was nothing more than the Western equivalent of Whitby. I was wrong about that in many ways, but more importantly I had no clue how to contextualize Canada as a young country. I skated at a place called Iroquois Park, had friends who cottaged in Muskoka, classmates who went to Nipissing, and I hung out at Wasaga Beach and took family day trips to Niagara Falls, not realizing that every one of those places had Indigenous names. Many of our museums also display First Nations items on stolen land, and it is only relatively recently that they have begun to acknowledge this irony.

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Even the title of this column, "Ghost of Toronto's Past," is a throwback to a Victorian idea of the past and death. But Toronto has more than one kind of ghost. We don't have our anglicized associations with places simply because of the natural evolution of culture. We work with vestiges because that is all we have. The nations that lived here before us had their own epic successes and tragedies, and we've compounded all of those tragedies with our dismissiveness. We've willfully forgotten things worth remembering, and it's shameful. 

I've loved creating and writing this column. I'm graduating soon, and I don't want my last blog entries to be Eurocentric. Toronto's history did not begin with European contact, and despite tremendous, violent force, there are still First Peoples who live and flourish here. Please join me for the next part of this journey, and please do not hesitate to share your opinions or suggestions for the upcoming articles. We produce stronger, more honest work when we are willing to collaborate and share.

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