About "Into The Ward"
In 2015 an archeological dig led by Infrastructure Ontario unearthed tens of thousands of objects that attest to the histories of Toronto's first multicultural neighbourhood. Before St. John's Ward was demolished in the mid-20th century, it was home to communities of Irish, Jewish, formerly enslaved, and Chinese immigrants, to name a few. It was home to the city's first Chinatown and the end-point of the Underground Railway.
In 2020 a York University team led by PhD student Lia Tarachansky and faculty supervisor Dr. Mary Bunch began looking at how the 3D virtual emplacement of historical objects can impact how we see the places where we live today. Funded by MITACS and the University, the media studies team assembled hundreds of images, created several short films and emplaced Augmented Reality scans at the site of the dig, embedding the past in the present.
As we start off on this multimedia tour of what was once St. John’s Ward and is now Nathan Phillips Square, we pause to acknowledge the colonial conditions of our collective presence on this land. On this land many indigenous communities have lived, loved, and prospered. The Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee peoples have made this place home, as did the Heron-Wendat and others. European colonization made possible a migration of peoples from all over the world, like the creators of this project whose roots are from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. While we make this place our home too, we can never forget what this means, to colonize. It means to take by force, to take over and to displace, for the benefit of one group at the expense of another.
This is Treaty 13 territory, also known as the Toronto Purchase. Signed in 1787 by representatives of The Crown and a Band of Anishinaabeg known as the Mississaugas of the New Credit. The treaty was under dispute for more than 200 years, partly because the boundaries and the size of the territory were unclear and because the Mississaugas understood that they were renting the land out through the agreement, not extinguishing their rights to it. They exchanged access to their territory for such items as gun flints, brass kettles, mirrors, laced hats, a bale of flowered flannel, and rum. The purchase was revised in 1805, shortly before formerly enslaved peoples, Irish, Italian, and Jewish refugees made The Ward their destination, and a land claims dispute followed, which was only settled in 2010. As we discover more about the history of this place, through the empaced videos, images, soundwalk recordings, and Augmented Reality virtual objects, we recommit ourselves to decolonization by all means and to building a shared future, rooted in equity.
About the Infrastructure Ontario Dig
During the early stages of the new Toronto courthouse project, archaeologists discovered thousands of artifacts dating back to when the site was part of St. John’s Ward, Toronto’s first immigrant settlement during the 19th and early 20th centuries. To ensure that the historical value of the site was documented and preserved, IO completed a comprehensive archaeological excavation, while an analysis of the site and findings continues.