Collecting Voices with the Multicultural History Society of Ontario

June 6, 2017 | Nicole

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Destination Canada Exhibit

Have you had a chance to visit our current exhibit, Destination Canada, on display in the Toronto Reference Library's TD Gallery? The exhibit explores personal experiences of migration, arrival and finding a place of belonging from early settlement to present day. 

We hope that the exhibit encourages visitors to think about their own story and the diverse stories of those who call Canada home. 

Destination Canada ExhibitVisitors to the Destination Canada exhibit have been contributing to a world map, adding small coloured dots to indicate the place[s] they consider home.

Are you interested in learning how to record, preserve and share the personal histories and memories of family members, friends and members of your community?  

If so, you should join us for Collecting Voices, a free workshop on the practical skills of conducting interviews and collecting oral histories. Led by the Multicultural History Society of Ontario, two sessions of the workshop will be offered at the Toronto Reference Library on Thursday, June 15 and Thursday, June 22 from 6 to 8 pm. Call 416-393-7082 or email [email protected] to register.

I spoke with Blair Newby, Outreach Officer from the Multicultural History Society of Ontario (MHSO), about the importance of oral histories and what participants will learn from the upcoming workshop.



Can you tell us a little bit about the Multicultural Historical Society of Ontario?

The MHSO was established in 1976 by Robert Harney, a professor at the University of Toronto, and several like-minded colleagues. Harney felt that there was a need for greater recognition of the significant role that immigration and ethnic diversity had played in the province’s development. The Society was created to increase public awareness and understanding of our histories of migration and ethnicity – a mission that, four decades later, remains our operating ethic.


What role do oral histories play in the MHSO collection?

Oral history – both the methodology and the testimony captured using this methodology – is at the core of our collections and programs. It also reflects our approach to the preservation and study of immigration and ethnic diversity because it’s grounded in a focus on, and respect for, the experiences of ‘ordinary people’. We’re convinced that the chronicling of immigrant and ethnic stories is essential to understanding Canada in the 20th century and beyond. Our oral history collections include over 9,000 hours of interviews representing over 50 ethnocultural communities.


What are other types of materials collected and preserved by the MHSO?

The MHSO maintains an archive of both primary source materials and secondary sources. Our archival holdings are extensive. In addition to our oral history collections, we have large collections of historical photographs and ethnic newspapers in multiple languages. Researchers wishing to explore our collections can do so by making an appointment.


You will be leading two free Collecting Voices workshops at the Toronto Reference Library this month (on June 15 and June 22). What will participants learn?

We’re very excited to have the opportunity to present our workshop. Participants will leave with an understanding of what oral history is and its value as a research tool, as well as the skills and knowledge to plan and conduct their own oral history projects.


The MHSO’s exhibit entitled The Working Lives of Chinese Canadian Women: 1923-1967 is on display on the third floor of the Toronto Reference Library until July 30. How did this exhibit come about?

We’re absolutely thrilled to have our travelling exhibit on display in the library. The Working Lives of Chinese Canadian Women: 1923-1967 features selected content from the non-circulating exhibit, “They gave up themselves for the next generation”: The Working Lives of Chinese Canadian Women, 1923-1967, which was mounted at Black Creek Pioneer Village, augmented by new content prepared by community historian and author, Arlene Chan. The original source for both exhibits is the MHSO’s website, Chinese Canadian Women 1923-1967: Inspiration – Innovation – Ingenuity. To mark Asian Heritage Month, in May of 2014 the exhibit was launched at the Cheng Yu Tung East Asian Library at the University of Toronto.


What advice do you have for people who are interested in sharing their own stories of migration, identity and belonging?

Our advice, simply put, would be to record it! Everyone’s story is relevant and can add new layers to our national narrative. Moreover, oral history is a very accessible form of history. Anyone can participate, and this year as Canada celebrates its 150th birthday, there are so many opportunities to share your story. So go ahead, get started and record your story!