Signs of the Time

Community member, and past Oshawa Historical Society President, Merle Cole, has shared photos he has taken during this time, and these photos will become a series called Signs of the Time. As Merle put it, “Some are obvious and some a bit more subtle.”

Today’s post is one of the more subtle images. Says Merle, “[This] is a neighbour’s lending library covered by the tarp. Not sure that is necessary but since the main libraries are closed, she followed suit.”

Melissa’s COVID Diary

By Melissa Cole, Curator

I hope this message finds you and your families healthy and safe. For the past few weeks we as individuals have changed the way we interact with one another and the community around us. Our day-to-day routines have changed.  For me it has also been a time of reflection and continues to be a time of learning and insight as we navigate this new normal: working from home and, for some us, with children by our sides. 

I encourage you to reflect on this time, as we are literally living through a major historical moment in our lives – document through whatever way you are comfortable: photography, writing, or journaling on the computer. 

If you have children or grandchildren in your lives, I encourage you to visit this site that a friend forwarded to me – this is a great resource to get your kids journaling about their experience of living through COVID-19 while also having fun!

This past week I was talking to colleagues from across the province during a Regional Museum Network teleconference call.  Most museums are facing the same issues, such as uncertainty (many seasonal museums wondering if their doors will open this summer), financial implications from events being cancelled, and staff layoffs.  Many museums, like us, are using social media to continue to engage with their communities.  In some regions, museum and library staff have been redeployed to assist their communities in battling this pandemic through helping on the front lines of nursing homes.  You can read more about this here:

Although many of our events have been cancelled or postponed, this is also the case for our upcoming exhibit, Leaving Home, Finding Home in Oshawa: Displaced Persons & Stories of Immigration, that was set to open this spring.  The exhibit started as an oral history project four years ago, and thanks to our community participants it has shaped into an exhibit which was going to open later this year; because this pandemic has affected our operations, it will be moved to 2021 and will become our feature exhibition next year. 

As it is still unknown when our doors may be open again, we are still planning future exhibitions for the fall.  We have revamped our exhibit plan moving forward and are planning a larger exhibit highlighting the 100 Year Anniversary of Lakeview Park.  This exhibit will showcase photographs from our archives featuring collections such as the Lowry Collection and memories shared through our Lakefront Memories Project. 

I remain hopeful that we will soon gather at the lakefront again to enjoy the museum and the beautiful park that we stand in. 

My boss at home

Projects Lost

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

This summer marks the 100th Anniversary of Lakeview Park.  It was to be a big celebration.  We were collaborating with the City of Oshawa and Durham College to create an amazing virtual walking tour of the Park.  The Canada Day celebration, which is held at the Park, was to include a focus on the Park’s Anniversary. An amazing art installation examining the history of Lakeview Park in a wonderfully whimsical way was to be transferred from the Museum to City Hall. Now, well the celebration is on pause.

The project with Durham College has been cancelled, at least for now. The majority of the background will be completed, but the final virtual walking tour will not be finished in time to be a part of any anniversary celebration. I am hopeful that the project will eventually be completed and shared with the public because it was an interesting and unique way to learn about the history of the Park.

This is just one of the impacts of COVID-19. 

With the uncertainly surrounding celebrations like Canada Day and the re-opening of public buildings such as City Hall, we at the Museum still want to celebrate this special anniversary. How to do so during a pandemic?  This is where technology has created opportunities to celebrate and share our knowledge through the development of a new online exhibit focused on the long history of the Park.

And so, the development of a new online exhibit to celebrate the long history of Lakeview Park has become one of my work-at-home projects. The exhibit will be a combination of articles about different aspects of the park and a catalogue of images from the archival collection.  I am hoping to launch the new exhibit in late May or June.

From an institutional point of view, the response to COVID-19 is going to mean the cancellation of projects and events that have been in the works for some time.  In some cases, such as the Lakeview Park celebrations, we are able to adjust and move the project forward in a different format. In other cases, we will simply have to cancel.  Having to cancel programming is disappointing. Although the Museum buildings are closed, staff is still working to share our passion for local history and to find new ways to make the Museum accessible from our homes. 

