The Story of M: Bringing the Faces and Voices of Mississauga Forward is a three-year initiative project by Museums of Mississauga that aims to cultivate new programs and facilities that truly represent the residents of this city. The first phase of the project began with a series of workshops, which was most recently located at Mississauga Valleys Community Centre.
Throughout the storytelling workshop, themes of respecting the diversity of Mississauga were expressed through the act of sharing stories. The aim was to uncover diverse narratives of Mississauga residents, ranging from Indigenous peoples to new immigrants, in order to form a better understanding of Mississauga’s identity.
Stuart Keeler, the manager and chief curator of Museums of Mississauga, describes their initiative as “a three-year project that is truly engaging our residents so that they can see themselves truly reflected in their own city.”
When I attended a storytelling workshop at Mississauga Valley Community Centre, I found tables arranged in a circular formation and a map of Mississauga taped to the wall. Arianne Shaffer, the program’s main storyteller and facilitator of the workshop, began recounting her own story of discovering her identity within the cultural diversity of Mississauga as a child. An interactive discussion then took place where people of varying cultures spoke of their own experiences and attachments to Mississauga’s past and present cultures.
As we went around the room, residents of Mississauga stressed the historical importance of the city, such as the rural land surrounding the Square One Shopping Center 44 years ago, that has now been rapidly populated and urbanized. On the other hand, residents also expressed the importance of their personal experiences in the Mississauga community. For many immigrant residents, such as myself, Mississauga was their first city in Canada. I felt myself sympathizing with the residents taking part in the workshop, along with a sense of belonging.
At the same time, memories of residents’ first encounter with snow, their child’s first enrolment in school, and their first barbecue were bittersweet stories. One felt the sense of each resident’s acquisition of one culture and slight loss of their other culture.
The idea of The Story of M was recommended by the Heritage Management Strategy, approved in June 2016 by the City Council. The strategy presents a Thematic Heritage Outline for Mississauga, which emphasizes bringing residential narratives together to form the identity of Mississauga’s community. The outline also continuously develops traditions and culture as the residents in the community grow.
Shaffer describes The Story of M, and its accompanying workshops’ importance, as she talks of how the workshop lets the residents of our city feel “empowered to tell their own true story,” and of how the project initiated by Museums of Mississauga “connects the city service with the community.”
The workshops, which introduces the grand The Story of M project with its first phase, will continue to be held at various locations in Mississauga, including Malton Community Centre and Meadowvale Community Centre, throughout the month of October.