MemorySpace: Private Memories, Public Histories

How do we remember and commemorate the history of a neighbourhood? How might the personal memories of locations, captured in personal photographs, intersect with the histories of public spaces? How might we use these questions to create, with a community of seniors, a set of workshops that not only promote digital literacy but also build a collaborative curatorial project? These are the questions that formed the core of the participatory media project and public exhibition entitled MemorySpace: Private Memories, Public Histories.

The 2012 MemorySpace project, which included a series of workshops and a public exhibition, was a collaboration between the Montreal’s Mobile Media Lab (MML) with the Atwater Library and Computer Centre (ALCC).

MemorySpace mobilized the creative energies of senior citizens through a collective, curatorial process. The project provided an opportunity for seniors to acquire or build on digital skills that they deemed important: scanning, preserving, emailing and organizing photographs. The project involved three stages. In the first stage, seniors participated in a series of workshops where they learned to scan and preserve photographic images. Over 32 older adults participated in this first set of workshops. In the second phase of the project, participants were invited back to engage in a collaborative, curatorial process. Together, we organized the image-collections into slide shows. In the third phase, we worked together to co-curate an exhibit based on the collections of personal photographs.

Our main target audience was the community involved with the ALCC. Seniors in particular took an active role as workshop participants and co-curators of the public exhibition, which was held from September 20, 2012 – October 7, 2012.

The Atwater Library itself has a fascinating history connected to its location. Housed in a heritage building near the corner of Ste-Catherine and Atwater Avenue, it sits at the intersection of several diverse neighbourhoods. These include: downtown Montreal, Little Burgundy, St Henri, and Westmount. Originally founded as the Montreal Mechanics’ Institute in 1828, the Atwater Library has provided vocational training and library services for over 180 years. As a non-profit, member-supported library, it continues to serve patrons of diverse ages and economic and cultural backgrounds, including seniors, new immigrants, and refugees. In recruiting participants for MemorySpace, we drew upon both the library’s e-newsletter and its waiting lists for future workshops for seniors.

Through the curatorial workshops (the third phase), seven participants worked together to create an exhibit that would display personal photographs and stories. Upon completion of the workshops, a two-week public exhibition was held. It included four integrated components: (1) large scale projections out of the windows of the library, which attracted the attention of the public; (2) a robust website that was collaboratively produced with the workshop participants. The website shared life stories that contextualized the photographs (3) a touchscreen that exhibited the entire collections of each participant; (4) a collection of objects and momentos that was curated by workshop participants. The exhibition opening attracted over 200 visitors.

The project successfully enhanced Digital Literacy for seniors. More specifically, it enhanced literacy in the context of creative collaboration and inter-generational connections between members of the team. The larger theoretical goal was to work with the concept of how photography and memory work together. Methodologically, the challenge was to create a community-based public art project that could draw on PAR’s goals to empower communities through action. It was also a way to think through research-creation in a community context.

Kim Sawchuk

Research Assistants
Arwen Fleming
Kendra Besanger
Antonia Hérnandez

ACT Partners
Concordia University
Atwater Library


Office of the Vice-President, Research and Graduate Studies, Concordia University

The Active Ageing, Mobile Technologies Research Network: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada

The Concordia University Research Chair in Mobile Media Studies

Graphics, Animation, New Media, Design, NCE, Centres of Excellence

FQRSC, Mediatopias, “soutien aux équipes de recherche”

‘It’s my choice’

Mobile telephony is the most widespread information and communication technology (ITC) and follows the same trend as other ICTs: those who show typically slower rates of adoption are older individuals. It is relevant, therefore, to explore the motivations and reasons that seniors have for not-adopting or adopting mobile telephony.

To do this, I focus on two cities: Barcelona (Catalonia, Spain) and Los Angeles (CA, USA). In Catalonia, up to 95% of the average population are mobile users, while among seniors the figure drops to 82% (age 65-74; Idescat, 2011). In the USA, the percentage of mobile users is 85% for the average population and 68% for seniors between 66 and 74 (Zickuhr,2011). In a context where this technology is so widely used, those who ‘opt out’ are often put into a position where they need to justify their decision. These people often face social pressures to be “reachable” by their mobile phones in the same way others are.

In 2010 and 2011, semi-structured interviews were conducted with both mobile users and non-users. Within this non-probabilistic sample, a majority of individuals were mobile users, and 11 individuals out of 73 were non users.

Among non-users, some people had never owned a cell phone and others gave their phone up at a certain point. The goal of this analysis is not to put forward recommendations for increasing mobile subscription among older people, but to understand personal choices regarding this specific technology. I approach this analysis by taking into account that, nowadays, not having a cell phone in the two studied cities might mean the person without the phone has taken a firm stance on the issue.

