Myseum of Toronto: not your traditional museum

It’s not just one place, it’s every place

While a city museum for Toronto has been discussed for decades, a highly-anticipated announcement Monday by respected Toronto archivist and philanthropist Diane Blake that Toronto might finally be getting one of its own, came with a twist.

Instead of exhibit space, artifacts, collections, and a bricks-and-mortar location, the “Myseum” of Toronto initiative, as it’s being dubbed, will engage residents and visitors online and at pop-up events throughout the GTA. As organizers were quick to point out, the emphasis is on the “My” in Myseum. 

Blake was hinting as recently as last month that a bricks-and-mortar proposal was imminent, perhaps at one of the numerous sites mentioned in the past for a Toronto museum. Stoking speculation was the fact a Museum of Toronto charity had been registered and two staff hired. A bricks-and-mortar location may still be part of Myseum’s future. 

But for now the projects emphasis will be on fact-finding. The three key goals, Blake says, are to: “illuminate Toronto’s history, honour its diversity, and help shape the city’s future by stimulating discussion on urban issues.” Blake says Myseum will offer citizens “new and innovative ways to experience Toronto’s cultures, history, archaeology, architecture and natural spaces.”

It’s an entirely new, and as yet untested, concept. 

Who else is behind the idea?

Blake and her financier husband Stephen Smith, who also chairs Historica Canada, are the key movers. They’ve put up the seed money for the project. But the Myseum also has a board which includes Ian Bandeen, a leading capital market specialist, Toronto entrepreneur Maureen Marshall, Quaternion Inc. CEO Bev Tudhope and former mayor David Crombie. 

What is the budget?

A three-year financial plan is still being finalized, so no details have been made public. Nothing is being asked of any level of government at this stage. “We need to first build a track record of success,” says Blake.

What’s the first Myseum event people will see?   

Myseum On The Move, an effort to help start build the Myseum collection, is scheduled June 13 and 14. Organizers say it will be “popping up around the city to ask people of all ages to share their memories.” 

They’ll also be asked to help build the Myseum’s digital collection with historical objects, photos and stories that represent the diversity of Toronto. These will be curated over the summer for Myseum’s first major project to be launched in fall 2015. 

In between there will be web-based projects throughout the year “to connect to each other and the richness of the city.” Individuals are asked to share ideas, stories, art, history, recollections, music, and artifacts, by registering with Myseum and following on Twitter.

What minority community outreach has been done to date?

There are groups being formed, on a project-by-project basis.

“We want to be inclusive,” says Blake, pointing to meetings organizers have already had with the Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, and Jamaican communities. Local historical and archival groups and community organizations have also been approached. Last year a major visioning exercise was held, including with academics, universities and historians. 

Will Myseum ever become an actual bricks and mortar site for a permanent Toronto museum? 

It’s possible, Blake says, “but we don’t want to be distracted by a capital campaign right now. We want to grow, and we will then see what form it takes.” 

Mark Maloney is a local historian and author.

Toronto has a number of small museums recounting different parts of the city’s history, but it’s still light years behind other major centres in establishing a city museum under one roof. Here’s what other cities are doing:

Musée Carnavalet-Histoire de Paris, Paris, France 

The museum houses collections that trace the city from pre-historic times to the present, through a huge selection of art, scale models, mementos and artifacts on display in more than 100 rooms. The city calls it a “stroll through the centuries.” It is one of the 14 City of Paris Museums, incorporated since January 2013 as Paris Musées.

The Museum of London, London, U.K. 

Its comprised of the Museum of London, and also the Museum of London Docklands (located in a warehouse at Canary Wharf) and boasts more than two million objects in its collection. The museum is also the site of the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (LAARC). The museum covers stories of trade, migration and commerce, and since 1976 has attracted some 400,000 visitors per year. 

Museum of the City of New York, New York City, New York 

The museum “interprets the city, educating the public about its distinctive character, especially its heritage of diversity, opportunity, and perpetual transformation.” Founded in 1923 as a private non-profit corporation, the museum was originally housed in Gracie Mansion, before it became the residence of the Mayor of New York. Current exhibits include:  Hip-Hop Revolution and Activist New York.

The Chicago History Museum, Chicago, Illinois 

Located at the south end of Lincoln Park, Chicago’s city museum was founded in 1856, and is the city’s oldest cultural institution. The museum’s mission is to share Chicago’s stories “serving as a hub of scholarship and learning, inspiration and civic engagement.” 

The Museum of Vancouver, Vancouver, British Columbia 

Its vision is “to hold a mirror to the city and lead provocative conversations about its past, present and future.” Permanent exhibitions tell the city’s stories from the early 1900s to the late 1970s, and are complemented by contemporary  exhibits. The museum has even gone so far as to hire a Curator of Contemporary Issues. 

Centre d’histoire de Montréal, Montréal, Quebec ​Inaugurated in 1983, the Centre is the only historical museum to present the city’s history from 1535 to the present under one roof. Museum exhibits reflect “history as it is lived day by day, reflecting the tensions and the meeting of diverse peoples and ideas.” It is part of a network of 14 other city museums including the Château Ramezay – A Historic Site and Museum of Montréal the Sir-George-Étienne-Cartier National Historic Site the McCord Museum Pointe à Callière – The Montréal Museum of Archeology and History and the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Museum. | @nowtoronto

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