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A Brief History of Toronto Encampments

This exhibit explores the history of informal settlements in Toronto, beginning with those on Toronto Island in the late nineteenth century, moving to those in the Don Valley in the early twentieth century, and ending with the spread of tent cities in the twenty-first century.

Through a combination of text, YouTube videos, images from the city's archives, and newspaper clippings, visitors will gain insight into the lives of those who lived in these communities, and the struggles they faced in their quest for adequate housing and shelter.

The exhibit starts with a display of historical photos of Toronto Island in the late 1800s, when it was home to a community of squatters who built their homes from the materials they found on the island. Visitors will learn about the challenges that this community faced in establishing a settlement on land that was considered to be public property, and how the city eventually sought to remove them.

Moving forward in time, the exhibit will explore the history of informal settlements in the Don Valley during the early 1900s. Visitors will learn about the residents of this area, who built shacks and shanties in the valley in order to escape the high rents and poor conditions in the city's tenement housing. 

The final section of the exhibit focuses on the spread of tent cities in Toronto in the twenty-first century. Visitors will learn about the growing problem of homelessness in the city, and the ways in which people have come together to create their own communities in the absence of affordable housing. It will also focus on the more recent entwinement of encampments with protest movements, and the weaponizing of police violence to evict encampment residents, setting the stage for the Covid-19 encampment closures. 


Mobólúwajídìde Joseph