Idescat (2011): ICT equipment and use in homes 2011. Statistical Institute of Catalonia (Idescat). (05/05/2012).
Zickuhr, K. (2011): Generations and their gadgets 2011, Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. (02/04/2012).

Mireia Fernández-Ardèvol with Lidia Arroyo Prieto and Daniel Blanche Tarragó

ACT Partners


Active Ageing, Mobile Technologies- and the A-C-M

Active Ageing, Mobile Technologies is the title of the SSHRC Partnership Development Grant that is funding the development of this nascent international, multidisciplinary partnership. The grant brings together a team of researchers and community partners from Malaysia, Catalonia, Canada and Quebec whose goal is to better understand the intersections between communications, ageing and mobility. The goal of the grant is not just to create knowledge, but to create connection. In our case we are consolidating a team of researchers who share a commitment to expanding our knowledge of how older adults, primarily over the age of 65, engage with communications and media technologies in this present moment.

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In collaboration with seniors and youth from the Park Extension neighbourhood in Montreal, AddressKnown explores intergenerational location-based, dynamic storytelling.

It is a research creation project dedicated to collecting personal memories, based on common locations within Montreal’s Park Extension neighbourhood. Park Extension is a neighbourhood that transcends typical notions of age and “growing old.” In a sense, both the physical space and its citizens are linked together by solidarity and a willingness to keep the community dynamic and active. Through a series of digital storytelling workshops with seniors and youth, this project sheds light on local points of interest within Park Extension. Traditional and digital mapping techniques are used to capture the historical, political, and cultural dimensions of this unique neighbourhood.

The interactive website, which we call a location based web documentary, includes portraits of Park Extension citizens who are actively involved with the community at various levels. Each portrait brings forward specific personal memories based on locations within the neighbourhood. In turn, each location can be understood through personal, historical, and cultural lenses. Additionally, each portrait presents various perspectives on specific aspects of the community. Such perspectives include: age, gender, ethnic background, socio-economic background, religious beliefs, level of participation within the community, etc.

Location based storytelling techniques are used to showcase the connection between space, time, and memory. Moreover, the “function of mapping is less to mirror reality than to engender the re-shaping of the worlds [community] in which people live” (Corner, 1999, p.10). This project works against traditional assumptions about “old people living in old neighbourhoods”, in that it showcases the active involvement of seniors, youth, and adults in an effort to better understanding how intergenerational conversations and efforts keep a community strong and “on the map.”

This project, which was initiated in January 2012, was completed in April 2015. It works against traditional assumptions about “old people living in old neighbourhoods” because it showcases the active involvement of seniors, youth, and adults in an effort to better understanding how intergenerational conversations and efforts keep a community strong and on the map. The exhibition of the project happened in the Parc Extension neighbourhood in November 2015.

Project updates

Giuliana Cucinelli (Concordia University)
Kim Sawchuk (Concordia University)
Myriam Label-Bernier (Concordia University)
Sasha Dyck (Park Ex Historical Society)
Sophie Guérin (Université de Montréal)


Research Areas
Inter-generational Storytelling
Community Activism
Location-based Storytelling

ACT Partners
Concordia University
Université de Montréal


Étoile des aînés

Between 2009 and 2013, Chartwell-Reit, a major private developer of seniors’ housing ran a music contest by and for elders known as Etoiles des Ainés. It was part of their marketing campaign to seniors, for purposes of social outreach and to provide entertainment within their residences. The event was loosely structured on other popular music contests on television such as Star Academie and American Idol. Every Etoiles des Ainés event featured older adults singing songs or playing music, of their choice, with meaning for them or their families and friends, explained in the introduction to every song. Contestants performed their acts in front of residents and a panel of local celebrity judges who offered commentary on their performances. Winners of local contests, held in regional residences, were then sent to the next level of the competition.

After 5 years as an exceedingly popular public event, E des A was put on hold, indefinitely, by the company who admitted that while it was an entertainment success that they could not determine if the expenditure justified its continuation from within their marketing department. In 2012 an 2013, Dr. Line Grenier and Dr. Kim Sawchuk, with the assistance of Dr. Fannie Valois- Nadeau (who was then a student) collected hours of videos, audio recording, photographs and notes of the contest in different locales across Québec. We attended dozens of competitions over this time period, participating as audience members, talking with organizers, and taking the time, whilst driving, to reflect on why we found ourselves moved by not only the individual performances, but by the event itself. In our discussions we spoke of the relationship of music to memory, the regularity of tropes and narratives to frame each song, as well as the way that “musick-ing” together was manifested at different moments during performances. While we have produced several conference papers on the topic of Etoiles des Ainés, we have a vast corpus of materials that needs to be processed. We are in the process of cataloguing and systematically analyzing and processing this mass of documents. We have, at the moment, the outline for a book-length manuscript on “music, memory and age/ing” to bring together the theoretical, social and methodological issues raised by our work on and with Etoiles des Aines.

