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Canada 150 Research Chairs program invests in international researchers

The first wave of announcements brings Dr. Donna Rose Addis and Dr. Miguel Ramalho-Santos

Canada 150 Research Chairs program invests in international researchers

The Canada 150 Research Chairs program, announced in Budget 2017, aims to invest $117.6 million in science and research to attract top-tier international researchers to Canada. As part of the program, two Research Chairs have joined the University of Toronto: Dr. Donna Rose Addis and Dr. Miguel Ramalho-Santos, who were each awarded $350,000.

The program provides Canadian institutions with a one-time investment to recruit top talent and improve Canada’s reputation as a global hub for “science, research and innovation excellence.”

“Canada has a world-class research community and a vision of openness and collaboration that is very rare in current times,” wrote Ramalho-Santos in an email to The Varsity. “Recruiting international talent at this point can cement that standing and ensure that Canada will expand its scientific reach and remain at the forefront.”

According to Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan, this investment embraces the inclusivity and openness for which Canada is recognized. The government hopes that the program will also improve universities’ ability to generate and apply new knowledge, while also improving the training of research personnel.

Ramalho-Santos, Research Chair in Developmental Epigenetics, studies the epigenetic regulation of stem cell pluripotency, which is the ability of stem cells to give rise to different cells in the body. He does this in vivo using mouse models, with a focus on early embryonic development and the germline.

He and his team will study how the environment interacts with the genome and affects gene activity during embryonic development, which may leave molecular “imprints” with long-term consequences for health and disease. This research will take place at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital, where there is a high interest in developmental epigenetics and maternal-fetal medicine.

Ramalho-Santos believes understanding how environmental factors can impact gene activity and long-term physiological development is part of a global responsibility with implications for many species.

Addis, Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory and Aging, will bring her expertise to U of T and continue to study memory loss caused by aging and depression.

She plans to use magnetoencephalography, a neuroimaging tool, to discover how specific stages of the imagination process are disrupted by memory loss in aging and depression.

Addis will also examine how culture may change the way aging and depression impacts memory and imagination. She plans to develop new cognitive and brain-based interventions to enhance future thinking in older adults and those with depression.

“We have to bring together the best minds, wherever they come from, to work on the ‘big problems’ facing our communities, such as age-related diseases,” wrote Addis in an email to The Varsity. “And one way to do this is to recruit international talent to consolidate and enhance Canada’s research strengths.”

A long and important history precedes Confederation

Re: “‘150 for Whom?’ tackles anti-racism on Canada’s sesquicentennial”

A long and important history precedes Confederation

Even months after Canada’s 150th birthday, it is vital for us, as Canadians, to ask ourselves what exactly we celebrated and whom we silenced in the process. The symposium held at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education earlier this month, titled “150 for Whom, Canada? Colonialism and Indigeneity across Lands,” shone a light on the stories of the Indigenous peoples that have occupied land in Canada for thousands of years, stories that are far too often left unheard.

For me, Canada 150 brings mixed emotions. As the child of immigrants, I am thankful to have been brought up in a country that allows me to pursue many more opportunities than I would otherwise have been able to access. But I am also acutely aware of the fact that I am living an incredibly privileged life on land that was violently stolen from others. Canada has been built upon the bodies of Indigenous people, and this is something that should never be forgotten.

There is not enough being done to educate students about the Indigenous history of this country, especially in Ontario. I grew up in Manitoba, which has a much larger Indigenous population, and there was more of an emphasis in schools to teach students about the atrocities of colonialism and the legacy of residential schools — albeit still not to the extent that these lessons should be taught. In the era of missing and murdered Indigenous women, more work is needed to educate Canadians about ongoing colonial violence affecting Indigenous people today, and to urge us not to misconstrue Canadian history as something that started a mere 150 years ago.


Yasaman Mohaddes is a third-year student at St. Michael’s College studying Political Science and Sociology.

“150 for Whom?” tackles anti-racism on Canada’s sesquicentennial

Panel features CFS Chairperson Coty Zachariah, former UTSU Executive Director Sandra Hudson

“150 for Whom?” tackles anti-racism on Canada’s sesquicentennial

Canada’s sesquicentennial anniversary, while widely celebrated, has also raised critical discussion regarding what it means to celebrate the past 150 years as seen through the lens of colonialism.

