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INDIGENOUS AT OCH: Making the Museum of Toronto A "Must See"

Updated: Mar 22, 2023


It is good news for Toronto's tourism and convention industries (rather than just common decency and fairness) that the City of Toronto has initiated a Indigenous Engagement Project to involve Indigenous Torontonians (including Metis and Inuit) in the development of OCH from the beginning.


International tourists tend to be most interested in Canada's Indigenous history and culture. The American Southwest, British Columbia, New Zealand and Australia are still streets ahead of Ontario in terms of Indigenous tourism but we're catching up. Many tourists only find what they most seek in Toronto -- Indigenous people practicing their culture -- when they track down the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto at 16 Spadina https://ncct.on.ca/. Its welcoming staff have been representing Toronto well for decades!

If reviews of the Museum of Toronto (MoT) mention how the history of Indigenous people is woven into the story of Toronto in a way that has never been done before, I believe that even people coming from ancient cities to this very new city will be intrigued.


Usually, the chronological displays of North American history museums start with the first inhabitants -- 12,500 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age in Toronto's case -- but then Indigenous people tend to get forgotten as the impact of wave after wave of newcomers takes centre stage.


Toronto does have many scattered elements of Indigenous history and culture in its institutions. (There should be a free map for tourists to help identify them all -- along with Indigenous restaurants and shops!)


Fort York National Historic Site provides a vivid reminder of how Indigenous allies of the British in the War of 1812 helped keep the future country of Canada separate from the U.S.


The Royal Ontario Museum offers FREE admission (via its University Avenue entrance only) to its Daphne Cockwell Gallery dedicated to First Peoples art and culture as: "part of the Museum’s broader effort to foster greater appreciation of the Indigenous collections stewarded by the Museum, and to support the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report".


Also free is entry to the TD Gallery of Indigenous Art, 79 Wellington Street West (TD Centre): https://www.td.com/ca/en/about-td/documents/PDF/TD_Gallery_of_Indigenous_Art_Self-Guided_Tour.pdf.


The Art Gallery of Ontario's contemporary Indigenous art collections are outstanding; its decision to label art works in English, French and Anishnaabe is striking.


The Textile Museum of Canada includes Indigenous Canadian textiles in its permanent collections.


The Bata Shoe Museum holds the largest collection of subpolar footwear in the world, including those of Indigenous Canada.


Yet so far, no Toronto museum has given gallery space to the Residential Schools catastrophe and its generational harmfulness. For many years, Larry Frost, the director of the Native Canadian Centre, urged provincial politicians to create a residential schools museum at Ontario Place modelled on the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem.


In the absence of such a museum, the MoT can help answer the question, "What happened to the original Torontonians?" with both the terrible story of the residential schools in a gallery display BUT ALSO the very good news story of Indigenous resilience. With about 70,000 Indigenous citizens, Toronto has the largest Indigenous population in Ontario and the fourth largest in Canada.


Toronto is home to ImagineNATIVE https://imaginenative.org/, the world's largest presenter of Indigenous screen content. It holds an annual film festival each October. Canada's oldest professional Indigenous theatre company is Native Earth Performing Arts https://www.nativeearth.ca/. Tourists interested in Indigenous culture and with access to Canadian cable channels should be directed to the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN). There is nothing like it in the U.S. All these companies help explain why the "Outlander" series was able to cast Canadian Indigenous actors when there was an issue with the hiring of American Indigenous actors.) What documentary(ies) might ImagineNATIVE produce for the MoT?


Toronto is also home to Kent Monkman https://www.kentmonkman.com/, arguably Canada's best known contemporary Indigenous artist. What if he were commissioned to create a Toronto-themed painting for the Museum of Toronto?

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