Accepted Paper:

First Story Toronto: from collection to community to collections again  


Cara Krmpotich (University of Toronto)
Heather Howard (Michigan State University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper traces a collection from the Anglican Church to one of Canada’s oldest and largest urban aboriginal organizations. Reconnecting aboriginal seniors with this community collection has sparked interest in museums and encourages museums to explore notions of "access" and "source community".

Paper long abstract:

"First Story Toronto," a community organization dedicated to the aboriginal history of Toronto, Canada, is steward to a collection of items mostly made and collected during the 20th century. With origins in the Anglican Church Women's Association, the collection reflects a time where policies and actions of the state and churches internalized colonial processes within Canada. Yet the donation of the ACW's collection to a Native woman and housing advocate in 1976 also shows signs of counter-colonial actions. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, collections were amassed at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto (NCCT): the ACW material, plus fine art, photographic and archival materials, oral history recordings, and additional craft items. First Story Toronto was co-founded in the 1990s by a Native historian and activist and an ethnohistorian (co-author Howard), who sought to develop history-focused programming at the NCCT that integrated the collections.

Recently, the collection has sparked interest in museum collections among seniors. Handling sessions with artifacts and "talking circles" initially designed to research the role of objects in collective memory and life history processes rekindled earlier programming goals: seniors teach and learn beadwork and quillwork skills, thoughtfully compare life experiences among urban aboriginal people, question history-making processes and confront challenges of teaching across generations. Visits to museum stores to handle collections and learn with curators came at the seniors' behest. As the group represents multiple First Nations and cultures, its museum visits continue to shape how "access" and "source communities" are approached by museums.

Panel P58
The enlightening museum: anthropology, collecting, encounters