Keys to our Past film series now ONLINE

I am THRILLED to announce that the Keys to our Past film series is now available for viewing online!

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Over the past few months, we have been working with the Research & Academics division at the Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care to create a series of short films that highlight topics in the history of mental health care in Canada. Funded by a SSHRC Canada 150 grant, the aim of the project was to explore the ways in which mental health care is integral to the very fabric that makes up our country  (For more information about this collaboration, I invite you to read Unlocking the History of Mental Health Care in Canada by Sara Laux).

IMG_20171004_191233We held four events this week to premiere the series before it went live on YouTube: two in New Toronto (Etobicoke) on the site of the former Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital and two in Penetanguishene at the Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care (coincidentally, the two locations share a long history. As one example: the forensic division that has been located in Penetanguishene since 1933 was originally planned for New Toronto – but the facility was opened in Penetanguishene instead  due to a political shuffle).

For a review of the evening event at Humber, I direct you to the Preserved Stories blog by Jaan Pill.

 

Why these topics?

The funding provided by SSHRC allowed for the hiring of two students to lead the project: Rachel Gerow who is pursing her Master’s in Counseling Psychology at Yorkville University and Gary Bold who is pursuing his Bachelors in Psychology at York University. It was their questions and curiosity during an initial brainstorming meeting that directed the project from what was originally intended as a series of 2-3 two-minute videos to the resulting series of 6 roughly 10-minute videos!

The selected topics developed naturally out of the conversations Rachel and Gary had with the team. The result is a series of introductory videos about different treatment modalities during different time periods, a discussion about the creation of the asylum system, an overview of the changes to the Not Criminally Responsible legislation, and a conversation about the pervasiveness of stigma.

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Chalkboard cover images created for each film by Waypoint staff member, Nick West

What are the next steps in the project?

The topics represented in the series cannot represent all of Canada’s mental health history – they can’t even represent the full history of the topics they introduce! Our next steps therefore will be the creation of some additional resources to complement the films. We will be beginning with a collection of teaching guides to help answer questions raised by the content of the films and to direct viewers to additional sources. We are also developing a visual map of the artefacts that make up the film set!

As part of this process, we are seeking feedback from you – if you have questions, comments, or suggestions either about the existing content in the films or about related content, we want to hear from you. The supplementary resources will be enriched by the constructive feedback we receive from our viewers so please, don’t be shy! You can always contact the Interpretive Centre at info@lakeshoregrounds.ca or by calling 416-675-6622 ext. 3801.

The links to each video + the transcripts are available here

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The sorry tale of the first and LAST time I read a sad book in public.

The following is my response to reading:

The Last of the Curlews (1955)

by Fred Bodsworth

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The Eskimo Curlew, painted by John James Audubon. Frequently used as a cover image for the novel.

Charged with creating a reference inventory for the Interpretive Centre’s books one day, the cover of Fred Bodsworth’s book repeatedly caught my eye. I saved the book until last so I could read a few pages, just to satisfy my curiosity. My next hour and a half were quickly consumed (don’t tell Jennifer!) with reading The Last of the Curlews cover to cover. The concept of mass extinction is not uncommon for our area of Ontario, both the Eskimo Curlew and Passenger Pigeon had once been described as the most numerous birds in the world, with populations reported in the high millions.

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Eskimo Curlew on display at the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Bodsworth’s book takes a different angle on the topic by providing a fictional account of the last of the Eskimo Curlews and the search – in vain – for more of it’s species. The overall theme of the book predicts the extinction of the Curlew, a full decade before the final confirmed sighting in Canada in 1963. Akin to the Passenger Pigeon, the Eskimo Curlew was wantonly slaughtered for food across the Americas, with as many as two million killed per year in the 1940s-50s.

An interesting mix of omniscient narration, and a peek into the instinct-driven mind of our Curlew, kept me reading intently. The solo migration between the Arctic and Patagonia highlights the Curlew’s strength, speed, endurance, and remarkable drive for survival. As can be surmised from the title, the narrator and reader alike can infer the ultimate outcome for our Hero.

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A lone Eskimo Curlew, as painted by Archibald Thorburn 

This book was an enthralling awakening to the reality of our influence on nature and I found myself much more sympathetic to the smaller cousin of the Curlew, the Whimbrel – featured in the Interpretive Centre’s current exhibit, Bird’s Eye View – as well as a deeper understanding and respect for birds across the world. Moving forward, this book raises issues relevant in contemporary conservation efforts. While the Eskimo Curlew is widely believed to be extinct (more on this debate in a future post), there are still species we can support through collaborative efforts, mindfulness, and lifestyle changes. In conclusion, I leave you with a quote from the late Bodsworth:

“…Man is an inescapable part of all nature, that its welfare is his welfare, that to survive, he cannot continue acting and regarding himself as a spectator looking on from somewhere outside.”

