Toronto

Animals in the archives: Exhibit displays decades of documenting animals

Archival footage is typically used to learn about the history of humans — but for the first time at the Archives of Ontario — they're shining the spotlight on a different species.

Animalia runs at the Archives of Ontario until January 2021

Glenn Gould as a child, at his piano with his dog Nicky, Toronto, [ca. 1940] (Archives of Ontario)

Archival footage is typically used to learn about the history of humans — but for the first time at the Archives of Ontario — they're shining the spotlight on a different species.

ANIMALIA: Animals in the Archives explores the methods used to document animals and how the relationship between animals and humans has changed over time.

Jay Young is the curator of Animalia, which features more than 100 archival records documenting different species across Ontario. (Talia Ricci / CBC News)

Jay Young is the curator of the exhibit working with Archives of Ontario and says some of the material dates back as far as the late 18th century.

"The great thing about animals is almost everyone, if not everyone, loves animals," Young said.

"So this was a way of drawing in some new audiences to discover some of the amazing things we have documented in the archival collections."

The exhibit focuses on five animal groups in Ontario — fish, bears, horses, dogs and birds.

It aims to show the important role animals have played in Ontarians' lives from beloved pets and service animals to hunting and transportation.

Young says he was fascinated by some of the ways humans' relationships with animals have stayed the same.

"From the beginning of photography, the mid-19th century, featuring your dog in a photo was pretty common," Young said.

Meanwhile, a photograph from 1885 shows a horse pulling a streetcar on King Street in Toronto.

View showing a horse-drawn streetcar on King Street, just east of Yonge Street, Toronto, 1885 (Archives of Ontario)

"This is how people got around on streetcars until the 1890's when the cars were electrified."

The section on bears also focuses on their ties to Indigenous culture through a collaboration with the Indigenous Knowledge Centre at the Six Nations Polytechnic in Ohsweken - near Brantford, Ont.

"A lot of people in Ontario, especially in Indigenous communities, have really special relationship with bears," Young said.

Each animal's section features a summary of its changing role in the province and records demonstrating their importance.

The exhibit includes several interactive features including videos of these stories.

Animalia is open during regular business hours until January 2021, at the Archives of Ontario, located at the Keele Street campus of York University.

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