On November 11, the Centre for Integrative Anti-Racism Studies hosted a workshop and symposium event titled “150 for Whom, Canada? Colonialism and Indigeneity across Lands” at U of T’s Ontario Institute of Studies in Education.

The event included a panel discussion featuring Sandra Hudson, former University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Executive Director and co-founder of Black Lives Matter – Toronto; Coty Zachariah, current National Chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS); George Elliott Clarke, former Poet Laureate of Toronto; Eve Haque, associate professor at York University; and Jennifer Mills, a postdoctoral researcher at York. The event was moderated by Alissa Trotz, an Associate Professor of Women and Gender Studies.

The discussion focused in large part on the ways that the panelists perceived Canada to have failed racialized and Indigenous communities, and how, as Hudson opined, Canadians should not be celebrating 150 years of conquest, violence, and settler colonialism.

“When I think about Canada 150, I’m thinking of 150 years of what?” she asked. “As a Black person, I don’t see myself reflected in anything about Canada 150 at all.”

The panelists also discussed the basis of Canada’s foundation, asking why Canadians are celebrating the past 150 years when the country’s history stretches far beyond that.

Zachariah, who is Afro-Indigenous, argued that the sesquicentennial celebrates the erasure of the history of Indigenous peoples who have been here much longer than European settlers. “When I think about 150 and 10,000, there’s just no comparison,” he said.

Clarke stated that it was also important to remember the original reason for Confederation, saying that “Canada is, in my opinion, the result of the British empire’s need to establish a bulwark against American manifest destiny, nothing more and nothing less than that.”

There was also discussion about the role of language in Canada’s history with Indigenous peoples.

Haque, who teaches in York’s Department of Languages, Literatures and Linguistics, spoke about the “importance of language” and how colonialism has destroyed parts of Indigenous culture.

“It is also through the imposition of colonial languages and the violent expunging of Indigenous languages and other languages that are here that colonialism is trying to break Indigenous relationship with land,” she said.

Zachariah echoed Haque’s point, saying, “They stole your language and your culture and they charge you $10,000 a year to get it back,” referring to the tuition some students might have to pay in order to learn Indigenous languages.

When asked by The Varsity how he plans to use his position as CFS National Chairperson to educate students on these issues, Zachariah said that it would be “by having this conversation, by being open to talking to places like The Varsity about what it means and what it could mean, and how we can form better relationships moving forward.” He said his role as chairperson can be to help foster those conversations.

He also said that he was “very open to working with any school,” including U of T, despite the UTSU’s current anti-CFS stance.

Hudson declined to comment.

Contested celebrations

How large-scale national festivities like Pride Month and Canada 150 use and abuse Canadian nationalism

Contested celebrations

The celebrations of Pride Month and Canada 150 that took place over the summer may have appealed to the majority of Canadians who do not experience exclusion or erasure, but such celebrations promote a parochial form of Canadian exceptionalism that distorts history and marginalizes identities that should be central to the celebration of queerness and this land.

Pride Month in Toronto in its current form distorts its history of radical political resistance, and thereby it does a particular disservice to queer and trans people of colour. For Indigenous peoples, Canada 150 represents an erasure of thousands of years of human existence and the adverse impacts of colonization. Taken together, these celebrations uphold a Canadian brand of ‘progressiveness’ that enable institutions of power to appear legitimate, and a majority of Canadians to remain complacent toward a version of history that remains contested by the people that continue to be marginalized in Canadian society.

Until recently, Pride Month happily welcomed the Toronto Police Service’s participation in the Pride parade, disregarding both ongoing police violence toward racialized LGBTQ+ persons and the parade’s historical roots. The history of police violence toward queer and trans people of colour, captured in the Stonewall riots in America and Operation Soap in Canada, is what shaped Pride as a site for political resistance against institutions of power. As expressed by Black Lives Matter TO (BLMTO) co-founder Rodney Diverlus at Toronto Pride this year, “Pride is actually ours. Queer and trans people of colour actually started this.”

