IUOE Local 793’s Heritage Plaque unveiled

I had the honour of submitting the application for a Heritage Toronto plaque commemorating the history of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 793, which was unveilled on November 4. The plaque is located on the Southeast intersection of Church and Shuter streets, where the Elliot House Hotel was once located and eleven steam shovel operators founded Local 793. This plaque is one of the outputs of the Laborem Ex Machina public history project that I am leading at York University.

Video by Danny Celia, IUOE Local 793.

Collaboration with Vhils in mural honoring Cleaners’ Action

The internationally renowned street artist Vhils (Alexandre Farto) has created a mural in the Toronto neighbourhood of Little Portugal – on 1628 Dundas St. West (just west of Brock Ave.) – honouring the Portuguese “cleaning ladies” and their Cleaners’ Action movement in the 1970s-80s. The Embassy of Portugal in Canada, the Little Portugal BIA, and Deputy Mayor Ana Bailão were the organizers of this initiative. In July, I was consulted by one of the organizers seeking suggestions about significant women in the history of Toronto’s Portuguese community to be featured in the mural, to which I suggested the “cleaning ladies” and their Cleaners’ Action. After my suggestion was approved, I had the honour of collaborating with Vhils’ team, Anabela Taborda (Little Portugal BIA), and Dr. Susana Miranda (Portuguese Canadian History Project) in the making of this project, by contributing archival materials, historical insights by way of a recorded interview, and connecting stakeholders. The unveiling took place on October 19 and was attended by a sizable audience of local community members, political representatives, and labour leaders. A short video documentary about the making of the mural is soon to follow.

To learn more about the history of Cleaners’ Action, follow the links below:

Dr. Susana Miranda, “Keeping the City Clean: Portuguese Women in Toronto’s Cleaning Industry, 1970-1990” podcast, Active History, October 21 2010: http://activehistory.ca/…/history-matters-podcast…/

Dr. Franca Iacovetta interviews Marcie Ponte and Sidney Pratt, “Portuguese Workers/Birth of Cleaners’ Action 1975,” Rise Up! A Digital Archive of Feminist Action: https://riseupfeministarchive.ca/…/portuguese-workers…/

Gaspar Corte-Real statue controversy

In the past few weeks I have been asked by various media outlets in Canada and Portugal to weigh in on the topic of statue toppling in what pertains to the monument to Gaspar Corte-Real outside the Confederation Building in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Here are the resulting newspaper articles, television and radio pieces:

Andrew Hawthorn, “How a controversial St. John’s statue was actually propaganda for a Portuguese dictatorship,” CBC.ca, June 14, 2020

Maria João Caetano, “Entre a aventura marítima e a pesca do bacalhau: esta é a história da estátua de Corte-Real,” Diário de Notícias, June 16, 2020

Interview for “Câmara dos Representantes,” RDP radio, June 29, 2020

Interview for “Focus Portuguese,” OMNI TV, July 13, 2020

City Builders documentary episodes 3-4 & new oral history videos now online

Episode 3, titled “New Heights,” focuses on the introduction of new building techniques and materials (i.e. concrete forming, flying form and drywall) in Toronto in the 1960s and how they disrupted the industry, especially its unions. It examines the controversial organization of concrete forming workers and the intense battles between international and national unions. This episode features interviews with the former labour organizers and construction workers John Stefanini, Marino Toppan, Quinto Ceolin, Rocco Lotito, and Angelo Zaccaria.

Episode 4, titled “New Lows,” focuses on the infiltration of organized crime and the multiple episodes of violence in Toronto’s construction industry in the 1960s-70s, leading up to the Royal Commission on Certain Sectors of the Building Industry (1973-4). This episode features interviews with journalist and author Catherine Wismer and the former Local 183 business manager John Stefanini.

Also available are nine new oral history videos featuring the retired construction workers, union organizers, and community advocates António Filipe, Carlos Botelho, Gunter Hartleb, John Ferreira, Mamadou Bah, Norm Pike’s family, Pasquale Cerra, Quinto Ceolin, and Rosemarie Powell.

City Builders & Myseum of Toronto exhibit at the Columbus Centre

The City Builders’ exhibit at the Columbus Centre, part of this year’s Myseum of Toronto Intersections festival, was launched on March 24 with a reception held in that Italian-Canadian community space. About 50 guests attended the event, which started out with a series of brief speeches from Emanuele Lepri (Villa Charities/ Columbus Centre), Jeremy Diamond (Myseum of Toronto), Jason Ottey (LIUNA Local 183), Gabriele Scardellato (Mariano A. Elia Chair in Italian Canadian Studies), and a presentation by the project manager Dr. Gilberto Fernandes. After the audience members toured the exhibit, they were able to ask questions directly to Dr. Fernandes and Marino Toppan – a retired construction worker, union organizer, and key interviewee in the City Builders documentary. Members of the press were also present, including CityNews and OMNI TV (Italian programming), which reported about the event in their evening news.

Photos by Vincenzo Pietropaolo

The CBC (radio and online) also interviewed me for a story about the City Builders exhibit. You can read the article here. Unfortunately, the article attracted white supremacist and anti-immigration remarks in the comments section, which I addressed in Twitter thread, here.

Given the large public interest and turnout, we extended the length of the exhibit for an extra week. The end date is now April 7.

Canadian Immigration History Syllabus – ActiveHistory.ca

Thanks to Daniel Ross and Laura Madokoro for taking the initiative, and for inviting me to co-author a Canadian Immigration syllabus with some of the leading migration historians in Canada. The purpose of this open syllabus is to assist educators and students interested in disseminating information and knowledge “that can shed light on lies, falsehoods and mythologies” that animate many contemporary discussions and public policy debates on refugees and immigration.

See the open syllabus here.