Archiving a Pandemic

By Laura Suchan, Executive Director

Although the Oshawa Museum, along with other cultural organizations, is temporarily closed to help alleviate the spread of COVID-19, that doesn’t mean staff are idle. We continue to work behind the scenes to present content and ensure the safety of the museum collection.  One of our new initiatives was to join with archives on an international, national, provincial and local level who are developing platforms to document the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their communities.

For the Oshawa Museum that means documenting the impact of COVID-19 on the Oshawa community. To do this we are utilizing several resources to capture day to day life in Oshawa through these unprecedented times.  We are collaborating with Empty Cup Media to produce an oral history project collecting videos and interviews with the citizens of Oshawa as they experience daily life during a pandemic.  All official municipal communications concerning COVID-19 in Oshawa are collected as well as local media reports.  Museum staff will also be sharing insights on how COVID-19 is impacting the Oshawa Museum: changes to museum operations, the impact on collections and staff, and the importance of ensuring that this time in history is documented and preserved for future generations.

Probably the most important component of the project will be to tell the stories of how Oshawa residents, businesses and organizations are coping with the pandemic.  Have you had to close your business?  How are you and your family coping with self isolation?  We want to collect your thoughts, photographs, diaries and other items that tell the story of how you are coping in these times.  “I hope the community is journaling through this time,” says Jennifer Weymark Archivist for the Oshawa Museum. “In 10, 50 or even 100 years from now, these journals will become the personal voices of the pandemic.”  Much like diaries kept during the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918 have helped people understand its impact, Weymark feels journals kept during the current pandemic will help future generations understand this period in history.  “I am hoping residents will donate their writings to the Oshawa Museum once this is over,” says Weymark. “I plan on archiving the material once this is done as a way to document Oshawa during this time.”

There are several ways you can contribute. If you are interested  in being interviewed about your experiences living through COVID-19 contact Colin at Empty Cup Media (colin@emptycupmedia.ca). Keep a diary and write down your daily habits or record how things have changed. Donate your diary to the archives to help us preserve what life was like in 2020. Contact Jennifer Weymark, Archivist, to explore other ways you can help us document history as it unfolds in real time: archivist@oshawamuseum.org. Finally, you can visit our newest online exhibit, covid19oshawa.com.


This article was originally written for Metroland Media.

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