Historical Comparisons

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

Last night was a hard one in our home. Our eldest had been struggling with missing her friends, tired of only seeing them through a screen, and she finally broke down in tears as she struggled with the emotional toil of the stay at home guidelines. Through her tears, she was also able to express her anger at the situation.  She was angry at her friends who haven’t been practicing social distancing, sharing photos of having fun with friends.  She was angry at their parents for letting them get together and angry at us for not allowing her to get together with her friends in person. She was angry, sad, and just over the whole pandemic and more than ready to defy the government and their stay at home order.

I have seen all sorts of memes floating around social media with the messaging that “in order to help our government, our grandparents were asked to go to war – we have been asked to sit on our couches at home.” I understand the point that this messaging is trying to make, but I just don’t think it is an accurate comparison. A more accurate comparison would be examining society’s response to the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, but even then, it isn’t all that accurate given how different our society is today.

I follow several different historians on Twitter because, well, I am a history nerd and I find their insights rather interesting.  Recently one of those historians tweeted a rather interesting hypothesis, one I think has relevance to what is happening currently.  He stated that historians tend to examine the decadence, criminal activity, and subversive undertones of the 1920s through the lens of a response to World War I.  As he watched in real time people protesting stay at home orders, defying government guidelines and gathering in large groups, he began to look at the 1920s as, perhaps, a response to the flu pandemic and the societal impacts of stay at home orders during that time.

History is not a passive reciting of facts.  It is an interpretation of events through a lens. What that lens is changes.  I find it fascinating that current events may well shift the lens through which we examine that pivotal time between World War I and II.  Our understanding of what it is like to live through a pandemic may help us to better understand what life was like for those who lived through the 1918 pandemic.  Perhaps as we see people rail against governmental guidelines now, it will help us to understand the roaring ‘20s.

We are right in the middle of this historic event, so there is no way to know through which lens we will examine this time period.  The idea of the subversive undertones of the 1920s being directly related to the 1918 pandemic seems to be supported by the reactions of many to the current stay at home guidelines. My kiddo is more than ready to defy prohibition and visit her friends in person.

Jill Update May 6

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

I just realized that my last post about dealing with the Coronavirus was one month ago. What has life been like since then? Not easy. Some days are better than others are, of course; who doesn’t like not having to set an alarm in the morning, right?

In terms of homeschooling for my kids, I am very lucky to have daycare available where they do their lessons within their bubble. Working with kids the same age has provided my son with companionship. He and his best buddy have never been in the same class before, and now they are. My daughter loves to take over and help teach the little kids, reading to them and helping where she can. She has also been taking this as an opportunity to catch up on her reading, which I am very proud of because I was such a bookworm when I was her age! I also have a better understanding of why teachers are so particular about having their prep time. My kids ask to do so many great things that I have shared on Pinterest or saved craft supplies, but with no time to prepare anything (because kids don’t want to wait for anything), I end up saying no. Cue the guilt. Two major successes include my daughter learning to play a few songs on her ukulele and my son finally learning to ride his bike on two wheels. We promised that when he did this he could choose a new bike (after years of hand-me-downs), and of course, now all of the stores are closed!

With the onset of nicer weather, we have also been able to spend more time together outside. The kids riding their bikes and my husband and I walking, all of us working together in the garden to get it ready for summer, and practicing soccer and catch. With these walks, I have been able to document some of the neighbourly solidarity and signage that has popped up in north Oshawa. There are many signs dedicated to frontline workers.

I have two in my family. My brother is a Courts Officer with the City of Toronto and my sister is a Food Service Worker at a Long Term Care facility in Oshawa. I like to remind people that essential, frontline workers aren’t just nurses and doctors, fire and police. My sister has been working in her position for over 26 years and plays a major role in ensuring that families’ loved ones eat, are nourished and able to thrive. Sometimes family members have trouble getting their parents or spouses to eat; because the men and women who work with the residents on a daily basis know them just as well as their families, they often have a few tricks up their sleeves. This is vital, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic when family members are limited in LTC facilities.

If you see community signs in your neighbourhood or would like to share your experiences while dealing with the pandemic, please visit https://covid19oshawa.com/share-your-stories/

Signs of the Time

Photographed by Lisa Terech

The sign outside St. Hedwig’s Church on Olive Avenue. This Church’s roots reflect the Polish and Eastern European communities that settled around Olive Avenue in the early 20th century. The church continues this tradition today, offering masses in English and Polish.

The printed sign taped to the larger sign has COVID-19 information on it, and it is also in English and Polish.