Working From Home and Creating Meaningful Visitor Experiences

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

How do you continue working from home when your job is creating meaningful visitor experiences at your site? Like all of us staff at the Museum, creating a work-life balances these days has been difficult. Do I work, do I clean and sanitize, do I prep meals, do I practices self-care in these uncertain times? There are so many questions and even more answers. It’s very confusing. Thankfully, in the last few years, I have found writing very cathartic, and our COVID-19 website is giving me the opportunity to write again.

I am very fortunate that my kids’ home daycare has remained open. I am eternally grateful to our daycare provider, who is like a second mom to our kids. They spend their days going on hikes, though all of their favourite spots are now closed. Riding bikes and scooters in the last two weeks has brought newfound confidence to all of the youngest kids – two wheelers for almost everyone! Wouldn’t it be nice if that were all we had to worry about these days?

This past February, I spent the most time ever out of the office, while still working and engaging with the public – inspiring students to visit the Museum with their families. Within the span of two weeks I would literally go from 2000 to zero. I wonder what will happen to all of the amazing programming we currently have lined up for the summer. Will we even be back in the office this summer? Our beautiful Victorian Teas in the garden will look a lot different, as will Grandpa Henry’s Picnic and Sunday FUNdays. In addition, this is the time we would be gearing up to adjudicate the Durham District School Board’s Heritage Fair. It’s always fun to engage with the students and listen to them discuss their projects and why they think they are important. I imagine that in the future we will see a number of projects about how the COVID-19 pandemic affected us, just as we see projects about the 1918 flu epidemic.

Currently, I am spending my days coming up with family oriented content for our online community and continuing with research about the Henry Family Grandchildren. This has been a pet project of mine for the last few years and I am thankful that I have the time to focus on it. I find it wholly satisfying to map the cousins’ locations in California; they lived very close to where my father-in-law spent part of his childhood, and I aspire to visit there myself someday.

I am also thankful to be able to catch up on museum and local history related reading. With day-to-day office work out of the picture, I am finally able to finish reading Life in Canada by Thomas Conant, after which I hope to read Upper Canada Sketches. Although biased for many different reasons, they are still an important part of our local history.

Empty Cup Documentary Update

Colin Burwell, Empty Cup Media

Oshawa Covid-19 documentary update: I’ve done about a dozen interviews so far and have recorded a lot of headlines, home vids of our adjusted routine, vlogs and errands.

I’d really love your help with the visuals – I’m looking for aspiring Oshawa videographers to contribute to this project. I need you to film (horizontally) your new routine and how you’re keeping busy. Footage can be sent to me using 

Email me at if you’re interested.

Community (Digital) Engagement

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

On March 13, the Oshawa Museum announced that, out of an ‘abundance of caution,’ we will close our museum doors to visitors to help stop the spread of COVID-19. As soon as that decision was made, I went into digitial strategy mode.

While our social media presence really is a team effort, I’m the person working behind the scenes, planning, scheduling, drafting, formatting, editing, and posting. Once the closure announcement was made, I began thinking about how we can use our digital presence to continue to work towards our mandate of preserving and presenting Oshawa’s history.

My little corner of my little kitchen has become my office – provides for easy access to the coffee. My kitchen table doubles as a work space for spreading out various papers and binders. I’m very lucky that this aspect of my job is very easily achieved while working remotely. I have access to our shared network, I have all of our social media sites bookmarked and constantly open in several tabs of my browser. What I miss most of all is immediate collaboration that takes place in the office, of going downstairs and asking Jenn’s opinion and historical expertise, of asking Melissa about artefacts, bouncing ideas off Jill, and telling Laura my most outlandish ideas simply to get a reaction. Simply said, I miss the team.

What gives me inspiration is when our community converses back. Inspired by Historic Ships in Baltimore, we started a #museumalphabet series, and our community seems to enjoy what we’ve shared so far, a new photo, artefact, or story each starting with a new letter of the alphabet. Inspired by another popular hashtag, #museumfromhome, I’ve created a few short videos highlighting aspects of the Museum tour. If you can’t physically visit the museum, maybe visiting from the comforts of your couch via our YouTube channel can be the next best thing. Essentially, I’m feeling creative through this time of uncertainty and finding comfort in what I’ve been creating. At least, that’s how I’m feeling at the end of our second week of working from home. I hope others continue to find enjoyment out of what the OM team is digitally sharing through this unprecedented time.

