Photographed by Merle Cole
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
Photographed by Merle Cole
By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement
It amazes me how quickly I have settled into my new routine of working from home. I am so grateful to be able to continue working from home; my little corner ‘office’ is becoming more and more comfortable with every passing day.
Meanwhile, the Oshawa Museum’s digital presence continues on as we keep our physical doors closed. I have set goals for the Museum to achieve through the month, setting benchmarks, and hopefully seeing proof that our increased digital strategy has been successful. I re-vamped the Oshawa Museum Blog, making our Museum From Home page more visually appealing; we have used the same template since launching the blog in 2013, and it was high time for it to receive a virtual facelift. Our Museum From Home page is a team effort to create and make already existing resources easy for our community to access. Its intended audience is kids and families, hopefully inspiring them to try these activities at home, or maybe these activities can lead to other inspiration.
To help focus the content we’re producing for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, I’ve so far found themes to be helpful with this, and it’s hopefully an approach I can continue until we’re back in the office and regular scheduled programming can resume. We started with #MuseumAlphabet, but after 26 days, it came to its natural end. Last week was all about #MuseumPets, because, really, who doesn’t like a good animal pic! #MuseumWeek is scheduled for mid-May, and this world-wide campaign is always a favourite leading to good engagement.
I am very grateful for the team who are helping with content creation. Having an exclusively digital engagement presence could lead to creation fatigue and potential burn-out, but so far, I’m feeling inspired, and our amazing team at the Oshawa Museum have been nothing but collaborative and supportive.
While I haven’t been creating much for this COVID-19 project, I feel as though a long standing habit of mine may make for interesting reading in the future. Since my internship as a Museum Management and Curatorship student in 2010, I have kept a daily log of what I do and what I’ve achieved through the day. This has proven especially helpful when completing a monthly report for our Board of Directors. This is a habit I’ve continued while working from home, noting everything I’ve worked on, successes, as well as any notes I’m taking while sitting in on webinars. Examining my daily tasks pre, mid, and post COVID-19 may make for interesting comparisons for researchers many years from now, who knows!
Photographed by Merle Cole
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
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.
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.
I remember at the start of February lamenting that it would be my last Monday working from home. Knowing that the upcoming weeks were going to be extremely busy, I relished in the quiet of getting Museum work done in the comfort of my home. Now, let’s fast-forward two months.
What are some of the challenges I have been facing working from home? When you’re sitting in one spot working for an extended period at home, you start to notice things. Patchwork in a hidden spot that was never repainted, a glob of red paint on the white ceiling, how you should clean the light over your head. How long has it been like that? But that’s not all. I am an avid gardener, and there are many things coming up in the garden right now! It’s very tempting to spend my days outside tending to all of the new sprouts.
Has the joy of working from home worn off yet? Not quite. I enjoy settling in with a mug of coffee and my favourite news program on in the background, and there is a lot more sunshine at home than in my little corner of the programming office.
One thing that I definitely miss about coming in to the office is access to our amazing archival collection. As the Visitor Experience Coordinator, I do a lot of outreach programming for our visitors, who aren’t necessarily physically able to come down to the Museum. This means that I am continually revisiting our PowerPoint lectures to ensure they are up to date and the information is correct. Being able to use unique, primary sources is one of the best ways to convey this information. Currently I am getting ready for to share information about Thomas Henry’s grandchildren. There is a wealth of genealogical material in the collection that is useful for comparing data, now listed on ancestry.com. I can’t wait to share this with the public, because I have found the extended Henry family just as noteworthy as the ancestors.
Until then, here are some photos of my workspaces at home – either my kitchen table, or my wait too comfortable chair and a half, usually accompanied by my cat Olaf.