Last summer, BLMTO staged a sit-in protest at the Pride Month parade to challenge its anti-Blackness and demanded that police floats be removed from the parade. BLMTO was then accused of being divisive and exclusive. Such a reaction reflects a general attitude toward Black activism, in which any call for racial justice spawns discomfort in Canadians. After all, to challenge the police force, an agent of the state, is to challenge the image of the Canadian state itself.

Because BLMTO’s demands have since been accepted and incorporated by Pride Toronto, the not-for-profit organizers of Pride Month have faced threats of funding withdrawal from some members of the Toronto City Council. Clearly, Pride Toronto’s resistance to the oppression of the LGBTQ+ community does not necessarily account for those who are racialized within that very community.

For those who condemn colonization, Canada 150 is an anniversary to resist, not to celebrate. The anniversary has been condemned by Indigenous voices because, alongside celebrating the consolidation of the Canadian settler state, it also represents the violation of Indigenous self-determination — a violation that has been ongoing for centuries.

In today’s era of ‘reconciliation,’ Indigenous peoples remain critical of the work yet to be done. The federal government spent nearly half a billion dollars on Canada 150 celebrations — the kind of investment that is needed for Indigenous education, healthcare, and infrastructure. Given injustices like the residential schools system, environmental poisoning of Indigenous lands, and missing and murdered Indigenous women, there is little reason to celebrate the nationalist narrative from the perspective of the colonized.

Meanwhile, the Liberals continue to betray Indigenous communities’ needs. The government’s commitment to anti-Indigenous pipeline projects and its failure to amend the Indian Act to eliminate all gender-based discrimination against Indigenous women are just two examples of how reconciliation efforts have failed.  

The problems with Pride Month intersect ongoing colonialism against Indigenous peoples. For instance, two-spirit folks, having endured a history of colonization, face under-representation at Pride Month. The wide cultural variety of sexualities and genders independent of western political history are not confinable to the LGBT category that remains at the heart of Canadian national identity.

The ultimate purpose of these events is to promote the image of Canada as a progressive and welcoming country, thereby feeding nationalist sentiments. Nationalism in general is a problematic phenomenon because it necessarily excludes in order to determine who belongs. Insofar as celebrations like Pride Month and Canada 150 capitalize on marginalization and identity, they disingenuously obscure the truth.

This is hardly the first time the concept of identity in Canada has been twisted for political purposes. Despite the image of diversity and multiculturalism Canada projects to the world, it has a history of treating migrants inhumanely — alongside oppression of Indigenous sovereignty, the migrant history of this land includes dark events such as the Chinese head tax, internment camps for Japanese Canadians, and refusal to accept Jewish refugees during World War II.

While this history of Canadian racism is seldom acknowledged in conversations about national identity, LGBTQ+ identity is instrumentalized via nationalism to serve the interests of institutions of power. Aside from the Toronto Police’s attempt to co-opt Pride Month, corporate structures like Gap and TD Bank have commercialized Pride Month through ‘pinkwashing,’ a practice that promotes a pro-diversity image and appeals to modern consumer preference to generate profit while distracting the public from unethical practices.

Internationally, the Canadian government has used LGBTQ+ identity to advance its construction of Canadian modernity on the world stage. Whether it be through Canada’s condemnation of Russian homophobia during the 2014 Sochi Olympics or Justin Trudeau’s conspicuous participation in Pride Month, the Canadian state uses Pride Month as a global platform to construct itself as a uniquely ‘progressive’ leader amid a less civilized world.

Canada 150, too, is a site for corporations to reinforce a celebratory Canadian identity as a profitable brand. Tim Hortons’ Canada 150 edition of Roll up the Rim reduces Canadian identity to a consumer culture that presumes the existence of diversity and equality. Both LGBTQ+ and Canadian national identity require complicity to institutions and common cultural beliefs about Canada. To this end, the narratives of racialized people, who experience exclusion and demand radical change, are intentionally left on the margins.

Together, Pride Month and Canada 150 produce a narrative about modern Canadian nationalism that is exploited by institutions of power. However, the radical history of queer identity and Indigenous experiences of settler colonialism offer alternative narratives that challenge those institutions of power. If we are truly committed to progressivism and diversity, we ought to postpone celebration and pay more attention to those who have yet to experience the emancipation promised by this country.