        -Fred Bodsworth (2003) (RYELL, 2012)

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Fred Bodsworth (photo via Terry Smith)

Find yourself in need of a book to read, or interested in The Last of the Curlews? Drop by the Interpretive Centre during our opening hours, and cozy up in our space!

*Blankets and reading socks not included*

Stumble Upon Nature: There Are Riches All Around Us

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Queen Ann’s Lace by Christian Fischer, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15779192

On Saturday, August 12th, 2017 a group of local nature enthusiasts joined Richard Aaron and the staff of the Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre on a walk of Colonel Samuel Smith Park.

The weather was fine for a walk; not too cool and not too hot. Shady, though threatening to rain; it thankfully held off until after the tour.

There were over twenty of us, all told. The youngest was around four, and the age ranges in the group meant that our guide was asked quite a diversity of questions. Sometimes he was asked how to remove ticks, or tell the difference between two closely related plant species, and sometimes he was asked “what’s this?… what’s this?… what’s that?” including what kind of grass that was on the side of the path. I don’t think many adults would actually ask that question on a tour, we tend to take the grass for granted, and that was just one of the ways the young folks added a lot to the day.

But we did find lots of things other than grass on the walk: sidewalk mushrooms (relatives of the button and cremini mushrooms you buy at the store), Queen Anne’s lace (which is related to carrots and attracts bugs with a black spot in the centre of its flowers), and even a snake (likely a garter snake, but sadly squished on the road, so hard to identify).

The diversity and beauty of the birds of the park are justifiably one of its highlights, but it was lovely to get out and learn about some of the other creatures that call it home.

After all, it takes a whole ecology to hatch a single chick!

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Echoes of Echoes in the Darkness

For several days in 1987 the buildings of the old Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital were turned into nursery schools, police stations, classrooms, and hospital spaces for the filming of the miniseries Echoes in the Darkness.

Our copy of the book was signed by the author, Joseph Wambaugh, and given to a Toronto location scout who now works as a counselor at Humber.

But before the series, and before the book, there was a story behind the story.

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Wambaugh spent 14 years with the Los Angeles Police Department. His first novel was published in 1971, while he was still a police officer, but he soon turned to writing full time. He based Echoes in the Darkness on the real story of the sordid murder of Susan Reinert and her two children Karen and Michael in Pennsylvania in 1979.

Reinert, William Bradfield, and Jay Smith were all staff at the Upper Merion Area High School. Reinert and Bradfield worked in the English department and Smith was the principal of the school.

Bradfield was variously described as charismatic and cultured, or full of himself and egotistical by those who knew him. He was in a relationship with Reinert and was the sole beneficiary of her $730 000 in life insurance. When her body was found and her children went missing, he was considered the primary suspect, and was convicted of the murders in 1983.

In court, he claimed that it was Smith who had planned to kill Reinert.

A former colonel in the army reserve with a PhD from Temple University, Smith was seen as an erratic and antisocial person. He was already in prison in 1986 when he was later convicted of conspiring with Bradfield to kill the Reinerts. He was serving five years for robbing a Sears dressed as a security guard, and for several firearm and drug related offences.

The prosecution argued that Reinert had been drugged and murdered in Smith’s basement and he was sentenced to death by the electric chair.

In 1992 Smith was still on death row when an antique dealer, Mark Hughes, was hired to clean out John J. Holtz’s attic. Holtz, a police officer, had been the primary investigator in the Reinert case.

His attic contained an identical copy of a comb used as evidence in the trial, police notes that contradicted the testimony of the prosecution, and a letter from Wambaugh offering to pay Holtz’s partner Joe Van Nort $50 000 for information about the case before Smith had even been charged with it.

Hughes delivered the evidence to Smith’s defence attorney, believing it to be part of a police cover up. Because of the number of irregularities and conflicts of interest in the original trial Smith’s conviction was later overturned.

In a legal deposition given in the 90s, Wambaugh testified that he had a financial interest in Smith’s conviction, admitting:

“I didn’t think the book would work until something happened to Smith.”

Eventually Holtz admitted to accepting $50 000 from Wambaugh in return for Smith’s arrest.

Despite this, Wambaugh remains convinced of Smith’s guilt and of his own fair dealings in the case. Upon Smith’s death in 2009 he commented that:

“I do not celebrate the death of any man, but Satan does” and when later asked by The New York Times he reaffirmed this by saying that “A No. 1 draft pick has finally arrived.”

 

Indigenous Beading Workshop

 

Many thanks to Lorralene Whiteye and the Aboriginal Resource Centre for hosting a great beading workshop last weekend! Over the afternoon community members and staff at the Welcome Centre socialized while learning the basics of beading.

Once we climbed the initial learning curve many in attendance said they found it to be a meditative and soothing exercise. We also marveled at the skill involved in the “sample” piece that Lorralene brought with her to show us. (You can see it in orange on the table in the image on the left).

