Friday, 6 November 2009

Day 4 - Inspiring Meeting with Geoff and Mel from Toronto Psychiatric Survivors Archives

Hello from Toronto! This morning we had the privilige to meet with Mel Starkman and Geoffrey Reaume who founded the Toronto Pshychiatric Archives.

It was very moving to meet them and also to talk to people involved in gathering together a history of the service user/survivor movement archive as we are.

Mel said he had the idea of an archive of the Survivor Movement back in the 1980's. Both Mel and Geoff talked about the rich collections they have within the archives and the catalogue they are working on right now. They have been given some fascinating donations.

We heard about the public events that they have held and also about the Queen Street Wall which was built by patients of the original asylum and now stands as a memorial to the histories of the people who were inpatients there. Geoff talked passionately about the wall and how they use it as a way to engage the public with the history of the survivor community. He has run around 70 tours of the wall and there is a plaque on the wall which includes a number to call for an audio version of the tour. This wall will be protected in the current reprovisioning of CAMH. Some people would like to see the wall demolished, even people within the surivivor community as it is an example of forced labour and of a time some would rather forget. Geoff argues that is must stay standing as without it the history of these people is lost, nothing is left. Also the history of mental hospitals can be "saccarined" or made sweeter (mostly by staff) and with a physical memorial like this there is no denying the exploited labour of ex-patients. This wall is a powerful testimony to history of psychiatric surivors in Toronto. It struck parallels with the current reprovisioning of the Royal Edinburgh hospital and how we honour the history of past patients within this.

Geoff and Mel also talked about the Lakeshore Cemetery project, where volunteers are restoring a cemetery of unmarked graves that was discovered near a local asylum. This also had parallels for me of the unmarked graves found near Bangour Village Hospital in West Lothian. I believe there are around 1000 graves there, and one can only wonder how many there are throughout the whole of Scotland.
This meeting was very profound for me and reinforced the importance of what we are doing at Oor Mad History.

After this meeting we went to the Wang Building of Continuing Education. There was a premier of a short film made up of the interviews David has recently done with survivor activists. This film is to be used on the online version of Mad Peoples History. The focus on this film was on "Self Labelling and Identity" and it had a tremendous response from the audience, including the Dean of Continuing Education. Steve Tilley and I then joined David and Kathryn in a meeting with Continuing Education course construction workers which was very interesting. We heard about the potential for e-learning to engage students in an innovative way, almost more successfully than in the physical classroom. We hope this is the beginning of an exciting conversation around the development of an international course on Mad People's History or a course we can develop locally in Lothian based on the model here.

At lunch we were joined by Pat who was one of the stars of Working Like Crazy. It was really great to see her. Patricia works at the Ontario Council for Alternative Businesses.

What a day!!

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