Untold Stories project seeks to highlight history, legacy of diverse Quebecers

Creators want to challenge 'erasure' of people of colour from the historical narrative and foster a sense of belonging for non-white people who may feel excluded.

Creators want to challenge 'erasure' of people of colour from historical narrative

The visual timeline includes collages, archival images and historical re-enactment photos by photographer Bliss Mutanda, illustrating what some figures might have looked like. (Photos by Bliss Mutanda)

A new artistic project is aiming to highlight the history of Black, Indigenous, Asian and other people of colour in Montreal and Quebec.

"Between Past and Present: the Untold Stories of Montreal" is an online art project that includes a visual timeline showcasing the presence and contributions of non-white people in the province.

Taina Mueth, one of the people behind the project, told CBC's Daybreak that many people from diverse backgrounds are overlooked or left out of the larger historical narrative.

Taina Mueth is a co-founder of Je Suis MTL, the group behind the Untold Stories project. (Submitted by Taina Mueth)

"The way history is taught in school, it puts forward histories of white people and we barely know about BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, people of colour] and their contribution to Montreal, to Quebec," she said.

Mueth said the misconception that there were very few or no people of colour in Quebec before the 20th century contributes to "an erasure of history."

"If we deny our history in Montreal, it renders us invisible, so we want to change that and make these people visible and heard," said Mueth.

'We belong in history'

The historical timeline runs from the 1600s to 1969.

It tracks the presence of Indigenous people living on the island of Montreal before colonization through to the wave of Asian immigrants who came to Quebec to work on the Canadian railroad.

The timeline also includes collages by photographer Bliss Mutanda, who juxtaposes archival images with contemporary ones.

These collages are featured alongside archival photos of historical figures and re-enactment photos illustrating what some figures might have looked like.

Mueth said that the aim of the photo collages and the blending of new and old images is to "show that we have always been here, we belong in history."

Listen to the full interview on CBC Daybreak:

Who comes to mind when you think about Montreal history? You might say, someone like Jacques Cartier... or Marguerite Bourgeoys. Now, a new project is focusing on the history of Montreal's Montreal's Black, Indigenous and other communities of colour. 10:34

Myriam Olmand, who also worked on the project, said that conducting the initial research to uncover and retrieve these stories from the historical archive proved challenging.

Some of the archival material featured in the timeline includes an advertisement for the sale of a slave in a local newspaper in 1806 and original photos by William Notman featuring Black subjects posing for portraits in the late 1800s.

It also features a brief profile of Alexander Grant, the first black activist in Lower Canada.

Now that the work to unearth and highlight this part of history is done, Olmand said she's hoping it can be used in an educational context.

"I hope that maybe school teachers can use this project to teach their students what happened in the past," said Olmand.

"Between Past and Present: the Untold Stories of Montreal" is available online here.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

With files from CBC's Daybreak