As the collectors and preservers of history, the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives has been faced with an important job to capture the trials and tribulations faced by Vernonites amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
As frustrating and uncertain these times may be now, these past few months of social distancing, N95 masks and seemingly endless closures and cancellations are history in the making.
For staff at the museum, this thought is kind of exciting in a way.
Gwyneth Evans, the museum’s community engagement coordinator and self identified history “nerd,” said this is both a scary and exciting time.
“Needless to say, living through a global pandemic is not something any of us could have prepared for and the loss of life around the world is devastating,” she said. “However, it is also thrilling for me as a student of history who is used to reading about the more dramatic moments in time — the bombing of the Twin Towers, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Battle of Hastings…”
“To think that I can help contribute in a small way to the preservation of something that will one day mark not only Canada’s history, but the history of the world,” she said. “That is a truly exciting thought.”
In an Instagram post Friday, May 11, the museum called for signs or posters from businesses that were forced to temporarily close their doors or change their hours in response to the provincial health official’s orders to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The museum’s “Capturing History” program looks to preserve records from local individuals about their experiences during these unprecedented times as the province slowly begins to reopen.
Evans said there is nothing too small or too trivial to be submitted, “as long as it highlights something about how ‘regular’ men, women and children experienced life in Vernon during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“You never know what might be important to someone in the future,” Evans said.
She pointed to Hugh Mackie’s record of the polio epidemic in 1927 as an example.
“How could he have ever known that 93 years in the future, people in the Okanagan would be turning to his accounts for comfort, for a reminder that Vernon has weathered — and emerged stronger — from other epidemics in the past?” She said.
That’s what makes collecting documents that many would normally just toss away exciting, she said.
“But also such a huge responsibility.”
“Maybe — though, hopefully not — someone will be seeking comfort during another pandemic years down the road, or maybe in 2032,” she said. “A 12-year-old child will come to the museum looking for records about the pandemic that happened the year he was born to present at a Heritage Fair. You just never know.”
Questions Evans finds herself asking now tasked with collecting history sound like, “Will the records I save reflect a wide array of individual experiences? Am I going to be skewing how the history of this time is seen in the future?,” she said.
“And the pandemic is not even over,” she said.
This is why she and the museum are asking for input from the public.
The museum is accepting posters or signs from businesses and even hearts or messages to frontline workers that were displayed on doors and windows during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Public submissions are also accepted online through the Capturing History project at okcreateonline.com.
“The more people contribute, and the less we contribute ourselves, the better we can capture as wide a reflection as possible of this pivotal time in history,” Evans said.