Ibnul Chowdhury is a third-year student at Trinity College studying Economics and Peace, Conflict, and Justice Studies.

Dunlap Institute hosts stargazing event to celebrate Canada’s 150

Space enthusiasts gather at UTSG's back campus to observe the universe beyond

Dunlap Institute hosts stargazing event to celebrate Canada’s 150

U of T’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics hosted a “Canada 150 Star Party” on July 29. Around 500 stargazers came to the Back Campus Fields at UTSG to enjoy a night of unobstructed views of Jupiter, Saturn, the Moon, and satellites.

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) and the Fédération des astronomes amateurs du Québec sponsored similar events across the country, where the public was given a chance to take a closer look at the planets and the Moon, as well as ask astronomers and astrophysicists questions and inquire about their research.

“There’s lots of people all across Canada who are doing this at the same time, and that makes it pretty special,” said Jennifer West, a postdoctoral researcher at Dunlap and one of the organizers of the event.

“Jupiter and Saturn are the most interesting-looking through a telescope,” West continued, noting that the night was even more unique because both Saturn and Jupiter were visible. It is more common for only one of the two to be visible at a time.

The International Space Station, which orbits Earth every 90 minutes, was also spotted. “It’s just not always in a good spot for us to see,” West said. “But tonight we had a good pass where we could see it go across the sky.” Attendees also saw an iridium flare, which occurs when a communications satellite reflects sunlight toward Earth, making it very bright and easy to spot.

Eclipse glasses were distributed, along with star finders and pamphlets of information about the Star Party and the eclipse to come on August 21; U of T will be holding an eclipse party from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm at the CNE near the Princess Margaret Fountain. Canadians will only witness a partial eclipse. In Toronto, 70 per cent of the sun will be blocked. 

“You probably won’t even notice it was happening because the sky still stays pretty bright,” West said. “But if you wear the proper sun protection then you can, and you’ll see that a bite is taken out of it.”

West explained that solar eclipses are fairly common, occurring about every 18 months, though they are often not widely visible. The path of totality — an approximately 100-kilometre track of the Moon’s umbral shadow across Earth — will go through parts of fourteen states in the US.

“The last total eclipse in North America was 1979, and the next one [will be] in 2024, but [then] there won’t be one until 2099,” West stated. “So if you want to see an eclipse happen twice in the same city, you have to wait about 400 years.” She encourages others to travel to the US to witness the phenomenon, though if interested parties aren’t up to crossing the border, there are several events taking place in Canadian cities.

The Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics holds monthly astronomy tours at McLennan Physical Laboratories. The RASC also organizes similar events throughout the year, and for its 150th anniversary in 2018, West said it plans to host another national star party.

Todmorden Mills: A standing relic of Toronto’s history

‘Fab Forties’ event showcases birthplace of an industrial hub of progression

Todmorden Mills: A standing relic of Toronto’s history

July 1 marked 150 years since Canada’s confederation. This summer series focuses on events that explore this milestone while pondering the question: how did we get here?

A couple walks by me wearing World War Two-era costumes. War propaganda posters line the walls of a refurbished nineteenth century brewery. Lining the former banks of the Don River sits Todmorden Mills, a former industrial hub of East York and present-day heritage site, standing as a symbol of Toronto’s cultural and economic growth.

Celebrating its 50th year as a heritage site, Todmorden Mills held a Canada 150 event on June 18 revolving around the ‘Fab Forties’ in Canada. The event was held in celebration of the 1940s, showcasing the decade’s significance to Toronto, as well as the impact it had on Canadian culture. Staff and visitors alike dressed up and explored a rendition of the era at Todmorden Mills, enjoying the light-hearted atmosphere of the site. 

Operated by the City of Toronto, Todmorden Mills Heritage Site opened in 1967 for Canada’s centennial anniversary to commemorate the area, which was occupied between the 1790s and 1965 by private residents and family businesses. A lesser-known relic of Toronto’s European settlement history, the site was chosen due to many of its original buildings remaining intact, despite the surrounding growth of the city.

