Archives of Ontario and the World War 1 Centenary

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 By Jenny Prior

From the Archives of Ontario’s online War Artists exhibit

From the Archives of Ontario’s online War Artists exhibit

At the Archives of Ontario, we’re marking the World War I centenary with three connected exhibits – onsite, online, and travelling – as well as educational programming and other outreach and promotional activities. This post is first in a series giving a glimpse into our work to showcase our collections and shed light on Ontario’s stories from this gripping, devastating, and inspiring era.

The Archives moved into our purpose-built facility on York University’s Keele campus in 2009, and a star feature of the building is the Helen McClung Exhibit Area. We’ll launch our onsite exhibit there in the fall of 2014. It’s the anchor for our long-term, coordinated approach to honouring the centenary.

Our in-house curator is Stewart Boden, trained as an archivist and currently our outreach officer. Stewart is truly taken with his research, and is excited about sharing his discoveries.

In Stewart’s own words, “We’ve done WWI content in the past. But for the centenary, we’ve been able to mine different collections, like the Sadie Arbuckle fonds. These amazing records relate a personal, Ontario-specific war experience. We’ll still be using popular, well-known collections like the John F. Mould fonds, but this new research will help us tell exciting, untold stories.”

While the onsite launch is almost a year away, we’re making sure to fill up 2014 with steady content and programming. Our web exhibit will go live in early 2014, and the travelling exhibit will be ready for booking next summer. Stewart Boden is curating all three.

Stewart says, “Although the same research is feeding into all the exhibits, I’m targeting each to its respective audience and medium. Our online exhibit will be thorough and help support researchers who Google their way onto our website. Onsite, we’ll focus on visually striking records and interactivity. And the travelling display will be designed so borrowing museums can build larger exhibitions with their own records around it.”

A common thread for the exhibits is the striking immediacy of primary records. Its impact is unmatched, and we want all of our programming to capitalize on it. Stewart says, “Going through these collections, I want everyone to see them! You just can’t find this material in a textbook.”


From the Archives of Ontario’s online John Mould Diaries exhibit

We’re anticipating having people from across the province visit the onsite exhibit, and we’re also targeting three main audiences: our Reading Room researchers (especially academic and public historians), York’s Keele campus community, and Ontario’s elementary and secondary students. The connection between our exhibits and our educational programming is stronger than ever, and we’re always looking for new ways to turn young people into lifelong archival researchers. Social media is going to help with this aim, and we’ll be using our @archivesontario Twitter feed to engage all our targeted audiences, and beyond.

In future posts we’ll be digging deeper into the exhibit production process, from navigating research roadblocks, to our adventures in archival preservation. So stay tuned! And in the meantime, you can explore some of our existing WWI-related content, like our online exhibits on war artists, the Charlie and Wally Gray letters, and John Mould’s diaries.

Jenny Prior oversees the Archives of Ontario’s popular travelling exhibits program. If you’re a heritage, cultural or educational organization looking to book an exhibit, please contact her at

Where great research takes shape…the Archives of Ontario’s Reading Room

Where great research takes shape…the Archives of Ontario’s Reading Room

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