Like it or not, we are living through a unique time in human history. The pandemic has had an impact on everyone, and each of us has a story to tell about the experience.
The Ken Seiling Waterloo Region Museum has been archiving and collecting residents’ experiences throughout the pandemic. The idea is to provide a comprehensive picture of how the crisis hit home, something that might prove useful for future generations facing a new virus or as a way for people to look back on what they’ve been through.
The collections curator and registrar, Stacy McLennan, has received some 200 submissions from across the region thus far. The Help Us Make History project will continue for as long as the pandemic does.
“When the pandemic started, we were asked a lot about the Spanish flu in the area and what we had in the collection related to the Spanish flu – we have nothing, essentially. So it kind of grew out of that and wanting to document for future historians. A lot of smaller museums and larger museums and archives started similar projects for their communities as well. We wanted to document because we think there was a sense of there will probably be waves of things and we wanted to document the changes in people’s attitudes as the pandemic continued and protocols that were being put in place for the community,” she said.
Along with written submissions, the project features plenty of photographs, some artwork and other items representative of the pandemic such as PPE.
“We have painted rocks because that was a huge thing for a while, and we have some signs that people made and put in their home windows because that was really big for a while to try to brighten up people’s day and stuff like that. So it’s kind of interesting to see even in a year and a half how things have become fads.”
Images of artwork, poems or even emails with journal entries have been sent in so far to the Help Us Make History project. McLennan notes most of the submissions so far are from Kitchener, adding she would appreciate submissions from residents in the townships to help create a clearer picture.
“We have received things from some of the townships and particularly from Elmira, but we would be happy to have maybe more things from the townships to document the region fully.”
The holiday season that last year saw massive disruptions and now faces a surge in cases is an experience ripe for documenting, she said. McLennan is looking for submissions to catalogue the changes people made due to the pandemic and to get a sense of what people are feeling this time around compared to last year.
“We are collecting objects related to the pandemic. One of the interesting objects we actually got donated was from Christmas last year – it was a Christmas card that one of the local schools had one of their classes do and then they sent the Christmas cards to a seniors’ centre. They were given out to seniors in the seniors’ centre, and someone had saved it and donated it. So it’s those sorts of things we’re looking for to show what’s happening in the community during this time. And in a way how people are helping people within the community,” said McLennan.
“With the holidays coming up it’s a good time to document what people are doing that’s maybe different than how they normally spend the holidays or how things have shifted. With this new variant, people may have had plans and they’re rapidly being changed as case counts go up.”
Another aspect they’re hoping to better document is the business community. McLennan said they want to get a better overall sense of how businesses pivoted during the pandemic or whether they were forced to close their doors.
“We’re very much interested in local businesses that have been impacted, so whether they’ve had to shift production to something like PPE or something else related to the pandemic, or restaurants having to shift and actually close dining and just do takeout and things like that, we’re definitely interested in documenting that as well.”
The plan is to keep collecting and archiving residents’ experiences for the duration of the pandemic, with the idea being to create a future exhibit.
“At some point, we would probably create an exhibit out of this as well, but that’s like not in the immediate future. The main focus is to just collect information and objects and things that are related to the pandemic just to have in the collection for future use.”
Anyone with an idea for a submission can email the museum staff at firstname.lastname@example.org .