Kitchener-Waterloo (Canada) has approximately 320,000 inhabitants and each person has different experiences and memories of this urban space. For this project, we interviewed 8 people from different communities and mapped their stories to show the complexity of the city.
We present their stories as traces that evoke the layers of meaning in Kitchener-Waterloo (KW).
A place is a static thing in one location; it is a building in a city, a stone on a beach, or an unread book on a shelf.
A place becomes space when a person attributes meaning to a site and realizes its intersections and dynamic qualities. Therefore, place becomes space if the building in that city was your childhood home, if that stone on a beach was were you used to sit, or if you spent hours immersed in the book on that shelf.
A space becomes alive through us and our storytelling.
Rych: "Last year they were putting up a new washroom at the front of the park and, as they were excavating, the bulldozer hit this great big concrete block. And nobody knew what it was. The local counsellor didn’t know and he put CBC radio onto me. I knew right away! There used to be a baseball field by the old clock tower. I realized that you had to be 55 years old to remember that stadium because it was torn down 47 years ago."
The people we interviewed were not isolated individuals but part of larger collectives that informed and structured how our participants experienced and remembered space. As you read the stories, click on the participant's name to see their biography and think about the ways that their gender, sexuality, class and religious affiliation effect their perception of space.
Julia Pink: "The church is where I worship God and Christ. They are the places where I feel unity with other members of the Church and the other of God’s children. It is where I go for strength. It is hard today to be a Christian. It is where you learn from each other."
When Fauzia was asked the same question of what places she considered sacred, she answered:
Fauzia: "I should say the mosque but, in Islamic traditions, the whole world is a mosque so you can pray anywhere. So it doesn’t mean that there is extra sacredness attached to the mosque. Mosques should be a community centre. So I don’t know... If you look sacred in a more broad sense - and it’s not religious - I would say the Working Centre is a place where I feel it is some "place." I worked there for four years and before I participated as a volunteer."
Throughout the interviews, many participants mentioned the same places but gave it different meanings. An example is how different participants talked about the University of Waterloo.
Henry "When there wasn’t any jobs, I didn’t go to the university. In part it was to avoid it because that is where I wanted to be. It was the students, also, here, that were important to me. And if I didn’t have access to the students then..., I didn’t have a reason to be here. And who knows, it might happen again because, as I said, my tenure here isn’t permanent.
Iris expressed something very different about her experience at the university:
Iris "It wasn’t until I went to that campus and tried to create more awareness of the need to encourage the well-being of LGBT students that I encountered what it feels like to be oppressed. It was a very stressful time. It didn’t have to do with my studies, it had to do with the activism and organizing I was doing on campus”.
Melissa told a different story about the University of Waterloo campus, saying that it was there that she first began community organizing in the Aboriginal community.
Melissa “I met my first native person in town at St. Paul’s College (UW), when they hired a aboriginal student services counsellor. I went and visited her and we organized the first pow wow. It is almost 11 years now, we celebrate them every last Saturday of September. I did a lot of workshops there. I learned and teached and it is where I picked up the hand drum again. I now have a job at the Aboriginal Student Centre at Wilfrid Laurier".
Individuals and communities re-appropriate, redefine, and challenge space. These stories reveal multiple layers of space and give us a sense of the texture of the space. One of the purposes in this project has been to build a map that conveys the dynamic ways in which people use, experience, and remember space. While it is impossible to map all the places and stories from each participant, it is important to let each of their voices and social locations be heard in the map.
Move your mouse over the pictures to read about the different ways that people define and re-imagine space.
Iris: "Many Pride events been co-opted by this discourse of needing to be normal and by corporate interests. There is an understanding of Pride as an arts and culture festival – and that is all. So, the discourse at Pride does not always sit well with me, but I also think that any sort of opportunity for us to gather together and to talk about our legitimate right to exist, is pretty political.
Terre said that the green space near the clock tower in Victoria Park is a sacred space for her: "Kitchener is Canada’s centre for secondary immigration, meaning that people move to Canada from all sorts of places but end up settling here… And this green is a very special place in town where people from all different communities collect there. They play soccer, Frisbee and picnic and talk. It is very much our common.” She then explained the story of what happened when the city wanted to build statues of the prime ministers of Canada.
Aaron pointed to a debate that occurs in organizations that work with people with disabilities: some organizations want to focus their energy on creating an accessible space that fosters community for people with disabilities, while others organizations try to create partnerships and facilitate inclusion in many spaces. He said: "we want people to join us not because they feel pity for people with disabilities but because they share a common interest. So, for example, if two people both like chess, we want to help them build a friendship around chess.”
While it is impossible to map all the places and stories from each participant, it is important to let each of their voices and social locations be heard in the map.
At the end of the interview with Terre, she decided to mark some places - on her already busy map - where one can obtain free food or forage from local plants. The locations marked are below:
Participants have internal maps and routes. In the city, there are also places they avoid and/or find unsafe. Mapping these places and routes has proven more difficult than expected because, even if we could find a mapping format that depicted the places people avoided and the stories that explained why, these internal maps are always changing.
Fauzia: I am originally from Pakistan so I have a very different threshold.
Hannah: What do you mean by that?
Fauzia: So for example there are more street crimes in Pakistan. But also there is a big difference in the way you feel on the street because there are more people out in Pakistan, it has a huge population. I lived in the city and there is hardly room for people to walk on the roads, it is shoulder to shoulder. Being in the crowd gives you that feeling of safety. I have never seen it something like this here. But there is no specific place I would say that I feel unsafe, maybe only around bars at night.
Hannah: So you never feel unsafe in terms of street crimes. But you do feel unsafe around bars.
Fauzia: It is basically my own psychological internal barrier.
Terre explained that when she lived at Bread and Roses, a housing co-operative, there were many queer people concentrated in that area. She said it was like a “little Rainbow Village.” She went on to tell me about the perceptions of safety in the neighbourhood:
Terre: "At the corner of Joseph and queen there were Neo-Nazis. At night they would open their curtains and we could see a big neo-nazi flag. Anytime anyone had to even get to the bus terminal we had to go by that house. So that was a pretty unsafe space even though it was a busy street. Certainly the perception of that area was worse than the reality but, as a woman on the street, perception is enough.”
Creation and Development : Hannah Jung
Interactive Narrative: Clàudia Prat
Concept: Marta Marín-Dòmine
Photos: Hannah Jung
*except the old picture of the basketball court by Rych Mills, that was published at The record and the picture of the crowd outside the bar Phil Grandsons.
Sponsor: Centre for Memory and Testimony Studies.
Wilfrid Laurier University, 2014.