Shameless plug for how to find us on Social Media:

Check out the Oshawa Museum Blog, with new posts every week and a blog archive going back to 2013! The handy search bar makes it easy to find what you’re looking for.

Head over to our YouTube page! Our podcast series is 80+ episodes, highlighting remarkable artefacts, documents, photographs, or events from our past.  We’re also adding behind the scenes videos and short tour videos, so you can experience the Oshawa Museum from the comforts of your home!

Since you can not visit us in person, why not visit our online collection database, which contains artefacts and photographs from the collections held at the Oshawa Museum.


Finally, I encourage you to participate in this project: COVID-19 in Oshawa. Please share your own personal experiences through this global crisis.

Jill’s COVID-19 Diary

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Coordinator

March 23, 2020

My first recollections of the coronavirus are between Christmas and New Years of 2019. Over the Christmas holidays, I gradually became aware of the shift in news – from the devastating wildfires in Australia to this new coronavirus. I remember my son, Joey saying (whining?) “Why do they have to keep talking about the coronavirus?” To which I replied, “Because it is new and important.” We visited cousins over the holidays and joked about the world ending.

I watch CBC news in the mornings before heading to work and remember hearing about the first cruise ship (the Diamond Princess or Princess Cruise Lines[1]) that was stranded out of port, not being allowed to dock because of the new cases cropping up in China. While I wasn’t shocked, I commiserated with the people stuck on board. How horrible it must have been for them to be on the ship, without any comforts of home. At first you’d think of how fun it might be, to be able to roam around on extra vacation, but these people were confined to their cabins. So if you had an interior room with no window, or a deluxe suite with a balcony, that is where you were quarantined to, whether you wanted to be or not.

CBC began doing Skype interviews with some of the Canadian residents onboard. Over time (a period of a week or so), they told how they were being treated, fed, tested and updated. Food was delivered to individuals in their rooms, they were provided with thermometers to take their temperatures hourly. Fever is a common symptom of the coronavirus, which was unnamed and unidentified at the time. People were desperate to get home to their loved ones. They had already been onboard for two weeks with another two weeks of mandatory quarantine. This happened in mid-January, through February.[2]

In time there were at least two more cruise ships that you heard of in similar situations, one disembarking in Cambodia after being turned away from Japan.

Online, on Facebook especially (a platform used mostly by Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, people took to sharing memes about the coronavirus using the beer brand Corona to make light of the situation. Admittedly, they were funny! Then the memes about people hording toilet paper came, equally funny and ridiculous. 

Seemingly, it was around this time that more people began to take notice. On February 11, 2020, the World Health Organization “announced that “Covid-19” will be the official name of the deadly virus from China.[3]” In the middle of February 2020, I was spending a lot of time in elementary schools providing outreach to schools about Oshawa’s local Black History. I was becoming more vigilant about hand washing and using sanitizer when hand washing wasn’t available. I was in at least ten different schools, using dozens of laptops, in places I had never been before. It was also at this time in Ontario that many school districts were in the middle of rotating strike action. More people were worried about this, and when the teachers might not be in the schools for a day or two, what they would do with their kids if day care wasn’t an option. Many parents had already been taking time off to care for their kids. By the end of February, I was glad to be back in the office at the Museum in a more controlled environment. We only had two programs that were rescheduled due to strike action, but many more cancellations would be implemented in the next few weeks.

As an aside, in hindsight, I can’t believe that the virus was named as far back as February 11. It doesn’t seem like that long ago.

At the Oshawa Museum, in the beginning of March, we were finalizing some major events for us – March Break and our presence at the Purple Woods Maple Syrup Festival. These were both things that were bound to bring in another 1000 people (at least) in attendance numbers.

On March 12, 2020, the Province of Ontario received notice that all publicly funded schools were closing for two weeks after March Break. It was unreal. Would I take holidays, how would the kids’ education continue? Thankfully, they are happily enjoying a combination of outdoor play and indoor learning.

However, this would be the impetus for a number of local, sweeping changes that were about to be implemented throughout the City, following Provincial, North American and global shut downs, self-isolations and social distancing – just two of the new terms to come into our vocabulary in the last few weeks.

