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.
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.
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.
On July 21, starting at 2 p.m., at the Workers Arts & Heritage Centre, I will be participating in a roundtable discussion about the history and contemporary lives of Portuguese working people in Canada, and how they intersect with contemporary art practices. Our conversation will be prompted by Teresa Ascenção‘s exhibition “Daily Bread,” currently on display at the WAHC. This event is free and open to all.
There has been over eighty riots throughout the history of Toronto, some of them quite large. This seemingly high number contradicts the idea of a peaceful and even dull “Toronto the Good,” and of Canada as a land of peace, order, and good governance, where differences have been negotiated through compromise, unlike our southern neighbours. Race, religion, political views, labour relations, social inequality, youth rebelliousness, have been the most common factors triggering these relatively short outburst of violence. In all of them, Toronto’s police forces have played a central role, as law and order enforcers, as violence instigators, or as passive bystanders. Toronto’s riot history is an important thread for weaving the story of its police forces, political rulers, inter-ethnic/racial relations, religious communities, and other significant historical agents.
In 2016-17, HIST4530 students wrote about various riots in Toronto’s past, drawing from primary (i.e. newspapers and maps) and secondary source materials. The assignment asked for them to write for a public history audience, which required them to write clearly and succinctly, and summarize complex ideas into simplified yet nuanced short texts. I have since edited and built on the students’ work, and created a digital map and timeline using Omeka/ Neatline, called Toronto the Bad: A Riots Map and Timeline.
This assignment will be repeated in 2017-18. The incoming HIST4530 students’ work will feed into this digital resource, which remains a work in progress. This work is also featured in Myseum of Toronto‘s mobile application.
I am also currently working on an article about Toronto’s riot history.