Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Official History vs. Collective Memory

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My mother lives in a long-term care centre in Malton. For the last three years, the centre has had a Multicultural Festival. During the last two years, I have served as the "family" representative on the Centre's Diversity Committee whose signature project is to plan the festival. This year's festival was held in September. Consisting of vendors, performers, and community groups, we also featured a display about the history of Malton.

The organization, Heritage Mississauga, which is not affiliated with the city, organized the historical display. However, this display ended in the late 1950s, coinciding with the heyday of Malton's history of airplane manufacturing and bedroom community of workers at the nearby Malton (now Pearson) Airport.

While the photographs presented vestiges of "official" history from the municipal archive, the social and cultural history of Malton since the 1950s and especially the since the late 1960s and 1970s with exploding population growth of a new wave of migrants, is unexplored.

I had the chance to speak to my contact at Heritage Mississauga, its director, since it was I, who as member of the Diversity Committee, got the display organized. What started as a request to collect the display (now that the festival was over) turned into a conversation about the social and cultural history of diverse communities which is not recorded in the official archive or even in the unofficial records that family members do - scrapbooking, diaries, photographic albums.

This seemed to re-evoke the conundrum presented by Walter Benjamin and Anik See that I discussed in previous posts: the gaps in official history and the necessity to seize and retrieve memory.

This also occurred to me while attending a Sikh wedding ceremony of a cousin of my brother-in-law's wife. The ceremony took place at a prominent Gurudwara in Malton that used to be Malton public school. I brought this up when I was speaking to the director of Heritage Mississauga: part of the social and cultural history of diverse communities she was talking about was actually a transforming of geography, of making home away-from-home and of reshaping place: a public school that closes is reclaimed by a religious community and transformed into a gurudwara (as well as a Sikh faith-based school, Khalsa Community School). I then spoke about how the old shopfronts that were laid out in the 1930s with the founding of the village of Malton had over the decades been re-imagined by immigrants as sweet shops, sari shops, grocery stores, jewellery stores and a host of other businesses.

A flaneur or a cyclist might be able to linger in these places and wonder about how collective memory is being remade through them, interfacing with the stories of residents (past and present, as Malton has also experienced an exodus of poopulation to other parts of the GTA). Yet, how many of these stories get told? How many lie with their keepers, the memories never shared with a larger audience or re-shaping the larger project of writing history?

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Nitin Deckha

Nitin Deckha is the author of Shopping for Sabzi (TSAR Publications, 2008) and a contributor to Once Upon a Time in Bollywood (TSAR Publications, 2007) and several other publications.

Go to Nitin Deckha ’s Author Page