My visit to Todmorden Mills’ Fab Forties event begins by exploring the exterior of the site, which includes a former brewery, cottage, paper mill, and the Wildflower Preserve. Sitting between the paper mill and the brewery is a red brick road, a product of the Don Valley Brick Works, a former factory across the valley.

The tranquil atmosphere is present even as I enter my first building: the brewery. Built by the Helliwell family, it is one of the oldest remaining buildings on site, and adorned with red bricks stamped “DON,” signifying they were made by the Don Valley Brick Works; these bricks have also been used to build many other historic buildings in Toronto, including the Ontario Legislature buildings, Convocation Hall, Toronto General Hospital, and Casa Loma.

Notwithstanding the age of the brewery, the interior is refurbished in a modern style. To reflect the Fab Forties, an employee in charge of the brewery shows me a selfie station with a cut-out of Sir Winston Churchill, as well as war-era board games that challenge players to travel across Britain and consider combat strategy.

Reminding myself of the total war mentality that was promoted then, I arrive at a cottage — the last building to be occupied on the site — inspired by the memory of a woman named Helen Brookfield, who had lived in the cottage from 1921 to 1952.

Inside the house are both distinguishable and antiquated elements of a modern kitchen; this includes a wood-oven stove, a mechanical washing machine, and an electric fridge. There were also recipes local to East York replicated inside and, bearing in mind the conservation efforts of Canada’s total war environment, feels like living history. I am shown prepared foods such as an eggless, dairy-free cake, and a refreshing drink known as orangeade.


I ask an employee working at the cottage why he thought the 1940s were important to the Toronto area; he says that the war effort placed many women in industry, and Todmorden Mills reflected that industrial life and coming-of-age of Toronto. The decade provided more autonomy for women, and helped build Toronto as an industrial hub for immigrants to flock to after the war.

After stepping out of the cottage, I walk over to the paper mill, which hosts an in-house art gallery. The art on display in the gallery rotates between different groups every two weeks, with local art vendors selling their goods simultaneously.

As a musician, I always enjoy finding potential venues to play, so my favourite part of the paper mill is the theatre, which allows different groups to rent out the space for a variety of events. A Todmorden Mills-hired quartet plays 1940s swing with an upbeat energy that would certainly have brought a community together.

The communal atmosphere that was enjoyed in the Fab Forties, however, seem to have been missing elsewhere on the site and, save for the dance lesson, couples mingle amongst themselves. This appears to be emblematic of a greater issue today where, in exchange for our increasingly open society, we find it simultaneously more difficult to find common lasting bonds with one another.

Although Torontonians in the 1940s were largely of the same culture and religion, the arts — as shown in the Fab Forties event — galvanized a group of attendants that would otherwise not have interacted.

Though I enjoyed admiring the music and dancing, I soon decide to explore the last recent addition to the site — the Wildflower Preserve. Created by the efforts of local naturalists Charles Sauriol and Dave Money, the Wildflower Preserve sought to reintroduce native flora to the region and remove invasive, non-native species. It opened in 1991 to ensure the protection of its natural heritage, which has been used by Indigenous peoples for 11,000 years. Although settlers took much of the Todmorden Mills area for themselves, the restoration of its natural heritage is one way to show appreciation for the people and environment that aided settlers in developing the Toronto area through the nineteenth century.

Walking along the path, I notice a clear contrast between the Wildflower Preserve and the towering buildings at the top of the Don Valley, serving as a reminder to respect our environment and remember the heritage that built our modern society. The war effort of the 1940s would have likely taken from the surrounding flora, as had been done for millennia before. However, the rapid development of the region after the war nearly threatened the existence of the site’s natural heritage.

Relics of Toronto’s birth like Todmorden Mills remind us all that Canada has changed a lot in the last 150 years, and makes one appreciate that although Confederation was 150 years ago, Canada’s building blocks were present long before.

In Photos: Canada 150 in the city

Toronto celebrates the occasion with events across the city

In Photos: Canada 150 in the city

July 1 marked 150 years since Canada’s confederation. This summer series focuses on events that explore this milestone while pondering the question: how did we get here?

On July 1, 2017, Canada turned 150 years old. The milestone was met with celebration, condemnation, and consideration from around the country. In Toronto, events both big and small were held in light of the occasion.

