Toronto's Great War Attic

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Stories and photos of related keepsakes from Toronto’s Great War Attic (TGWA) are posted and can be viewed through the Canadian Encyclopedia's Your Canada map.

Descendants of family members who lived during the war told their stories during 12 “pop-up museum,” events held during fall 2014 at historic sites owned and operated by the City of Toronto Museums and Heritage Services, the Columbus Centre and Cedarbrae Library. Additional stories have since been offered, collected and posted.

These stories are oral histories, in most cases passed down through two, three and sometimes even four generations, accompanied by a number of keepsakes. At other times, the stories evolved when keepsakes were found unexpectedly during the clearance of attics, basements, closets and trunks, inspiring those who found them to search for more information about the original owners and their experiences.  All the storytellers wished to honour and share the experiences of people whose lives were deeply affected by the First World War.

About the Project

The First World War 1914 to 1918, known at the time as the Great War, shocked the world with its catastrophic global reach. Unlike the Toronto of 1914 to 1918 when the city’s population was 85 per cent British descent, at least half of today’s residents come from all over the world. There are more than 230 self-identified ethnic groups in our city.

Therefore, we have an unprecedented opportunity to collect personal stories and images of keepsakes and heirlooms passed down from many countries by those who lived through the war, either in military service or on the home front, to their descendants who are now living in Toronto.

Through such a collection, we can present the war from multiple perspectives - allied nations of Great Britain and Germany; neutral and colonial nations in Europe and Africa, which inadvertently served as battle zones; and life on the home front in lands directly under attack and others, such as Canada, which were never battle zones but whose populations contributed to the war effort.

Our Partners

The City of Toronto wishes to acknowledge our three lead partners for Toronto’s Great War Attic: Historica Canada , History Department of York University and the Multicultural History Society of Ontario.

After a successful partnership with the Canadian Encyclopedia for the Toronto in Time mobile app/web site, the Museums and Heritage Services department of the City of Toronto is happy to once again to work with the Canadian Encyclopedia through its proprietor, Historica Canada. Through this partnership the story of Toronto during the First World War on the City’s web site will link with the national story provided by Historica Canada. Torontonians of diverse origins will be able to upload images of heirlooms and stories associated with their family’s experiences during the war from all around the world, onto the Canadian Encyclopedia My Canada map. Toronto will lead the way as Historica Canada/the Canadian Encyclopedia gather such stories from across the country.

The Museums and Heritage Services unit of the City of Toronto is happy to further its long relationship with the History Department of York University. Help will be provided by faculty and graduate students, expert in the diverse national histories associated with the war, and the histories of many of the many ethnic groups who live together in Toronto.

Finally, the Multicultural History Society of Ontario is providing invaluable assistance to this project through its outreach to cultural communities throughout the city and its assistance for our pop-up museum events.

Schedule of Events

There are currently no events scheduled. Have a story you'd like to contribute? Click here to submit online!

Past Events:

Saturday, September 20 - Fort York National Historic Site

Sunday, September 21 - Fort York National Historic Site

Thursday, September 25 - Mackenzie House

Saturday, September 27 - Zion Schoolhouse

Sunday, October 5 - Todmorden Mills

Saturday, October 18 - Colborne Lodge

Sunday, October 19 - Montgomery's Inn

Sunday, October 26 - Spadina Museum

Saturday, November 1- Market Gallery

Thursday, November 13 - Columbus Centre

Saturday, November 15 - Gibson House Museum

Friday, November 28 - Cedarbrae Library

Attending an Event - How Does It Work?

It's not necessary to have a First World War story or keepsake to attend! Can't make the whole event? Feel free to drop in any time during the 2 hour sessions.

The basic structure looks something like this:

  • Chief Curator Wayne Reeves will give a short talk about the Great War and the types of objects you might find in your own attic.

  • Participants who have objects or stories will be invited to speak briefly about their contributions, if they so choose. Think of it like grown up show-and-tell!

  • We will transition into a Pop Up Museum-style where guests are free to mingle and explore each other's artifacts and heirlooms.

  • Experts from the City of Toronto and York University will be available to answer questions and provide insights.

  • A photographer and videographer will be on hand to document objects and stories.

Important Things to Note

  • No valuations can be provided for keepsakes and other objects.
  • For those who have difficulty with English, we ask that you have an English-speaking person accompany you so that we can accurately gather information about stories and keepsakes.
  • We ask that a person who has Twitter, Facebook or an email account use one of these accounts to create a logon to the website for a person who has stories and keepsakes but no Twitter, Facebook or email accounts.
  • Please DO NOT bring fire arms, weapons and ammunition; photos accepted.
Lisa photographing artifacts.jpg

Curator's Picks - A Peek Inside Toronto's Great War Attic

Have you been thinking about coming to one of our Great War Attic events, but aren't sure what to expect? Click here to learn more about this exciting new project (featured on CBC's Metro Morning!) and to take a look at two of the many WWI keepsakes and stories we've documented so far.

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