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New U of G initiative aims to showcase stories of rural Ontario

'Rural Ontario is not just one thing or one place, it's really a diversity of different people and landscapes and livelihoods,' says researcher

From magicians to musicians, farmers to restaurateurs, a new initiative from the University of Guelph hopes to showcase the diversity of rural Ontario.

Launched last month, the People's Archive of Rural Ontario was inspired by a similar initiative, the People's Archive of Rural India

"We wanted to do something similar in Ontario that would help to document and organize the different records and experiences of everyday people living in rural Ontario," explained David Borish, a researcher who's involved in curating the archive and designing the website that hosts it. 

So far the project has collected around 30 stories, which are told through pictures, video, audio recordings and written accounts. 

“People have different ways of sharing their stories," Sharada Srinivasan, one the university of Guelph professors who developed the project, said in a media release. "We want to be an archive that genuinely provides a space for people’s stories, and so we have to be open to the different media people use to tell their own stories in the way they think those stories should be told and presented."

Since the initiative launches in November, over a dozen additional people have reached out wanting to be part of it, Borish said. 

Among the stories currently online, is an account of a Chinese Canadian restaurateur, Joe Wong, who adapted traditional recipes to fit the palate of the small northern Ontario towns where he worked. Wong's recipe for sweet and sour pickerel is included in the archive. 

Another tells of efforts to restore manomin — commonly known as "wild rice" — at Niissaachewan Anishinaabe Nation on the Winnipeg River. 

"Rural Ontario is not just one thing or one place, it's really a diversity of different people and landscapes and livelihoods," Borish said. "And that's something we hope to highlight with this archive. It's also really important for preserving knowledge."

Ultimately researchers hope the archive can serve as an educational tool for people to learn more about their own region or one they've never visited before. 

Borish encouraged anyone with a rural Ontario story or experience to share to reach out

"It's not just stories that seem maybe the most interesting or impressive," he continued. "We're interested in everyday stories about everyday realities," he continued.