The Varsity explored the city with our cameras, attending a variety of Toronto’s Canada 150 events. (Click the photos to enlarge).


We started the day by watching the Parade of Nations run down Yonge Street. The morning parade was organized by the Community Folk Art Council of Toronto and consisted of 25 different multicultural groups with nearly 2000 participants. Yonge Street was transformed into an international celebration; some highlights included a band from Serbia, beauty queens from the Philippines, and balloon flowers from a Vietnamese community group.


Once the parade was finished, participants and viewers gathered in Yonge-Dundas Square to take photos, shop for Canadian merchandise at vendor booths, and hang out until an afternoon of musical performances began.


The festivities at Queens Park began at 10 am with a citizenship ceremony where 150 people took the Oath of Citizenship, officially confirming their Canadian citizenship. The family-filled event included music performances, Canadian vendors, and activities for children. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne briefly spoke on stage, praising Canada’s multiculturalism and diversity.


Up by 550 Bayview Avenue, Evergreen Brickworks hosted its weekly farmer’s market in addition to a holiday garden event series called Brewer’s Backyard.


The Brewer’s Backyard celebrated Canada Day along with the 30th anniversary of Great Lakes Brewery, one of Toronto’s many craft breweries. The event spread festivity through affordable drink, healthy foods, and the natural beauty of the Koerner Gardens. The Brewery also showcased 19 different craft beers on tap, as well as the debut of the CanCon Session IPA, a new brew inspired by ACTRA Toronto.


Plenty of people packed in Nathan Phillips Square to see musical performances and take photos by the ‘Toronto’ sign. Food trucks were lined up around the venue with people eating on any available grass they could find around the square.


Nathan Phillips Square, though busy, was quite relaxed throughout the day; people and puppies alike were decked out in Canada Day gear, enjoying the scenery of City Hall.


Spadina Museum was open to the public free of fare in celebration of Canada 150, hosting numerous visitors throughout the day. The garden behind the museum was packed with people celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Annual Toronto—St. Paul’s Canada Day Picnic organized by federal Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett. The event acknowledged Canada’s 150th anniversary as a milestone to remind Canadians of the colonization of Indigenous peoples as well as the importance of reconciliation.


There was a noticeable presence of resistance around the city. Signs were taped up around the downtown core objecting to the celebrations of Canada 150 on behalf of Indigenous peoples. At the Annual Toronto—St. Paul’s Canada Day Picnic, two people held a homemade sign that read, “Canada 150 is a celebration of colonial violence, genocide, & land theft.” Hashtags like #Unsettle150 and #Resistance150 made the rounds on picket signs and social media.


Toronto’s Harbourfront was one of the busiest locations in the city throughout the day. A festival entitled Our Home on Native Land – which began on June 30 and continues until July 3 – occurred around the Harbourfront. The event was created to acknowledge the contributions of Indigenous and newcomer artists on Turtle Island and featured a variety of notable musicians, DJs, singers, and dancers.

Harbourfront also showcased family-specific activities. When we arrived we spotted children riding paddleboats and families enjoying picnics on the eastern end of the harbour. Plenty of visitors lined up to enjoy a culinary Canadian staple: Beaver Tales.


One of the most popular – and controversial – parts of the Harbourfront was an unmissable six-storey giant rubber duck. The area around it was crowded with people vying for the perfect selfie with the yellow creature. Vendors packed themselves into the western-end of the harbour selling duck-related merchandise.


The Beaches were filled with anticipation for the annual fireworks show that occurred at 10 pm. The massive aura of the fireworks saturated our lenses with vibrancy and colour. Inspired beach-goers lit the soaked dunes of Woodbine beach with their own fireworks, transforming tubes of paper into flares that covered the night landscape.


We finished our day taking photos of the fireworks off the CN Tower. The streets around the tower were filled with people; tripods were angled up at the tower awaiting the show while families were camped out on the ground along Front Street and the Harbourfront. Once finished, the crowd cheered, cars honked, and the audience applauded the final show of the night.


What it means to be “treaty people”

Exhibit at Hart House aims to educate public on Indigenous treaty negotiations

What it means to be “treaty people”

July 1 will mark 150 years since Canada’s confederation. This summer series focuses on events that explore this milestone while pondering the question: how did we get here?

