Sad chapter of Canadian history (Exhibit)

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It's a small exhibition, but it packs a punch.

Out from Under consists of 13 items in a single gallery at the Royal Ontario Museum. Yet it exposes a part of Canada's history that has been away locked in trunks, silenced by stigma and held in people's hearts. It tells the story of disability.

Some of the objects – a ventilator used in the polio epidemic of the 1950s, a public health poster from the 1920s warning of the danger posed by "morons," a 1948 Shriner's Circus program depicting grateful "crippled kiddies" – are discomfiting artifacts. Others – a Canadian flag, a well-used trunk – draw their power from the moments or attitudes they represent.

The exhibition, which opened last Thursday, is not for casual visitors. It is for people who are prepared to look hard, read carefully and walk away troubled.

It came about in an unusual way. Three professors at Ryerson University's School of Disability Studies came up with the idea of offering a course in the hidden history of disability.

Catherine Frazee, a member of the trio, described the beginning this way: "It was a modest pedagogical leap of faith. We decided to teach not what we know, but what we are curious about."

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