The Art of Youth Activism

By Nova S., Trent Child & Youth Studies Intern

Society consistently underestimates, undermines, ignores, brushes off, and otherwise condescends its youth. Sadly, in general, we assume that youth are up to no good, inexperienced, unwise, uneducated, rash, brash, and trashed. Of course, this can’t be entirely true, especially given the examples of Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai, youth activists who are practically household names. 

However, they are far from the only ones.

Youth consistently engage themselves in their communities and issues that matter to them, and of course that applies here in Oshawa as well. Over several years, students of different ages have organized multiple protests regarding education.

Colour image of a red brick building and to its right, a large glass greenhouse
The greenhouse at G.L. Roberts Collegiate, August 13, 2011 (A016.10.166, Dowsley collection, Oshawa Museum archival collection)

The first example I want to address was in 2012, when Bill-115, the Putting Students First Act, passed. Despite its name, clearly many students disagreed with the act, as about 50 of them walked out of G. L. Roberts high school one brisk December day. Said act would freeze teachers’ wages for two years, decrease their sick days, and prevent them from going on strike. It also included budget cuts to programs like music and sports, as well as extracurricular activities. Despite the possible threat of suspension, the protest was student-organized and led, with parent facilitation. 

O'Neill high school in 2016; three storey brick building with large trees at the right of the image
O’Neill CVI, January 7, 2016 (A016.10.179, Dowsley Collection, Oshawa Museum archival collection)

The next example is from 2015. After a five-week strike, teachers were forced back to work – but roughly 140 students between two Oshawa high schools, G. L. Roberts and O’Neill Collegiate, protested in support. Again, the protest was student-organized and led. Many expressed gratefulness to be back in education but concerns about the lack of resolution and the sudden, condensed workload, as well as the threat of ever-increasing class sizes and the likelihood of being treated like numbers rather than individuals.

My final example is from 2019, when 50 students from Monsignor Paul Dwyer Catholic High School protested proposed changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program which included cuts to the autism program and low income tuition assistance and the banning of cellphones in classrooms, among other things. Students from Adelaide McLaughlin Public School and R.S. McLaughlin Collegiate and Vocational Institute also protested, all student-organized and led. 

In the above examples, students collaborated through social media and in a refusal to take their protests out of the public eye in order to take a stand for themselves – their values, disabilities, beliefs, and rights. Teachers and caregivers supported them to help strengthen their youth’s voices.

Education and its policies are just a sliver of the issues in which youth voices are typically cut out, ignored, and forgotten. Instead of disempowering our youth and restricting their voices, we should be empowering them and giving them megaphones, sometimes literally! They are powerful individuals who have important and relevant values, opinions, experiences, and viewpoints right now, just as they are.

Oshawa Museum’s children and youth programs have always aimed to be engaging and inclusive in order to help kids find something that may spark a passion in them, right here in their own communities, from archaeology, history, fashion, social issues, geography, recycling, and more. As a youth myself, I’ve seen and experienced the desire Oshawa Museum has to let youth speak, lead, and create.


Citations

https://oshawaexpress.ca/oshawa-students-walkout-to-protest-education-cuts/

https://www.toronto.com/community-story/3476741-oshawa-high-school-students-protest-bill-115/

https://www.mykawartha.com/news-story/5646470-update-oshawa-students-at-o-neill-collegiate-and-gl-roberts-protest-in-support-of-teachers/

Student Museum Musings – A Student Placed at Home

By Nova S., Trent Child & Youth Studies Intern

From the beginning of my university career, I had my eyes set on a particular fourth year course in my major. Said course allowed students to try field-based learning, a chance to gain practical experience. Students could actually apply what they were learning in the classroom.

Well, so much for that.

So much for field-learning, and heck, so much for classrooms, too.

I never minded online learning. Really, I didn’t. It seems like most people would gape at me for that, but there were benefits for someone with anxiety like me. Yes, maybe it was an escape of sorts, but at times, in-person was overwhelming sensorially, with all the people and noise. So it was, honestly, sort of a nice break. Online, I didn’t have to commute. Online, I didn’t have to face the cold. Online, I could go at my own pace, and rewind my professor as many times as I needed.

