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.