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Toronto’s urban revitalization has kept parts of its history hidden
By  CMG  •  Posted on  May 14, 2014

TinaBy Tina Todaro

Mayworks, in collaboration with Jane’s Walk gave life to marginalized history on May 4 by capturing the voice of those who paved the way for opportunities within our city during a time of economic development.

“The women’s labour history walk is the first to deviate from the map itself,” said J.P Hornick, Coordinator for the School of Labour at GBC and Walking Tour leader. “The process of ‘sun-shining’ this marginalized history is crucial, particularly in this time when workers are under renewed attacks from several fronts.”

The event was part of the 29th Mayworks Festival of Working People and the Arts and co-presented by the George Brown College (GBC) School of Labour – being one of a series of tours since 2010.

“We have three walking tours that we do, one is the area around Front Street and King Street – Old Toronto, a standard Spadina tour and we have one in Central Toronto,” said Maureen Hynes, tour leader, poet, and creative writing professor at the University of Toronto.

Focusing on women’s labour history, from College Street south to Richmond Street, life was given to a hidden history stored behind the building walls; taking place along the sidewalk, on the west side of Spadina Street – Chinatown, required participants to be mobile for an hour and a half.

“I’ve found that people love these walks,” said Hornick, and tour participant Stephanie Thomas agreed saying, “I am interested in Toronto’s history, and you don’t get much of an opportunity to learn about women’s history.”

A silenced history, as described by Hynes, who acknowledged our lack in memory of the militancy and the gains made by Torontonians after the disappearance of the garment industry.

Originally being home to many manufacturing businesses and workers, to this day, very few have remained.

As outlined on the event’s Facebook page, the tour highlights the struggles, gains and losses of women in the city’s labour and feminist movements from the 1850s to the present – inspired by American-born writer Jane Jacobs.

Jacobs believed that ever-growing urban neighbourhoods, along with the city’s unpredictability, demonstrated its true vitality and that city revitalization would inhibit its natural, welcoming atmosphere.

“We can’t have a lot of hope for the future unless we know what people have accomplished in the past,” said Hynes – which in the spirit of Jacobs, stated on Environments for Living, underlined her strategy and vision for the revitalization of failing neighbourhoods and communities.

With a firm belief on the importance of residents’ input on city development, the tour gives rise to neighbourhood familiarization and the importance of rekindling Toronto’s historic value.

A dream for now – “One day, I’d love to see a radical history archive in Toronto that brings together, the histories all of the radical social movements and social justice groups that have made a change here,” said Hornick.

Residents of Toronto, as well as visitors are able to capture the essence of this rich history not only through these tours, but through a newly developed app.

TXTile City app, through the use of multimedia and literature, allow Toronto communities to explore their city’s heritage in the palm of their hand, which according to their official site, “brings the city to life through stories and memories that show the significant role textiles have played in shaping Toronto’s urban landscape.”

Memorializing the people behind the struggle, Hynes hopes that these tours help people continue on, with spirit and determination, protecting the rights of these people and women in this concern.

Tina Todaro is a student at George Brown College, and this year’s recipient of the Reporter of the Year for her work with the student newspaper The Dialog. She also participates in student government as well as volunteer work in the area of mental health. She is an Associate Member of CWA Canada.

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