Canadian Language Museum Insider's Look

Jake Malone Photograph

Jake Malone Photograph

Elaine Gold, Director of the CLM, chose this photograph, ‘North York (Yonge Street & Finch Avenue)’, 2017, by Jake Malone.  It measures 20” x 18” and is part of the Canadian Language Museum’s exhibit: Read Between the Signs: 150 Years of Language in Toronto.

This photo was chosen for both for its strong composition and its meaningful content. The photograph beautifully draws the viewer’s eye down the long apparently unending row of multilingual signs and powerfully conveys Toronto’s multicultural reality.   The photograph speaks to the multilingual and multicultural nature of contemporary Canada. Language heritage is integral to the lives of all Canadians and has been a central issue throughout Canada’s history.   In the context of the exhibit, it brings into sharp focus how much Toronto and all of Canada has changed in the past 150 years. This photograph sets up a stark contrast to photos of Toronto’s streets around the time of Confederation, when only one language, English, could be seen on the city’s signs.  This photograph is special in opening the viewer to thinking about language and culture in different ways. The photograph highlights the Arabic and Korean languages – languages barely spoken in Canada 50 years ago and now in the top 20 of languages spoken across Canada and a vibrant part of our society and cityscape.  It also highlights the visual contrasts between three very different writing systems: the curves of the Arabic, the more geometric shapes of the Korean and the varieties of the English fonts.

It is extremely important for today’s society to recognize that languages are an important part of Canada’s heritage, and as such must be valued and protected. This photograph shows that languages from around the world are flourishing in Canada, and contribute to our vibrant society.  In the context of the exhibit, audiences learn that this photo contrasts with the relative lack of visibility of Canada’s rich heritage of Indigenous languages, which are only now beginning to be reflected in Canada’s streetscapes. Canada’s indigenous languages bring a unique heritage to all Canadians and must be protected for future generations.