Portraits of the Pandemic: City archives wants your lockdown artifacts, no matter how mundane

·3 min read
Portraits of the Pandemic: City archives wants your lockdown artifacts, no matter how mundane
Portraits of the Pandemic: City archives wants your lockdown artifacts, no matter how mundane

Before you discard those drawings your kids made during the lockdown, or purge those posters thanking front-line workers, you might want to consider their potential place in history.

The City of Ottawa's Archives is asking residents to preserve everything from diaries to business records to unpublished works of fiction written during the pandemic, and to send along digital copies for posterity. (Physical items will be accepted at a later date.)

"It's such an unusual time, something that one experiences maybe once in a generation," said John Lund, Ottawa's acting city archivist. "To document [these items] I think is important to bring context [and to tell] those stories of individuals and organizations and how they're responding to COVID."

City of Ottawa Archives
City of Ottawa Archives

The donations so far have demonstrated a lot of creativity, according to Lund, and include everything from artists' sketches to doodles done by seven-year-olds.

City of Ottawa Archives
City of Ottawa Archives

People have donated a number of photos, too, from a child greeting grandma through a window, to masked revellers on a very unusual Canada Day, to three generations hunkered down in a small bungalow to piece together puzzles.

The collection even includes images of a tapestry woven during self-isolation and inspired by watching the stars during lockdown.

City of Ottawa Archives
City of Ottawa Archives

For Lund, it's not necessarily the item that matters, but the story behind it.

"It really is that personal connection that's important. Often, people focus on the item or the object and they don't see their own role in history. We really try to encourage that role."

The city hopes to include everything from diaries and scrapbooks to video recordings to poetry to minutes from meetings to business records — as long as there's an Ottawa connection. In particular, they're hoping businesses donate evidence of their grand reopening, though Lund recognizes that might not be a priority as much of the province enters Phase 3 on Friday.

"It's a challenge, because people are processing the things they're living in right now, and people may see things as a bit more mundane, like the standard [business] records that are produced in a given day. But we're very much interested in documenting that side of things as well," Lund explained.

City of Ottawa Archives
City of Ottawa Archives

The archives have partnered with the University of Ottawa and Carleton University for this project.

Since the pandemic has no end in sight, neither does this archival project, which Lund says will continue to accept donations after the lockdown lifts.

City of Ottawa Archives
City of Ottawa Archives

The city's archivists have for the most part been working from home, too, with a gradual return starting next month to allow access to permanent records that aren't allowed to leave the building.

The Tallwoods Drive reference room is slated to reopen Sept. 7, with social distancing measures in place, as well as a quarantine zone for items that have been touched by members of the public.

If you want to donate an item, email archives@ottawa.ca for details.

"Not everything is destined to be kept forever, but at the same time, there's value there that people don't appreciate," Lund said. "I would say, pause and reflect on what you've been doing. Is there a greater message there you weren't thinking about, and maybe you wanted to share?"