Chronologie du projet

Automne 2011:

Présence de Line Grenier et Kim Sawchuk à la finale canadienne de Senior Stars à Niagara Falls, Ontario. Entrevues avec Sharon Henderson et Brad Walker de Chartwell-Reit.

Printemps 2012 :

  • Participation de l’équipe aux finales régionales québécoises d’Étoile des aînés à Gatineau, Saint-Hyacinthe, Sorel-Tracy, Saint-Jean-sur-le-Richelieu. Rencontres avec les organisateurs, les juges, les participants.
  • Présentation de Line Grenier intitulée “Questioning “Successful Ageing” in Étoile des aînés” lors du 3ièeme sympoisum Active  Ageing and Mobile Technologies, York University, Toronto.
  • Présentation de Line Grenier et Kim Sawchuk, en collaboration avec Fannie Valois-Nadeau, intitulée « We are never too old to dream. Ageing Matters”  au colloque Crossroads in Cultural Studies, Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris (France).

Automne 2012 :

  • Présence de l’équipe à la grande finale québécoise du concours Étoile des aînés à Montréal. Rencontres informelles avec les organisateurs, les juges, les participants.
  • Présence de Kim Sawchuk et Barabara Crow à la finale canadienne de Senior Stars à Niagara Falls, Ontario.
  • Rédaction  par Line Grenier et Fannie Valois-Nadeau de l’article « Vous êtes tous des gagnants ».  Étoile des aînés et le vieillissement réussi au Québec », no spécial « Production et rapport aux normes contemporaines du vieillissement. L’injonction au « bien vieillir » en question », dans T. Moualert et V. Durandal (dir.) Recherches sociologiques et anthropologiques (paru à l’automne 2013).

Printemps 2013 :

  • Participation de l’équipe aux compétitions régionales d’Étoile des aînés qui se sont tenues à Québec, Gatineau et Montréal.
  • Présentation de Line Grenier  intitulée Moving “Étoile des Aînés”/Senior Stars. Performing Memory Work at a Music Contest, au colloque bi-annuel de la International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM), Oviedo University, Gijón (Espagne).
  • Présentation de Line Grenier intitulée Memory Work Through Music-ing au colloque annuel de l’Association canadienne de communication (ACC) Victoria, Colombie-Britannique.
  • Présentaiton de Line Grenier intitulée A Simple Labour of Love? Exploring the Economies of “Étoile des aînés,” au colloque annuel de la section canadienne de la International Association for the Study for Popular Music (IASPM-Canada), Hamilton, Ontario.

Automne 2013 :

  • Présence de Line Grenier et de Fannie Valois-Nadeau à la grande finale québécoise du concours Étoile des aînés à la salle l’Étoile Banque Nationale du Quartier Dix30 à Brossard. Un résumé de la finale du concours est disponible.
  • Présence de Line Grenier et Kim Sawchuk à la finale canadienne de Senior Stars à Niagara Falls, Ontario.
  • Présentation de Line Grenier intitulée “Moments of Music in Action: Exploring the Effectivity of Québec’s Étoile des Aînés/Senior Stars » dans le cadre de la série de conférences . Music, Media & Culture series à Memorial University, Terre-Neuve

Hiver 2014

Hiver 2014

Présentation de Line Grenier intitulée “Music in Action: Memory work at Étoile des aînés” à titre de conférence d’ouverture de l’année universitaire aux cycles supérieurs de l’Institute de Comunicaciones y Imagen de l’Universitad de Chile, à Santiago, au Chili. Présentation de Line Grenier intitule “Étoile des aînés/Senior Stars and the ‘active ageing’ agenda: Outline of a project” à la Facultad de Comunicaciones, de la Pontificia Universidade Católica de Chile, à Santiago, au Chili.

Printemps-Été 2014

Présentation de Line Grenier intitulée “Music-ing and ‘ageing together’: Notes from a collaborative ethnography of Étoile des aînés” à titre de conference d’ouverture de l’école d’été du Centre de rechsrche Woman, ageing, media (WAM) à l’Université Gloucester University, Chestelham, au Royaume-Uni. Présentation de Line Grenier intitulée “Singing your age away. Configurations of active ageing in popular music events involving seniors” dans le cadre du colloque annuelle de la section canadienne de la International Association for the Study for Popular Music (IASPM-Canada), à l’Université Laval, à Québec.

Automne 2014

Présentation de Line Grenier intitulée “La musique en action. Chanter et vieillir en public” dans le cadre du séminaire annuel de la Chaire d’études francophones en Amérique du Nord (CEFAN), à l’Université Laval, à Sainte-Foy.

Project updates