Research Story

This project began during Dr. Cheryl Thompson’s PhD dissertation research at McGill University in 2010. Working in archives opened her eyes to the breadth of information that is held in collections, but it also unearthed stories about Black people, places, and communities that had scarcely been written about in Canadian history. One of the gaps in the literature that Dr. Thompson located while working in archives was Canada’s history of blackface minstrelsy, the first popular form of mass entertainment in North America. While searching newspaper databases looking for Black beauty culture advertisements, she consistently found editorials and advertisements for blackface minstrel shows in Toronto, London, Hamilton, and Montreal, to name a few. Using an interdisciplinary, historical approach to the study of race and culture, during her Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship (2016-2018) for a project titled, “Visualizing Blackface Minstrelsy in Canada: Seeing Race, Negotiating Identities, 1890-1959,” Dr. Thompson began studying Canada’s history of blackface. Working with Stephen Johnson, Professor Emeritus, Department of English and Drama at the University of Toronto Mississauga, and in the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Toronto, Dr. Thompson documented and itemized images of blackface, editorials of theatre productions and playbills, and she also engaged in a cultural analysis of the spaces and places where shows took place (such as at high schools, churches, athletic clubs, women’s auxiliary groups, retail stores, summer camps, and public parks). 

Since joining Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) in 2018, Dr. Thompson applied for multiple sources of funding to continue the work. Using an internal SEED grant (2019; $6880) and SSHRC Insight Development Grant (IDG) (2019-22; $48,072) for a project, titled “Newspapers, Minstrelsy and Black Performance at the Theatre: Mapping the Spaces of Nation-Building in Toronto, 1870s to 1930s,” Dr. Thompson explored the ways that newspaper editorials and advertisements promoted, and critiqued travelling blackface minstrel shows, and how Black theatrical performance, specifically choral singing, served as a counter-response to blackface at theatres. This grant led to a collaboration with Pink Moon Studio, a Toronto-based film production company, on a SSHRC Connection Grant (CG) (2020-22; $47,625), and the forthcoming feature length documentary, Blackface Nation, that will transform Dr. Thompson’s decades-long research on blackface in Canada into publicly accessible content. BREC is ultimately the outcome of Dr. Thompson’s decades-long research into Canada’s history of blackface.

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