It took a while for someone with anxiety like me to miss people, but wow, do I miss people. (Some people, at least. I think my fear of crowds is worse now than ever, along with everybody else’s). The benefits of being online were all still there, but the cons began to sink in.

Somehow, moving forward from there, I made a couple of friends from my university. I also made friends out of others on the Internet in general, because where else are you supposed to hang out? Okay, I think to myself, still, being online isn’t so bad.

And then it came time for my field-based learning.

Before I was a fourth-year, I took advantage of a few other opportunities to meet and interact with kids. I guess now would be a good time to mention that my major is Child & Youth Studies.

I volunteered at my family’s church for a special day of activities. My brother was, not-so-coincidentally, assigned to be my helper. We spent the day going from station to station, corralling kids only a few years younger than my brother at the time, holding hands, making crafts for them to show their parents afterwards, and encouraging participation in song and dance. We helped each other, we kept track of each other, and we made sure we all felt included.

Though I’m not in touch with that church anymore, I’m sure special days like that are no longer running – at least on such a grand scale.

I joined the Pen Pal Club at my university, in which we were paired up with a student from an elementary school nearby. The letters were fun to write, using different colours and stickers, but it was even more fun to receive. Messy and scribbled spelling mistakes, drawings you have to squint at to figure out what they’re supposed to be, excited retellings of their accomplishments in school, and eagerness to meet you! Yes, we would meet two or three times a year at the university and have a few stations we would rotate through, where stories would be told, colouring would be done, magic would be performed, and more. And at the end of the day, the kid paired with you would hug you goodbye and file out the door with their class.

When the pandemic started, we had already established pen pals and written to them once. It was a couple of weeks before the kids were supposed to come in person to visit when the whole thing was cancelled.

Lastly, I had a part-time job at an indoor playground, mainly rented out for children’s birthday parties. Usually, supervision was the job of the host parents – whoever’s kid’s birthday it was. But, rather frequently, we helped kids down from parts of the playground they’d climbed up and then realized too late that they were scared. We served food and got thank yous. Once, even, this adorable girl asked me to help her wipe her face and hands.

My boss texted us not too long into the pandemic that we were closed until further notice. And so, I waited. And waited. It wasn’t until I tried applying for other jobs and needed them for a reference that I texted my boss and discovered that, actually, the place had closed permanently. I guess it was a smaller business that was one of the many to, unfortunately, not survive this pandemic.

And now, here I am. I have a placement, yet I am not out in the field with kids, but at home. And I finally realize that I miss the kids more than I miss adult people, probably. (Sorry).

It’s nobody’s fault, after all. We all have to continue being safe or this will really never end.

Still, it’s not all that bad. I was fortunate enough to be able to go in-person once for a brief initiation, and my supervisors, both at the museum and at the university, are determined to make sure I benefit as much as possible from it.

I was, as I’m sure many people are, never focused on history. Sure, it was fascinating, and I was fortunate enough to have a pretty good history teacher in high school. But like many others, I moved on from it after graduating with my own interests in mind.

My first duty after being accepted by Oshawa Museum was to familiarize myself with their programs, exhibitions, values, and blog. I didn’t expect to get so sucked into it. Everything looked so fascinating. I fell into a rabbit hole of sorts, clicking link after link, reading letters, viewing photographs, learning, and being fascinated.

Here at the Oshawa Museum (from my home), my main task is to improve on and build programs. Children’s programs, flexibly built for online or in-person, that are mindful and expressive of the diversity within ourselves and within others.

I’m determined to help make kids fascinated in history, because our present and our futures have roots in the past. As I have had the fortunate opportunities to see, kids are full of excitement, wonder, and curiosity. But it’s not about what those kids will be in the future – it’s about what they are now. They are fully capable of forming their own opinions and being participatory citizens, and I hope I can play a part in inspiring them to realize that they can do plenty in diversity and equality activism just as they are now. It all starts with that fascination.

