ROGERS TV 2023 03 10 Interview of Arthur Carkner about the Workers’ History Museum
Host: Welcome back to the show. I always love introducing things to our viewers on the show, and I was not familiar with out next topic, which is the Workers’ History Museum. It is a virtual Museum and here to tell us more about it I am joined by Arthur Carkner. Welcome to the show, it is great to have you here. Arthur, you’ve been with the Museum since its beginnings twelve years ago. What was the inspiration behind the Workers History Museum?
Arthur Carkner: Every year we lose voices, and we lose images. If you go to a Parish register of 200 years ago, you can see when somebody was born. But a lot of our social history is on videotape which corrupts, its on computers that move to new generations and so we were concerned that a lot of really important history that had happened in the last few decades was not being taken care of.
Host: Why did you personally want to get involved?
Arthur Carkner: Many years ago I took a radio television course at Algonquin College – back then the cameras were carved out of stone, the sort of thing you expect at the time. Although I did not continue in that line of work, I learned that I had an eye for what a story was, and the Museum was rich with interesting stories. The first one that we did is a videotape – I’ll get into the different media we use but the first one we did was on Family Leave. How does it happen if you look at two countries so similar as Canada and the United States, a working woman in Canada would expect a year of paid maternity leave and good support for her family, and in the States you can expect nothing.
Host: Hard to believe!
Arthur Carkner: How did we end up so differently? Well, there was a story there, so we pursued that story. We talked to people who had been active in the struggle for Family Leave. They were still around to be interviewed, but if you wait too long they are not around to be interviewed.
Host: That’s fascinating too because I think a lot of peoples’ perceptions is that this is a Canadian Workers’ Museum but it’s not. Is this sort of a global? So, is this a Canadian workers history Museum. It’s not. Is this sort of a global look, then?
Arthur Carkner: We’re Canadian and we’re very much Ottawa based. We are a registered charity, and get good support from the City of Ottawa, which we appreciate. But while you have to have some anchor, our work often involves broader topics.
A couple of weeks back we had a screening at Saint Paul University in French about Cal Best, co-founder of the largest Union in the city, Canada’s first black Ambassador, editor of the newspaper of Viola Desmond, who is on the ten-dollar bill, but who covered the story, who put props under it. That was Cal Best. When he died in 2007, we had access to some interviews with him and his family was quite supportive so 10 years later we’re still running the film. Now we ran it for the first time In French at Saint Paul University, and when it was new we premiered it in Ottawa down at the public library.
We partner with a lot of different institutions, provide content, develop content and we do it in a lot of different media. We’ve done a comic book on the Wong Brothers.
Host: Oh, really!
Arthur Carkner: The first Chinese business family in Ottawa, yeah, aimed at grade six children. We do pop-up displays which we take to different kinds of meetings and events and things. They are quite durable and can be assembled on a tabletop, and then then just pop it down and carry it right out.
In terms of being a virtual Museum we try to go where people are rather than
trying to get people to come to us. I love museums. I’m a fan and go to them all the time, but they cost a lot of money and are hard to get started. If you look at the struggle to get the Human Rights Museum going in Winnipeg, that was a lot of years.
Host: …and you can tell more stories using these different mediums as you just described. What are some of the other mediums that you use to tell these stories?
Arthur Carkner: Well, cable channels! We spent much of the time since our founding getting interviews around the story of getting gay marriage rights
to be recognized in law. If a man lived with a woman, they had common law rights after a year, to benefits like dental care. But a man and a man or a woman and a woman, it didn’t matter how long you were together! So we had done some interviews and then after a number of years we got a summer student grant. As a sidelight, we are very proud to be a virtual institution that provides real jobs in the community and that’s important.
Host: I was going to ask about that. Where does your funding come from?
Arthur Carkner: We got some funding as I mentioned in the City of Ottawa. For summer students it’s a federal program. We also get grants from other bodies and communities, sometimes from unions. The Toronto Dominion Bank supported our black history project quite strongly so we went Coast to Coast with Cal Best.
When we’re looking at different media, for our What is a Family same-sex rights video, it is on Youtube where it has had over 1200 views. If we had rented a studio or theatre and tried to get 1200 people into it, well, we could not afford that.
Host: That’s a great point!
Arthur Carkner: …but you know people go by word of mouth. They talk to each other they say you know did you see this and word of mouth is very important to us.
Host: Absolutely! Volunteer based though, right? You get great support from the volunteers.
Arthur Carkner: We get a good mixture of young people and old people that are interested in doing what we do. We provide some experience for people who are in museum programs because a lot of people aspire to work in the museum industry, so we provide that opportunity. And then we have the “grey beards”, retirees that are out there…
Host: I’m almost there, yeah! I know what you’re saying.
Arthur Carkner: …that can say “Did you know this?” I guess you know there’s an old cartoon that shows a “Y” in the road, with signs, one saying “heaven” and one saying “seminar in heaven” and all the Canadians are lined up for the seminar.
Host: Can I steal that? I love that one!
Arthur Carkner: We talk about the basic needs of food, shelter, reproduction but we think learning is a basic human need.
Host: I couldn’t agree more, Arthur! Thanks so much for joining us! We really appreciate it and I’ll encourage all of our viewers to visit the website. It is a wonderful resource with some great stories.