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Ready, set, go… to the McCord Museum for a major new exhibition!

Montréal, Tuesday, October 21, 2004 - “One, two, buckle my shoe…” Sound familiar? How about the “whack” of sticks from a street hockey game? Journey back in time with Growing Up in Montréal, a major new exhibition at the McCord Museum that explores the behaviours and rituals, habits and games of young 20th-century Montrealers, from birth to the pre-teen years.

Montréal through the eyes of a child

Starting at the close of the 19th century and throughout the 20th, Montréal underwent a remarkable expansion that profoundly affected its youngest inhabitants. Many new families arrived in the city and were forced to adapt to the rhythm of a metropolis that comprised more than half of Quebec’s urban population. Children grew up in the heart of this city, moving between the home, back lanes, schoolyard, park, and downtown core. Growing Up in Montréal highlights the active role children played in shaping our urban environment and reveals the medical and technological transformations that changed their lives.

This 4,000 square foot exhibition evokes times and places both distant and familiar, recalling collective memories and individual experiences. Hand-drawn streetscapes set the atmosphere — “Balconville” in bubblegum shades of blue, pink, green and orange. Displays are made especially for younger children, and two cartoon guides — Louise, age 10, and Paul, age 4 — “accompany” visitors on their imaginary walk through the city and through time. Their playful comments invite young visitors to take a peek into the past.

Teddy bears and Red River coats

The colourful setting is a backdrop for hundreds of one-of-a-kind artifacts. More than 400 are featured in Growing Up in Montréal, including toys, games, furniture and children’s clothes that span the 20th century, as well as historic photographs and documents. Many have touching histories attached, like the teddy bear that “became sick and died” in the year 1914 and was buried by a grieving young owner in the backyard of his home on Montreal’s Peel Street. The bear was dug up a year later and surprisingly, looks none the worse for wear! A toy spacecraft from the 1960s illustrates how world events were broadcast into the child’s universe, while Shirley Temple and Minnie Mouse dolls from the 1930s reveal the impact of American popular culture on the Canadian toy market. At the same time, a girl’s Red River coat from the 1940s and a miniature church altar for playing at celebrating Mass typify the unique experience of growing up in Quebec.

The artifacts photographed for this exhibition were chosen not only for their significance in relation to the historic photographs on display, but also for their individual beauty and power. The warm and battered detail of an old suitcase reflects the long voyage that many immigrants have made to the streets of Montréal, captured in a turn-of-the-century street scene. The Canadian Pacific Railway’s vast Angus factories, located in the city’s east end and symbolic of Montréal’s booming industrial era, are embodied in a toy train car. Exquisite beading on an Edwardian evening gown, similar to that on the gowns displayed in an upscale storefront, speaks to the elegance of that time. The peaceful, luminous quality of a stained-glass temple window, juxtaposed with a vista of Montreal’s steeple-dotted skyline, underline a transaction of a more spiritual nature.

These delightful displays are sure to make visitors exclaim “I remember that!” According to Executive Director Victoria Dickenson, “The joy of Growing Up in Montréal is the way it transcends generations, evoking memories and sparking discussions between parents, grand-parents and children of all ages about what it was like ‘back then’ and how things are different today.” Still, she adds, “it also makes us think critically about how children have had an impact on the home and the city itself, and reminds us that in many ways the world is now a safer place for children, even as new threats and challenges loom.”

From the playground to the doctor’s office

Growing Up in Montréal explores a range of health topics, beginning with the 20th-century transition from home births to hospitals and birthing centres. The sombre facts of infant mortality and hygiene are addressed, as are the emergence of pediatrics and the creation of the city’s three children’s hospitals: the Children’s Memorial Hospital (now the Montreal Children’s Hospital, celebrating its centenary this year); the Hôpital Sainte-Justine; and the Shriners Hospital. The evolution of daycare, the appearance of parks and play equipment in the city, and the transformation of children’s clothing styles in connection with changing play behaviour, are all featured in the exhibition.

School is also a quintessential childhood experience, and here the exhibition explores the rapidly-changing face of Montréal classrooms. A video installation created especially for the exhibit features Montrealers reminiscing about their youth. The home is also explored through the eyes of a school-aged child, specifically via the evolution of the ‘family room’ and the emergence of a bedroom for each child, as opposed to the days when five or six youngsters commonly shared a bed.

This stroll ends in a back lane, a space that’s neither fully public nor fully private. Here visitors are reminded of how much the city has changed over the past 100 years, as it has welcomed new immigrants from around the globe, new technologies that have both improved and complicated Montrealers’ lives, and new places and spaces conceived especially for children. Visitors are invited to leave a drawing or a written memory that will be used to create a vibrant mosaic reflecting Montréal’s unique character.

Partners and support

In addition to the 200 McCord artifacts on display, almost 200 additional objects, photos and documents were borrowed from institutions such as the Musée de la civilisation in Québec City, the Bibliothèque national du Québec, McGill University, the Museum of Health Care in Kingston, Ontario and from countless individuals who know firsthand what it was like Growing Up in Montréal. Essential support for Growing Up in Montréal has been received from Canadian Heritage, CBC Television and The Gazette. Associated Medical Services, Inc., and Bell Canada provided generous funding for the McCord’s education programs.

The exhibition Growing Up in Montréal opens at the McCord Museum on October 29, 2004 and runs until September 2007. A full gamut of cultural activities and school programs accompany the exhibition. The McCord is open from Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m on weekends, holiday weekends and Mondays during the summer months. Entrance fees (including taxes) are $12 general admission, $9 for seniors, $6 for students, $4 for children between the ages of 6 and 12, and $22 for families. Museum admission is free of charge to Friends of the McCord and children aged five and under. The museum offers free entry to all visitors the first Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

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Images available upon request.

Source and information:

Nike Langevin, Head of Communications and Promotion
(514) 398-7100, ext. 251
nike.langevin@mccord.mcgill.ca