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‘Mapping the Ward’ project reflects stories of change in Guelph

‘Mapping the Ward’ project reflects stories of change in Guelph

September 3, 2015

Earthmoving equipment and construction trailers have appeared this month on the W.C. Wood property in the Ward neighbourhood.

In a few years, Metalworks condos are slated to stand where the former appliance company turned out fridges and freezers.

There goes the neighbourhood, some might say.

“A neighbourhood in transition” is part of the subtitle of a new chapbook called “Mapping the Ward” that’s being released in Guelph next week.

The project brings together artworks and stories of one community. But it could be the model for similar storytelling ventures in any evolving neighbourhood around town.

Janet Morton and Annie Dunning are artists living in the Ward. Last year, they held a series of workshops, including printmaking sessions where participants made works showing their favourite Ward locations.

They also held storytelling workshops to teach participants interviewing skills. Those participants then interviewed Ward residents for stories about this place.

The project was funded by a community arts grant from the Ontario Arts Council.

The new book contains prints by local working artists, including Morton and Dunning as well as Gillian Wilson, Mike Deane, Nick Craine and Ivano Stocco.

It also features about a dozen personal interviews and miniessays.

Scotty Hertz was interviewed about his backyard archeology project by social anthropologist and Ward resident Deidre Rose.

Hertz has lived in the Ward for 15 years. While digging up his yard to plant a garden, he unearthed numerous treasures: bottles of skin cream, clay pipes, bottles containing old-time consumption cures.

Says Hertz: “A place needs time for character to evolve and the Ward has characters. It’s also full of characters, and the more you walk around, the more you appreciate that.”

Morton writes about her family today playing road hockey on Sunday mornings in the parking lot of the Guelph Little Theatre, across from the former factory of the Biltmore Hat Company. In the 1950s, the company sponsored the Biltmore Mad Hatters hockey team.

“Biltmore rewarded any player scoring three or more goals in one game the choice of hats at their factory,” she writes. “Some sources say this is where the term ‘hat trick’ began.”

Dunning interviewed “Francis,” who discovered a trap door and hiding space in a closet of his century home. A tray inside the wall would have held various denominations of currency — matching rumours among neighbours that the house had been a gaming house.

“Maybe this trap door mechanism was where they hid the money that was taken by the gambling establishment,” he says.

One contributor, Peyman Hervati, writes about the Persian New Year festival held near the Ukrainian church on York Road since 2012.

Artist Stocco writes about his grand-uncle Zio singing opera and hauling home sacks of carrots or potatoes to his Elizabeth Street home.

Other contributors reminisce about the Ward’s Italian heritage, purported ghosts in Tytler school, local churches, gardens, and dinner and dancing at the former Spaghetti House on Huron Street.

Originally, the Ward attracted immigrants working in nearby factories. Today the place is a mix: families, artists, students.

Condos and row houses are appearing among the small, single-family homes bounded by Elizabeth and Victoria streets and the Eramosa and Speed rivers.

Hertz says, “I think every town of a certain size in Ontario has its equivalent of the Ward. The houses kind of look the same, you can walk through these places and you get a sense of being at home.”

Maybe that’s what led me to the Ward a year ago.

For most of my adult years, I lived in a similar neighbourhood in Hamilton before moving to Guelph.

I look forward to seeing how things look and feel when they finish putting up those new condos at the Neeve and Arthur streets entrances to the Ward. (Besides that Metalworks project, The River House condos are going up as we speak just across the river.) Others aren’t sold, worrying about the effects of gentrification and more traffic.

The Ward might be at a transition point, says Dunning. As condos replace factories, will new residents be as invested as the area’s long-timers?

Dan Evans is a staffer with the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition, an umbrella organization for neighbourhood groups around Guelph. That includes the Two Rivers neighbourhood group in the Ward, which was a partner in the chapbook project.

Maybe “Mapping the Ward” will help in self-reflection and self-discovery, Evans says, adding that “it’s an invitation for other people to examine their own neighbourhoods.”

“Mapping the Ward” will be launched Sept. 10 at Publication Studio Guelph in downtown Guelph.

This article was originally posted in the Guelph Mercury
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