Serving Style: Women in Business on Main St.

2019, Culture, History, Markham Museum
business, Canada modern, education, fashion, history, Markham, Ontario, Retail, shopping, Toronto, women
About This Project

Date: November 1, 2018 – December 2, 2018

Partner: Markham Museum, The Myseum of Toronto

Location: Wilson Variety Hall

Project Members: Rachel Moats


Myseum Presents: Discounted Histories explored the movement of goods, services, and ideas that formed Toronto and the GTA’s retail landscape. As a part of this series, Serving Style: Women in Business on Main St. explores the changing retail scene in Markham from the 1860s to modern day. Through the stories of Clementina Wilson and Karen Piper and their businesses, the Wilson Variety Hall and Peppertree Klassics, historical and contemporary fashion and retail are detailed along with the themes of shopping local and women owned businesses.
This exhibition was located in the Wilson Variety Hall at the Markham Museum. The Wilson Variety Hall is the original business and home of Clementina and Henry Wilson and their family and was originally located on Main Street in Markham. The intended audiences were the communities of Toronto, Markham, and the GTA and the exhibition was open to any visitors during regular business hours. Additionally, those interested in fashion and retail history and the history of Markham would have been the most engaged. Finally, visitors are directed around the site by a tour guide so each visitor would have had a guide through the space to answer any questions they may have had. As this exhibition was completed in conjunction with the Myseum of Toronto’s Discounted Histories, anyone who wanted to visit all of the exhibitions would have seen Serving Style as well.
The Markham Museum applied for a grant from the Myseum of Toronto to be a part of the series Myseum Presents: Discounted Histories. This grant provided the financial backing for the exhibition. Markham Museum and the City of Markham provided the venue, objects, a portion of the printing, marketing, and personnel to make the exhibition possible. Peppertree Klassics also provided objects, approval, and images. Large-scale printing was completed by ScreenArt printing.
Research for the Serving Style exhibition began in July 2018; also at this time image selection for the advertising wallpaper also began. The research, pitching, and planning of the project took approximately three months. During this time a main logo was selected, a title chosen, and a floor plan created. Additionally, work with Peppertree Klassics and the selection of objects began. At the end of September and early October, the designing of text panels and final editing of textual items began. In the lead up to installation mannequins were prepped, objects cleaned, panels printed, and the exhibition opened on time on November 1, 2018. It officially closed on December 2, 2018. The opening reception was held on November 10, 2018.
This exhibition consisted of textual didactics and ephemeral material from the Markham Museum collection and the Peppertree Klassics retail items. This exhibition was an intervention in the Wilson Variety Hall and therefore the objects and text were located throughout the already exhibiting historical building display. Some of the diorama objects usually in the Variety Hall were removed for the purpose of this exhibition; however, a majority were left in place with Serving Style objects placed around them. The narrative was placed in the display shelves behind the serving counters, while the objects were displayed in the open spaces in the main store area, in a window display, and in what was historically the office of Mr. Wilson. Photographs were also used on the text panels to add another element to to the narrative. Behind the textiles, a wallpaper was created using newspaper ads from the Wilson Variety Hall and Peppertree Klassics, and fashion ephemera was added to a display case on one of the serving counters. The didactics told the stories of the Wilsons and the Wilson Variety Hall as well as Karen Piper and Peppertree Klassics. Additionally, to add programming to the space and iSpy game was added with hidden plastic oranges throughout the space for visitors to find.
The marketing for Serving Style was completed by Markham Museum staff. It was advertised on their website and social media sites. It was also published on the city of Markham website, and in the Markham Review both in print and electronically. Additional marketing was completed by the Myseum of Toronto on their website and social media, and through sending a bus to Markham from downtown Toronto for the opening reception. Furthermore, Peppertree Klassics posted announcements about the exhibition on their social media, specifically Instagram.
Serving Style was an overall success, as detailed by the larger than average number of visitors to the Markham Museum. While exact numbers are not known, the museum staff stated that during its month long run, this exhibition brought a larger number of visitors to the museum than is usually seen during the transition of seasons from fall to winter.. Feedback from visitors and the media was very positive both on social media and by word of mouth. Additionally, Peppertree Klassics saw an increase in customers as well. Furthermore, at the end of the exhibition the advertisement wall paper and some of the text panels were given to Karen Piper and are now installed in Peppertree Klassics.
I would like to thank the Markham Museum, City of Markham, Myseum of Toronto, and Peppertree Klassics, especially Janet Reid, Collections Coordinator, Mark Scheibmayer, Assistant Archivist, and Karen Piper, owner of Peppertree Klassics. Without their support and assistance this process would not have been possible.