The Harbord Village Residents’ Association (HVRA) is seeking out the stories of current and former residents as they prepare to bring their community’s rich history to life through art.
The HVRA recently received an $18,000 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to create an exhibit that will highlight the people, cultures and transitions that have helped shaped Harbord Village from roughly 1930 to 1980.
“We’re putting together an oral history of the neighbourhood and trying to capture memories to show what life was like in the area over those years,” said Nicole Schulman, HVRA member.
The association has already started conducting interviews with current and former residents and aims to put together a show and an interactive website.
With roughly 50 interviews already completed, the group certainly has no shortage of material from which to draw.
“There’s such a range of people who we’ve gotten to contribute,” Schulman said. “It’s really interesting to see how it’s changed over a span of time.”
Schulman noted Harbord Village was once considered a poor neighbourhood and that residents would typically only live there until they had saved enough money to move elsewhere.
That was followed by waves of immigration. While it was very Anglo-centric into the 1920s, it soon gave way to a rising Jewish community.
In the 1950s, it saw an influx of Italian and Portuguese immigrants and became a popular place for Chinese-Canadians to settle in the 1970s.
“There was also a black community in the neighbourhood that goes way back and has continued,” Schulman said. “It was always a very mixed community, but you can definitely see (demographic) shifts.”
In the 1930s, ’40s and even into the ’50s, many of the homes were divided into multiple units and would often house large groups of people.
“The houses would have 11 people living in them and sharing one bathroom,” Schulman said. The area became more gentrified in the 1980s and many of the homes were renovated and returned to single-family status. Schulman added the project could look at specific themes, such as the prominence of Harbord Village’s laneways throughout its early days.
“One thing we’ve heard a lot is that the laneways were really important to kids,” she said. “They were a place where they socialized and a place where the older ones might have learned the facts of life a little bit.”
While the exhibit will not be implemented until later next year, the HVRA is looking to collect as many stories as possible. Some of the stories will be shared online, through plaques and at local venues.
“We want to help people in the neighbourhood and throughout Toronto to learn about a different time in our history,” Schulman said.
Anyone with a story to share about life in Harbord Village from the 1930s through the 1980s is asked to contact Schulman at firstname.lastname@example.org