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 .  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.


By Patricia Lowe, Director Community Engagement, Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority (CLOCA)

A Business Continuity Plan has assisted Central Lake Ontario Conservation with the closure of its offices and Conservation Areas in response to the current COVID-19 pandemic.  Like other businesses in Oshawa it is anything but business as usual, but business continues nonetheless.  Our Virtual Private Network has allowed our complement of staff from all departments to work from home and continue to review plans for development and provide permits, ensure we continue with flood warning and forecasting, maintenance of our properties, but not unfortunately to generate the awe and wonder associated with our watershed in the spring. 

That being said, we have shared a great bedtime story, 9 chapters in all and the 10th chapter the kids can write themselves.  The story is about a very special bird that initiates spring in Oshawa every year, even amidst a pandemic.  Look for Taylor’s Pheobes, on the new Central Lake Ontario Conservation Kids web page.

Thank you to our partners at CLOCA for sharing their experiences and how they continue to engage the community. We highly encourage you to visit the website, read Taylor’s Pheobes, and try their at home activities for yourself

Shopping in the Time of COVID

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

April 7 was the first time I went to the grocery store since companies began to enforce social distancing measures. I was nervous. My anxiety always peaks if I don’t know where to go, especially in a new situation. For a week or two, I have heard of stores limiting the number of people inside their doors. A friend described Costco to me as a scene from The Walking Dead. People have waited for almost an hour in the rain waiting to get into the store. At the end of last week, my husband went to the store for groceries. Typically, we order groceries online, but upon finishing an order and scheduling a time for pickup, the only available date was April 16 – almost two weeks later. To have the same order delivered to our home was one week later. Not knowing any better, he went to the store expecting a quick shop and then to pick up the kids at daycare. Much to his dismay was a very long line of people, mostly due to social distancing, standing in front of the Superstore in North Oshawa. He went to Walmart where they hadn’t yet implemented these measures.

I had some warning. I went when I did to avoid any extra craziness before the Easter long weekend and waiting in the impending rain. I arrived and could see a lineup before finding my parking spot, but which door were they going in? More anxiety. I took my green basket and made my way to the back of the line, which started at the south produce door and hugged the building around to the north pharmacy and homewares entrance. I was awestruck, but settled in. Surprisingly it only took 15 minutes or less to get into the store, where I had to trade in my basket for one of theirs.

I only needed a few things, but eggs were mandatory for dyeing later this week. I felt as if I was forgetting something and felt guilty for wandering in an attempt to jog my memory. I also felt guilty for pausing to admire the new spring fashions. What are they going to do with all of the clothes that no one is buying?

In the north end Superstore, staff members are monitoring checkout availability from one single line. It’s still all hands on deck, the woman on shift at this position was from the optical shop. I noticed there are clear panels between the cashiers and shoppers and opaque panels between each checkout station, however I wasn’t able to get a photo. As I was going to my checkout station, the optical woman and I got in each other’s way. I was amused by her quick attempts to get away from me and of course, this just made everything worse. At the checkout lane, I made a mistake with my debit card, still musing about my dance with the optical woman. I poked my finger through the space between the debit machine and the clear panel that separated the cashier and me to make the correction. Gasp! ‘You’re not supposed to touch that!’ Shaking my head and finalizing my purchase I made my way to exchange everything in the store’s green bin, to mine.

Despite my anxiety, I managed ok figuring everything out. Though, just now I am thinking about how elderly people, those with learning disabilities and accessibility concerns are coping with all of the societal changes. It must be so confusing and disorienting; if it isn’t I give them kudos.

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.