[1] Science Magazine. Feb. 25, 2020

[2] Business Insider. Feb. 28, 2020

[3] Today World. Feb 11, 2020

Working in the Archive . . From Home

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

We are very fortunate that technology has made it that some professions are able to work from home during this time of self-isolation. The Oshawa Museum was already set up to allow staff to work remotely from home and thus we transition to working from home with relative ease.

Saying the transition was done with relative ease is correct but not entirely accurate. Part of my job is working with the archival collection, ensuring that it is catalogued, databased and properly stored.  I have been fortunate in that several new collections have been recently donated and need to be processed but that cannot be done from home. Working from home means little to no collections management work.

Working from home during this pandemic also looks a bit different from other times I have worked from home. To start, my family is home and, with the province declaring a state of emergency, there is no where I can send them so I have the house to myself. The kids are understanding but they are kids. This means they are loud, wanting my attention and seemingly capable of making a huge mess in a matter of minutes. This means my work day has been broken up into shorter periods of productivity interrupted by the needs of the children.

With all that said, I am very excited about a couple of projects that have begun in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.  The collaboration with Empty Cup Media is something that is all new to me and I am very excited about the potential here. While I have had a fair bit of experience with oral history projects, I have never created video content and I am excited to add this to the archival collection. I am hoping that the project resonates with many Oshawa citizens and that we are able to collect a wide variety of video submissions to document life in Oshawa at this time. I am also excited to see how Colin Burwell from Empty Cup Media takes these submissions and creates a documentary examining the impact of the pandemic on our community.

I am also hoping that the community is journaling this time and will donate their writings to the archives once this is over.  In 10, 20, 50 even 100 years from now, these journals will become the personal voices of the pandemic.  Much like diaries kept during the Spanish Flu epidemic have helped to humanize that world tragedy, journals kept during this time will help future historians trying to humanize the statics.

We are living in a defining moment in history, consider leaving a record for those who will one day study this time.

Introducing the Oshawa COVID-19 Archival Project

by Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

From the day the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that COVID-19 was a pandemic, staff at the Oshawa Museum began to discuss what steps we would need to take to adjust to societal changes.

The WHO’s declaration came just as the Museum was preparing for our March Break activities. This was to be an exciting March Break, as we were collaborating with sites from throughout Oshawa to offer our visitors a taste of some of the amazing arts, culture and heritage sites across the City.  However, staff were concerned that we would not be able to protect our visitors, partner sites and staff as social distancing would be very challenging in buildings that are around 170 years old.

After a great deal of discussion, the decision was made the morning of March 13th to cancel our March Break activities.  At the same time, the decision was made to cancel all outreach programming as well.  As the day progressed, and both the federal and provincial governments continued to implore Canadians to practice social distancing and stay home as much as possible, the decision was made to close the Museum to visitors.

By the end of day on the 13th, the Museum had cancelled all onsite and outreach programming, and had closed the site to the public. This closure meant staff had to focus on different methods to bring our collections to the public.

From the perspective of the archives, this is an important time in the history of the City and I would need to shift focus to the creation of a collection that would document this period for future generations. Starting on March 23rd, the staff of the Museum will journal their experiences on this blog and this will create a record to be added to the archival collection. I am also asking members of our community to consider journaling their own experiences, be it a traditional handwritten journal or an online journal, and once the crisis has passed, donate these records to the archives.

Diaries and journals help us to understand events of the past from a personal level and help those in the future to better connect with the impact of the events. For me, a great example of this are the letter in the collection written by a young man from the front lines during World War I. His writing brings this huge event and makes it personal, it allows up to connect and better understand the impact of the war on people. Diaries and journals from this time will do the same thing. They will personalize this huge event and allow those in the future to better connect with the impact of the pandemic.

We have also begun a new collaboration with Empty Cup Media to develop an oral history record of the impact of COVID-19 on the Oshawa community. We are asking citizens to create short videos of their new daily routines, to create video journals of their thoughts and to perhaps even be remotely interviewed. All of this will become a part of the archival collection and maybe used in a short documentary examining the impact of the pandemic on Oshawa.

On a personal level, I have been working from home while also entertaining two kids would much rather be outside with their friends or even at school. It has been challenging but we are fortunate and both kids understand the importance of archives to document events such as this pandemic.