The MHSO Oral History Museum (OHM) was the recipient, in 2004, of a Rolex Award for Enterprise – Associate Laureate, Cultural Heritage. A “museum with no walls or glass cases, a museum with no boundaries,” the OHM combined the spoken word with photographs, multi-media, and computer simulation, and, through its innovative design, created exciting opportunities for increasing public understanding of immigrant adaptation and community-building in late 20th century Toronto. The museum had two components – an orientation room where a video presentation introduced visitors to the ‘New Torontonians’, MHSO staff explained the value of oral history, and community groups held cultural events such as storytelling, poetry readings, musical presentations, and film screenings; and a hands-on gallery where computer kiosks equipped with interactive software enabled visitors to engage with, and add to, the Society’s oral history collection.
The museum’s programming focused on three interrelated themes – community building, living traditions, and social justice. It highlighted examples for each that demonstrated the profound impact ethnocultural communities have had on Ontario society. For instance, visitors learned about the pivotal role immigrants played in introducing new approaches to seniors’ care-giving (community building), creating a culture of vibrant street festivals (living traditions), and using music as a tool to effect positive change (social justice). The programming also included the individual experiences and personal reminiscences of community leaders Jean Lumb, Fortunato Rao, and Selwyn ‘Nip’ Davis. The OHM was closed to the public when the MHSO relocated its operations. It was redesigned in 2014, and a launch of the new online format is planned for the near future.
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