Archiving Trauma

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

Trauma- a deeply distressing or disturbing experience

COVID-19 is a traumatic experience that is affecting the world.  For many here in Ontario, I suspect it was the decision by the provincial government to close all public school for two additional weeks after March Break that saw many of us starting to feel the trauma.  This was the start of shortages at the grocery stores, the start of people hoarding toilet paper, and the realization that life was not going to carry on as normal.

For me, it seemed like every day after this decision saw more and more changes to our everyday lives. At the Museum, we responded to the changing recommendations by cancelling events, postponing or scrapping projects, and by socially distancing from one another by closing the office and working remotely. Life had taken on a very surreal feeling. Spring was here. The weather was turning from cold and dreary to beautiful and sunny but we have been asked to stay inside our homes and only go out when necessary to purchase supplies. 

The death of Keith Saunders, a Bowmanville resident who worked at the Real Canadian Superstore in Oshawa, brought the worldwide trauma home. Saunders was just 48 years old and most likely contracted COVID-19 through his work at the grocery store. At the time of his death, Saunders was the youngest person in Durham Region to have lost his life to the virus.  

Archiving traumatic events often means collecting information on deaths. When working with current collecting of these events, it means not only are you dealing this trauma on a professional level but you are also facing it on a personal level. At first, my husband was deemed an essential worker because he owned a contracting company. Even though he primarily works on home renovations, his designation as an essential worker meant he was not eligible for federal relief and that he had to keep working in order for us to keep afloat financially. Here I was collecting the information on a man, barely older than us, who was an essential worker who died after contracting the disease, while at the same time having hard discussions with my husband as to what he should do. These discussions were scary and added to the surreal feeling that life had taken on.

In Durham Region, Oshawa has been hit with the highest number of cases. Currently, there have been 89 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Oshawa and this has resulted in deaths of 11 citizens. According to the Durham Region Health Department website: “The total number of deceased reflects the total number of cases who died of COVID-19. A suspected death must be confirmed by laboratory test before it is counted as a COVID-19 death (i.e. the person must be a case) and there may be a time delay before the laboratory test result is received and entered in iPHIS.” Essentially this means that the total number of deaths may be higher but it is unclear at this time. 

Information like this is hard to collect.  Working from home, while homeschooling the children and avoiding contact with support networks, is hard. I am grateful that the staff of the Museum saw the importance of this project, of collecting how this crisis is affecting the institution and the people behind the institution. While archiving trauma is challenging, it is also necessary.

Published by Oshawa Museum

Since 1957, the Oshawa Museum has been acquiring and preserving for the public, records that trace Oshawa's rich history from its earliest settlement. Our collection includes historical information on Oshawa, its families, businesses, social organizations and many other areas of interest. Included in the collection are photographs, documents, scrapbooks and other Oshawa related memorabilia. In addition to making Oshawa's historical inforamtion available, our staff also provides lectures, presentations, conservation work and research assistance.

One thought on “Archiving Trauma

  1. Excellent article, Jennifer! This dark period of our lives should be archived for future generations (although I hope this never happens to them).

    Liked by 1 person

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