Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Missing Plaque Project

History can be a tool for social change. It is often said that the victors of history write the history books in their favor. Some stories are promoted, and others are left to dwindle in obscurity. The Missing Plaque Project tries to stand as a force to stop this from happening, by shedding light on the hidden histories.

The project is based in Toronto, and has dedicated itself to changing the way we think about Toronto's history. The city's history is often portrayed as being conservative, British and boring. However, that is only part of the truth. People have lived in the area for thousands of years, but most people think of it as a young city with very little history. It is not that nothing is known of life here before the British set up shop, in 1793; rather those stories are not given the attention they deserve.

Another element to how Toronto's history is portrayed is that anything bad that happened in the city took place long in the past and that since multiculturalism was "invented" in the 1970's everything has been "honky dory". To cast this image many stories have been ignored, including the Bathhouse Raids (1981), the Yonge Street Riot (1992), and the treatment of homeless people.

But why are some histories overlooked? Racism and other biases are partly to blame. Another part of it is the result of efforts to always portray Toronto in a good light, or efforts to use history as a tool to promote tourism or to increase property values. Another part is that many of the people who do work around the city's history come from a narrow background and happy to focus on the history of the British and the rich. Many of them are interested in what most people find banal. Often are happy to look at the history of buildings in the city rather than the people who lived here, and the social turmoil of the past.

Most Torontonians don't find the history of their city relevant to their lives. The Missing Plaque Project attempts to show how our history is relevant to us today. The project does all it can to get people interested and thinking about our cities history. Although the project has began to use a variety of mediums, it started as a project to put up posters about little-known histories.

The project started on a freezing cold December night in 2002. After spending the evening at Kinko's, the founder of the project, Tim Groves, set out for Christie Pits with a steaming bucket of wheat paste and a roll of posters on the Christie Pits Riot. The idea of putting up posters had come to him as soon as he had learned the story of this riot. Before long, ideas for other posters sprang to mind. Slowly new posters were made.

One of the ideas behind putting up the posters is that they can be up right on the street in the areas where people live. Instead of having to go out of your way to learn about the history it can be stumbled on by anyone in the neighbourhood that the history took place.

One dilemma of using posters is that people have to stand in order to read them. They can not take it with them to sit down somewhere comfortable. This would suggest that the posters need to be as short and as easy to read as possible. However, we have been resistant to this, because so many historic plaques mark only that an event happened, but not why it is relevant. The content of our posters is a constant struggle between these two extremes.

In 2006, it was decided to move the project in more ambitious directions. Not only is the number of posters being expanded, but plans are underway to incorporate a variety of other mediums, to seek funding, and to find collaborators to work on various projects.

The Missing Plaque Project Blog

List of posters that may be released in the future

Guided Tours

The poster's potential / Tim Groves

Via Just Seeds