Student Museum Musings – Ephemeral Snowfall

By Thomas P., Co-op Student

There hasn’t been as much snow as I’d hoped there’d be so far this year. These late November and early December days have only been homely to dead leaves and a frigid lakeside breeze. Though my walks throughout Lakeview Park and in and around the Oshawa Museum have surely been cold, the only snow I’ve seen is on the occasional Saturday night, or perhaps it was actually morning, that has lifted my snowy spirits.

In my early teen years, I was rather ambivalent about snowfall. On one hand, I always found it to be a lovely ambiance to go along with late nights reading or immersed in some game on my computer, but I have also never been a fan of shovelling said snow off my driveway. Even still, this year, my final year in high school and first year working a co-op position at the Oshawa Museum, I’ve found myself missing snow just that little bit more than usual. There’s something about the quiet of it all, the long dark sense of soft snowflakes falling on one’s face in the latter half of 10pm. Even when it does snow, at 2am when you happen to look outside after a long night, it doesn’t last forever, which is, of course, the nature of things. The snow only stays on the ground for as long as nature will allow it to.

A close friend of mine was the one who taught me of the word ephemeral, the definition of the word being “lasting for a very short time.” It’s a word that’s meaning can be found in many places. It can describe the summer months that go by so fast when you’re out walking, the autumn breeze on the shores of Lake Ontario that doesn’t last nearly as long as it should, the quiet moments in the winter snow that only last as long as it takes for the chill to set into your bones.

Nevertheless, life is ephemeral. There’s always little moments overlooked and underappreciated. Little pieces of history only remembered years later by the archives and museums. Life is an unfinished symphony. Everyone you’ll ever know, every human being you can possibly imagine, only fits into the smallest puzzle piece of life. A singular snowflake in the blizzard of all life that’s ever lived and ever will live. Yet time, time is not ephemeral. Time will move on and last as long as you and your future generations will, but life only lasts as long as we do. The sands, or maybe even snows, of life are always falling. In fact, Memento Mori! Remember death, because the snows of life and sands of time only last so long. It’s not long now until the non-metaphorical snow falls too!

So dear reader, I advise you to take some time, it doesn’t matter when, to simply listen. Listen to the gentle brush of water against cold sand. Listen to the squirrels running along the branches of the trees. Listen to the gentle thrum of car engines, and listen to the life around you. Make life something more permanent than snow. At the end of the day, the end of time, it’s your choices that shape your history. This is why we’re still learning and will forever still be learning from the past. Time is forever unfinished, and life is what you make from time.

Glowing Regards,
Thomas

Reflections from a Summer Student

By Grace A., Summer Student

I spent the majority of my summer at the Oshawa Museum researching the city’s early Jewish community. As Jennifer Weymark shared in her post, this project aligns with the greater plan to compile the stories that have not yet been told in our local histories. As she wrote, there has been a summer student (that’s me) sifting through census records, newspaper articles and other primary source documents, trying to piece it all together. In the beginning, I delved into the 1921 Census of Canada, looking for families in Oshawa who identified as Hebrew. I recorded names, birthdates, countries of origin, dates of immigration, language, and occupation. Using this information, I went to the Oshawa City Directory from the same year to get a little more personal. I found out which houses they lived in and the businesses they may have owned. I have to admit, I felt a little invasive. Everything I looked through was public record, but I couldn’t help but wonder what they would think and whether they would have approved of me playing private investigator.

The idea of informed consent was developed in the medical and biomedical community during the 1950s. While the concept has evolved over time, it’s rooted in the belief that there should be a process of communication between the physician and patient. To simplify it, the patient has to be fully aware of what they’re getting into before they receive treatment. Conversations about research ethics over the last few decades have been influenced by the basic notion of informed consent. For example, Karen L. Potts and Leslie Brown talk about informed consent in their essay titled “Becoming an Anti-Oppressive Researcher.” In their words, informed consent “highlights our commitment to the community, our relationships to it, the data, and the process.” These processes become complicated when you’re researching past communities. Most of the time, there is no opportunity to have an open dialogue between the researcher and subject in historical studies.