I tried to bead a broach for myself, but when I got it home and tried to cut it away from excess felt backing, I nicked the string!

Be mindful of your string folks.

Don’t end up at loose ends like me!

From the Curator: the flock is starting to assemble

IMG_6365June has been an incredibly busy month – and yet also a wonderfully enjoyable one. We’ve been working on our next exhibit – Bird’s Eye View – that is set to launch on Wednesday, July 5 at 6pm (you’re all invited).

For the exhibit we’re looking at the rich bird life of Colonel Samuel Smith Park through the ways in which humans have been actively supporting different species. I find it hard to pick my favourite part: we’ve just installed a beautiful rainbow collage of the different species that are attracted to the dogwoods planted by the TRCA and community volunteers, we’re putting the final edits on a short documentary about the dedicated members of the Whimbrel Watch, today we constructed a new nesting box for the tree swallow section… and the list goes on (I can’t reveal everything pre-launch!)

IMG_6394.JPGOne of my favourite parts of working at the Interpretive Centre is the amount of hand-on construction and design that we do with each project we tackle. But the best part for me so far with Bird’s Eye View has been the new partnerships we’ve formed. Working with both Humber and community partners alike on this project through every stage – from conception to install – has made for a rich experience. We are located in community filled with creative minds who have been incredibly generous with their ideas, their time, and even their personal collections. So really, the part of the exhibit that I am truly excited to unveil on July 5th are the products of these relationships.

IMG_6398.JPGOnce Bird’s Eye View launches next week I will be sharing a few of the stories and more behind-the-scenes photos of how this exhibit has been truly collaborative in nature. In the meantime, be sure to mark your calendars for the launch event next week!

Launch of Bird’s Eye View

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Start: 6pm; remarks and artists’ reflections at 6:30pm. Light refreshments will be provided.

2 Colonel Samuel Smith Park Drive

The pain of getting what you wished for

Sometimes when things finally turn out the way you’ve been hoping, it causes a few problems. This past weekend the Lakeshore Grounds Interpretive Centre again participated in Doors Open Toronto, running our historic tunnel tours alongside a series of other incredible venues. Based on last year’s popularity, we decided to run tours on both Saturday and Sunday to accommodate more people. We re-wrote the tour script to keep it fresh, trained new volunteer guides, and developed a new game for kids.

When registration began slowly, I became anxious that the tunnels had lost their appeal. The tours eventually filled and I felt a sense of relief. Then last week we were included on Now Toronto’s Best Doors Open Events for 2017 and Urban Toronto’s Top Building Picks for this Weekend. I started fielding phone calls and emails and decided to extend the size of the tour groups to accommodate more people.

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Tour group inside the tunnels (photo credit: Sean Murdoch)

Before the first tour had even started on Saturday morning, the crowds were double the number that had registered. We extended the sizes of the tours as best we could and squeezed in an extra tour for the afternoon. But the numbers kept coming and we couldn’t keep up.

Saturday evening my team sat down to brainstorm how to handle Day 2 more smoothly. We checked every list over, discussed how much further we could stretch the size of the tours while still maintaining safety, and added three extra tours to the schedule for the walk-ins.

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Curatorial Assistant Ben Mitchell with tour group outside the loading dock doors in the tunnels (photo credit: Sean Murdoch)

By the end of the weekend we took 1,057 people through the historic tunnel system but unfortunately still had to turn people away. The number is small compared to many sites that participate in Doors Open Toronto, but an incredible feat for us: in all of 2016 we only took a total of 1,788 people through the tunnels so this two-day number is a record for us!

Our feet are sore, our throats are raw, but we’re thrilled – and humbled – by the response. But as Anne Jones wrote to the Editor of the Toronto Star yesterday: we left some people disappointed and we have a lot of work ahead of us to meet this new demand.

Some of the questions we’ll need to explore are:

  • Why didn’t people know about registration this year? What was different from last year?
  • How can we accommodate more people while still maintaining safety in the tunnels and a quality tour?
  • What’s the best way to leave room for walk-ins and day-of registrations?

On the grand scheme of things, the popularity is what I’ve been wishing for all year. Now that it’s here, the true challenge will be to hang on to it – keep things fresh, anticipate the hurdles better, and make sure everyone gets a chance to see what they came for.

*A personal request: If you know Anne Jones or your family was among those we couldn’t get onto a tour this weekend, send me an email and I’ll arrange a tour for you: jennifer.bazar@humber.ca As an historian of psychology by training, I never want to discourage an interest in our mental health history!

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Volunteer Guide, Jennifer Leonard, with group inside one of the tunnel’s branches (photo credit: Sean Murdoch)
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Curator Jennifer Bazar with group on the steps of the newly re-opened Administration Building of the former Mimico Asylum (photo credit: Sean Murdoch)