Standing quietly in the Map Room on the main level of Hart House is Canada By Treaty, an exhibit highlighting Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples through treaty negotiations. When observers first enter the room, large panels containing information about this history dominate the space.

Each panel addresses a different part of treaty history in Canada, intuitively leading viewers on a path toward deeper understanding.


Treaties are legal agreements between the Crown and Indigenous peoples that allow non-Indigenous people to live in Canada. They were negotiated to permit the sharing of lands and resources and to place the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in a legal context. In contemporary discussions, treaties have been the subject of debate among Indigenous communities due to disagreements over the spirit and intent of specific articles in the treaty documents.

Canada By Treaty aims to educate non-Indigenous Canadians on their treaty relationships with Indigenous peoples. 

From idea to exhibit

Canada By Treaty was put together by students in a seminar entitled “Canada By Treaty: Alliances, Title Transfers and Land Claims,” taught by co-curator and Associate Professor in the Department of History Heidi Bohaker.

Last year, Bohaker and her colleagues in the Department of History considered various ways of participating in the Canada 150 events and, having taught the joint seminar before, decided to help educate Canadians on their treaty relationship with Indigenous peoples. 

According to Bohaker, Canada By Treaty was also a response to the 94th Call to Action in the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which aims to include honouring treaties with Indigenous peoples as part of Canada’s oath of citizenship. “What struck us is how that can happen if Canadians, new and old, don’t even know what treaties are. So some fundamental and foundational educational work has to take place,” said Bohaker. “Really this is a country built by treaty… there were no wars of conquest. It’s a negotiated place.”

After receiving $2,500 from the University of Toronto Provost, which was matched by the Department of History, Bohaker embarked on her mission to have her students curate a “loosely defined exhibit on treaties.”

From there, more funding was accumulated: the class received $10,000 from the Jackman Humanities Institute Program for the Arts Grant, as well as various donations from sponsors such as the Ontario150 Community Capital Program, University of Toronto Libraries, University College, Regis College, and the Jesuits in English Canada.

On opening day, the exhibit was attended by the likes of Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, and Chief Stacey Laforme of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, the First Nation on whose territory the University of Toronto stands.  


Research intensive

With adequate funding, the students were able to expand their research with more resources and high-end materials to create the beautiful exhibit that stands in the Map Room today.

Bohaker said that she wanted the students in her class to do something more than conventional papers and presentations, although she admits that she still made them write a final term paper. “And they stuck with it, which was very good of them,” she laughed.

The students, all of whom were non-Indigenous though some were part of the Indigenous Studies program, were given the opportunity to conduct a primary source analysis of a treaty document that “they could identify with.” 

On the challenges that students faced with information, Bohaker noted that they grappled with whether the story was theirs to tell, as non-Indigenous people that don’t have the same lived experience as Indigenous peoples. They had not experienced the implications of treaty relationships on Indigenous peoples’ daily lives.

“In the end, the students felt, ‘well it is part of our story to tell, we’re all treaty people, and that we have an obligation to educate other non-Indigenous people about these agreements,’” concluded Bohaker. “I’m glad we discussed that. That was an important thing to think through.”

As preparation for the exhibit intensified, Bohaker said that the class became less like a seminar and more like a workshop, as mock-ups of panels and craft materials replaced normal class activities.

Educating the public

As observers mill about the room, they will likely notice that the panels are positioned in two separate, offset semi-circles. According to Bohaker, the disconnect symbolizes our treaty relationship, and how treaty relationships are envisioned by First Nations as a relationship of equality. “The circle right now is off, right? It’s offset, so the idea is that through educating Canadians about what treaties are, we can begin the process of bringing the circle back together.”

“I think that most Canadians now recognize… a general and legal acceptance [of] multiculturalism in this country. We still have a long way to go, I think, in terms of addressing the historic and present day racism towards First Nations, and really coming to terms with what it means to be treaty people, that we are this place that was negotiated and has ongoing relationships, right?”


Canada By Treaty will stand in the Hart House Map Room until May 25, before travelling to various other venues, all free of charge.