Hidden Histories: Labour to Lofts! First talk at MixtuRealities Conference!

Siobhan O'Flynn, Hidden Histories Labour to Lofts talk

I was delighted to kick-off MixtuRealities Conference at University of Toronto Mississauga, yesterday, sharing a short history of the Hidden Histories project and details of the just launched, Hidden Histories: Labour to Lofts, 2019.

Key points of insight moving forward are that the questions asked by those working cultural heritage are concerned with issues of access, audience, and sustainability. So questions of creating digital projects that are easily accessible via mobile platforms, that speak to a broader and younger audience of mobile users, and that can be supported by longer-term funding to update and renew, given rapid cycles of OS updates, and platform and device obsolescence.

The Hidden Histories uncovered in Labour to Lofts contribute to Toronto’s intangible cultural heritage by sharing short histories of the impact of key factories in the urban and community development of the city through the 19th and 20th centuries. Many of these buildings are now converted high-end condos, with listing prices far beyond the income of the employees who once worked in these buildings

Intangible cultural heritage, as UNESCO has defined it, is community-based, including living expressions of ” oral traditionsperforming artssocial practices, rituals, festive eventsknowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.”

Safeguarding intangible cultural heritage is distinct from ‘preservation’ as this practice is actively connected by UNESCO to sustainable development. Culture, thus looks forward, as a future-oriented domain of knowledge, to borrow from Arjun Appadurai’s “The Capacity to Aspire.” A cornerstone of this series of projects is to contribute to a more detailed understanding of both the individual histories of buildings and the historical forces that have shaped our city today.

Hidden Histories: #3 will examine a new set of topics via Esri Story Maps, including a look back via historical GIS to the Rivers and Routes that shaped Toronto, and the development of the East Harbour, now the site of Sidewalk Toronto’s Quayside development proposal.

Thank you Slavica Ceperkovic for the photo!

Hidden Histories: Labour to Lofts. Just launched!

Hidden Histories: Labour to Lofts 2018

Hidden Histories is an ongoing digital mapping project undertaken by U of T students in CDN355 Digital Media, Makers, Canadian Studies. For Hidden Histories: Labour to Lofts 2018, students delved into the history of specific industrial buildings, all key to the development of Toronto’s economy, labour movements, neighbourhood expansion, and community development. 

The five factories and two community hubs profiled here are strung out across the west and east ends, with many converted into high-end lofts. While the industries may have varied, the common thread across all these Hidden Histories is the importance each had as an industrial, economic, and social hub for those whose livelihoods and neighbourhoods were shaped by Toronto’s manufacturing boom.

Also notable for its history of social services, archival digging into buildings on Bellevue Avenue, just west of Kensington Market, revealed a remarkable cluster of community organizations, for women, children, and the homeless. St. Stephen’s Community House now occupies 91 Bellevue Ave, once home to the Nathaniel Institute, founded to convert Kensington Market’s Jewish population to Christianity.

The contrasts between then and now in cost of living, access to affordable housing, and steady long-term employment in safe workplaces, foreground the challenges many people face in Toronto today, young, old, immigrant, and families. The stories told here through archival maps, photos, City of Toronto Directory records are traces of lives lived, unmarked in official records. Very little is known of the men and women who worked, and sometimes wooed, in these buildings. They, too, were also city builders, contributing to the bones of the rapidly changing streetscape we see around us. 

See also: Hidden Histories: Labour to Lofts First Talk at the Mixturealities Conference

The Hidden Histories 2017 Project was Kensington Market: Hidden Histories, an geolocative history built with ArcGIS and an iOS augmented reality app, available in the Apple App store.

The project was relaunched in 2024 here.

Canadata was a text analytic project examining the recurrence of terms related to immigration, migrants and refugees in Federal Government documents, including Speeches from the Throne, Minister Mandate Letters, and key Minister speeches.