Culture>> Poking Holes In History
After visiting the Hamilton Workers’ Art and Heritage Centre, Alex D finds that writing History is as much a site of class struggle as the shop floor.
Remembering the resistance and victories of working class people that have come before us reminds us that a better world is possible and helps us imagine how together we might bring about this better world.
Even in defeat, our struggles are never truly defeated as long as the memory of resistance is preserved. From it we can draw lessons that will shape our strategies and tactics in future struggles against exploitation, poverty and oppression. This is why those who get richer everyday off our work wish to erase the memory of our struggles. And so our history textbooks and museums tell us that history is made by our rulers, the supposedly great Prime Ministers, big industrialists and other rich white men.
But our struggles have poked holes in this lie. An important example is the trade-union run Workers Arts and Heritage Centre (WAHC) in Hamilton. Located in the historic North End working class neighbourhood, the WAHC is the only national organization dedicated to preserving workers' history and culture. The building itself has a rich working class history, from 1858 to 1995 it served as a federal customs house, a home, a school and textile factory. Inside, the main attraction is the gallery space where historical and contemporary exhibits developed by the WAHC are displayed. Current exhibits include: Punching the Clock: Working in Canadian Factories from the 1840s to the 1980s and Made in Hamilton Industrial Trail which takes you through the history of working class life in Hamilton in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The WAHC also organizes traveling exhibits across the country. A number of exhibits are currently on the road including "...and still I rise!" A History of African-Canadian Workers in Ontario, 1900 to Present. Virtual displays are also available and can be accessed at www.virtualmuseum.ca (enter WAHC in the search engine). The exhibit Highway Workplace: The Canadian Trucker's Story is currently available online. Other activities and services offered include educational group tours at $3.00 per person; inter-active educational programs for students in elementary and high school; a research service that helps union locals write down their history; and space rental for events and meetings.
A visit to the WAHC reminds us that it has always been us, the working class, who have built and nourished our communities and made them decent places to live. And we are also reminded of the awesome power that we have when we organize together to resist those who exploit and oppress us.
DIRECTIONS>> WAHC is located at 51 Stuart Street, Hamilton, Ontario. Public visiting hours are from 10am to 4pm Tuesday to Saturday. Staff can be reached at 905.522.3003 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org