Ontario Jewish Archives, 1976-6-8

This summer, I learned that in the absence of this relationship there are still ways that museums can commit themselves to anti-oppressive research. On this project, we had many conversations about the archive. This is a particularly important consideration for a research project about the early Jewish community in Oshawa. During the time periods we studied, Jewish people in Canada faced anti-Semitism and experienced a great deal of adversity as a result of colonial violence. This considered, we have to be aware of how these structures are embedded in archived material. The Ontario Jewish Archives was immensely helpful both as a source of reliable information and a partner on this project. The photograph above is from their collection, and shows a group of Oshawa children and a Rabbi at a Cheder class from 1925. “Cheder Class” was one of many photographs from the OJA’s collection which helped to visualize the history of the early Jewish community.


Sources

Research As Resistance, Second Edition: Revisiting Critical, Indigenous, and Anti-Oppressive Approaches, edited by Leslie Brown, and Susan Strega, Canadian Scholars, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.proxy.queensu.ca/lib/queen-ebooks/detail.action?docID=6282047.

How Visual Art Can Help Narrate History

By Jessica R., Summer Student

As I come to the end of my summer job at the Oshawa Museum, I’m grateful I had the opportunity to apply what I have learned in university into real life research projects. I believe that the strongest take-away from my personal projects at the museum is the idea that we form our perspectives of history in relation to the evidence and research we view. I learned that there is a surprisingly strong co-dependency between literary history and visual art during each era. It seems self-explanatory for someone who is regularly involved with historic research. But for me, having this first-time experience to see the value of artefacts, architecture, and visual art was exciting. Art in any genre or style is usually focused on its aesthetic value, such as the art style, colours, or perspective. But no matter how abstract or grand the art piece is, it will always contain historical evidence of some sort.

I was assigned to work on uncovering and researching the backstory and meanings behind historical paintings and drawings by the late Canadian artist, ES Shrapnel. The process to find the history behind the paintings was fairly difficult at times. But I found through my research that combining the written information I found with my own examination of the art style and colours in the sketches added the missing pieces of information I needed to finish the background information or support the visualization of the author’s ideas. Besides being an excellent primary source of information, the prints I examined were also good examples of the trends within local artists of that time, and it showed how society was progressing in terms of art styles. I noticed that ES Shrapnel promoted his talents often in the Whitby Chronicle, saying he would hold lessons for anyone who was interested. The community was then able to create art which reflected the narrative of their own lives at the time because of artists like Shrapnel who encouraged this participation. Shrapnel’s networking abilities are still seen today using different, modern technological ways. As we draw parallels with today’s society, we can appreciate that this was one of the many ways that visual art can continue to have historic usefulness.

Whitby Chronicle, November 4, 1880, Page 03.

In general, visual art is a core aspect engrained in everyone’s culture, lifestyle, and community. I appreciate that it gives an additional view on historic communities that did not rely on written literature to depict their stories or actions. Visual art gives historians and researchers an opportunity to expand their knowledge and help us understand in our modern perspective how people co-existed with one another through history. I find the universal understanding of art in history helps expand the ideas of written language and can narrate a scene of moments that were never documented in words.

In conclusion, throughout my time at the Oshawa Museum, I felt greatly satisfied and fulfilled seeing local artists from our community contributing strong and impactful sources of information simply through visual art. With my research of the ES Shrapnel prints, it gave me a newfound appreciation for the artist and others of his time for their dedication to their passions. The beauty of visual art grows deeper than just the material used, but more with their significance in writing history. Visual art gives metaphorical colour to the incomplete paintings of society and its ideas. I hope that people in our community continue to keep making art, regardless of it pertaining to the landscape of our area, as it gives a glimpse of the artistic minds within in our community.

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