Sunday, 8 November 2009

Last days in Toronto...

Tomorrow we fly back home. It has been a week we will never forget! Thankyou so much to David Reville and Kathryn Church for hosting us so magnificently. Also thankyou to all the many inspiring people we have met over the week.

Talking of inspiring people, let me tell you about some we have met the last two days...

On Thursday we had the privilige to meet Geoff Reaume and Mel Starkman who are responsible for the Toronto Pscychiatric Survivors Archives, the equivalent of the archive we are trying to create in Lothian. It was just so great to hear them talk about how the archive got started and the richness of the collections they have. They are currently developing a finding tool/catalogue so we will keep in touch with them and see this when it is complete.

Issues this discussion brought up for Oor Mad History were around deposit and community ownership. Also powerful for was Geoff telling us about the Wall, part of the old asylum wall built by the forced labour of patients, now a memorial to the lives of those who have been incarcerated there. Although some people would like to see the wall demolished, Geoff firmly believes it should stand as testimony to the harsh reality of psychiatric hospitals. He believes without physical actual reminders, it is easier to gloss over or sweeten difficult, painful histories. He has run 70 public tours of the wall to communicate it's story.

We then rushed off to a meeting at the Chang School of Continuing Education. David has made a short film of clips from interviews with survivors (many of whom we have met this week) on the topic of "Identity and Self Labelling". The meeting was to showcase documentary film as an example of good practice and to showcase it's potential in e-learning. We met the Dean of Ryerson University at this meeting.

After that Steve and I attended a meeting around the potential of setting up an international Mad People's History course - either developing a course in Scotland using Ryerson framework or an international e-learning course being developed by the Ryerson course constuctors.

We had a wonderful lunch on campus, where we were joined by Patricia one of the stars of Working Like Crazy. Patricia now works for the Ontario Council of Alternative Businesses.

On Friday our day started with meeting Jiji Veronka, who is Ryerson trained, a survivor, ex-street kid who now works for the Mental Welfare Commission of Canada. This talk was fascinating and gave insights into the complexities of being a survivor in this context.

Kathryn then talked to us about the exhibition she curated with two other women, "Out From Under". This was an exhibition that came out of a short course about disability and museum curation where the course participants were asked to bring along one item that represented their story. This created a very powerful exhibition of the objects and the context. The exhibition ran at the Royal Ontario Museum and they also did a lot of research with visitors to the exhibition and how they reacted to it. Kathryn has just found out that they have the go ahead to take the exhibition to Vancouver next year for the Paralympics.

We then had a debrief at Kathryn's loft, where we talked about the high points (too many to count!) of the week and action points of how we take this forward. For me there was a huge amount of learning around the archive from Mel and Geoff, also a much better understanding of David's course and how we might work towards a Mad People's History course in Lothian. I've also learnt a lot about the parallels with CAMH and the Royal Edinburgh Hospital and I believe there is potential for a lot of knowledge exchange there, in particular around peer support, survivor recruitment and survivor run organisations within the hospital, between Empowerment Council in CAMH and Patients Council in Edinburgh and very much around the reprovisioning experinces of both places.

I was delighted to be given a wonderful gift of Pat Capponi's book "Last Stop Sunnyside" - a crime novel set deep in the heart of the Toronto Survivor community. This will be a great addition to our archive.

So, it's our last night. Tomorrow we fly back. What a week! It has been such an amazing opportunity for Oor Mad History. I hope that we can continue to build on this exciting partnership and this is the start of many more conversations.

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