On Picking Up Old Habits

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

I think of myself as a creative person; maybe not creative in the sense of inventive or originality, but certainly, I am a person who enjoys creating things. At the Museum, I get to write, I often help with the creation of various print materials, coordination of newsletters, and the like. When I’m off the clock, I have knitting needles in hand, I enjoy baking and cooking, and I’m often writing for my own sake. Creating. Being a ‘Capital K’ Knitter is part of my identity.

Knitting in costume at a Culture Squared outreach event in 2016; thanks to Carla from the Robert McLaughlin Gallery for the photo!

Since self-isolation became an every day reality, I’ve found myself struggling. Real talk for a minute. I live by myself and while I truly value and cherish my independence and my solitude, I am an extroverted introvert. I miss people. I miss my co-workers, my friends, my family. I never realized how much I would miss coffee shops.

Since mid-March, I’ve been knitting a lot. Like, I made an entire sweater in two weeks, a lot. But in the middle of last week, I found myself bored with knitting. Sitting in my house, with little to do besides watching TV, reading, and knitting, for weeks on end, I had a moment when I looked at the needles and yarn and realised that when something you consider to be part of your identity becomes a chore, I became concerned. My thing that brought me joy suddenly didn’t.

I needed a new thing.

So, I rediscovered an old thing.

I dug into my basement and found my old cross stitch supplies. A craft that I did in high school and university has basically been untouched since discovering knitting, but now, this has become my new escape.

The cross stitch project I started. If you’re a Doctor Who fan, you may recognize what it’s shaping to become: the Fourth Doctor’s iconic scarf. I liked that this is a nice gateway between my knitting addition and cross stitching

There’s no knowing how long social distancing is going to last, and as a creative person, I need to be creating SOMETHING (and goodness knows I didn’t need to be creating those four dozen chocolate chip cookies I baked a few weeks ago… but I digress). Finding something new has helped. It’s sparked new creativity, new interest, and is certainly keeping me busy when I’m not sitting at my desk working remotely.

If you find yourself feeling like this, I highly encourage you to try something new or different. A new craft, a new skill, find a new TV series, try learning a new language (getting better at French has always been a personal bucket list item). I needed ‘different’ in order to keep my senses about me, and doing so has helped.

COVID-19 and Material Culture

By Melissa Cole, Curator

Social distancing, trying to slow the spread of COVID-19.  This shift has meant more time is spent online, reading the news, connecting with friends, family, and, for many of us, working.  I have noticed this effect of being plugged in more than usual, slight head aches and just all-around digital drain. Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful to be able to work from home and connect with loved ones – the digital age has allowed us to maintain these connections. 

For museums such as ourselves, digital content is keeping our audience engaged while our doors are closed; as you know our annual exhibit has been postponed until next year although we are able to offer a glimpse of what is to come through our online exhibit, Displaced Persons of Oshawa.   This exhibit is an example of a “community curated exhibit” where the story of the exhibit is shaped by the stories told through the voices and objects of our community members. 

COVID-19 and Material Culture

Our latest project, Documenting COVID-19, is asking our staff and community to document the pandemic’s effects during their everyday lives.  Being a curator, I have been thinking about the pandemic’s impact on our community, our households and what kind of objects represent this chapter in our lives, recognizing, for some this may also be a time of loss… the loss of loved one, the loss of a job, and so much more.

For those of you that may not be comfortable writing about your experience – think about the objects that represent your time living through this pandemic. What objects represent the pandemic’s effect on your household, workplace or community (not the computer or cell phone – we already know the importance of technology during this time).

If you were a museum curator, what objects would you collect to tell your story of living in Oshawa during COVID-19?

Below, I have shared a few objects and images that I feel represent my time during the COVID-19 crisis, fortunately with my family who is healthy and at home, and what it is like in out in the community.

I invite you to share images of your objects and assist me from home as “community curators” and curate your own “at-home exhibit” about living in Oshawa during COVID-19 and share them with me through email curator@oshawamuseum.org .  I encourage both children and adults to contribute and submit images of objects. 

With your permission, these objects/images may become a part of a future community curated exhibit documenting Oshawa during COVID-19 through the voices, photographs and objects of those that lived and experienced this unique time in our lives.  This is not an exhibit that will open right away once the museum is open as this material may not be of interest or wanted as soon as we are all allowed outside of our homes. 

This material will assist us in developing themes, and build a collection that represents what living in Oshawa was like during the COVID-19 pandemic reflective of the community who lived through it.