Calgary

A chance to witness history: Alberta museum collects pandemic artifacts and stories

The museum put out a call for locals in the Bow Valley to share art, journals, letters and scrapbooks, documenting their life at this point in time, as businesses are closed, physical distancing is the law and the town is under a state of emergency.

Canmore Museum seeks donations of art, journals, scrapbooks documenting life under COVID-19

This museum in Canmore is collecting history as it happens by accepting local COVID-19 artifacts online and in the mail 1:37

Amy Herr slips on a pair of gloves to handle the most recent artifact donated to the Canmore Museum — a homemade fabric face mask, one of hundreds made by a local mother-daughter team that they've been donating to members of the community. 

"I love the idea of someone looking back at these in 100 years and holding this object in their hands and being able to be transported back to the experience we're having now," she said.

The curator says most historical objects donated to museums are from decades or centuries ago, items found on dusty old shelves in garages or closets, with piecemeal stories accompanying them, handed down over generations.

So now, even though the museum is closed to visitors, it finds itself faced with a rare opportunity to grow its collection.

"We started talking about how this was a chance for us to witness history while it's happening," Herr said.

Amy Herr is a curator at the Canmore Museum. Even though the museum is closed, she's accepting stories and artifacts to document what it's like for locals to live through the coronavirus pandemic. (Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada)

The museum put out a call for locals in the Bow Valley to share art, journals, letters and scrapbooks, documenting their life at this point in time, as businesses are closed, physical distancing is the law and the town is under a state of emergency due to COVID-19.

It also partnered with local photographer Kristy Wolfe, to pair her portraits of local families with oral histories.

Herr said she feels grateful that, in a time where so many are suffering, she has a role to play by taking down their stories for future generations.

"To be in the middle of an event and to watch it unfold and to be able to choose how we represent it and to kind of be able to do people the honour of telling their stories while it happens is really special," she said.

"I think for people this is a way for them to contribute to their community, to process the feelings they are having, the experience they are having and that their family is having together, and to feel like they are part of something larger."

The museum hasn't put out a call for specific items, and Herr said she's excited to see what people contribute to the project.

The Canmore Museum and Geoscience Centre is currently closed to visitors but is working on a project to document the COVID-19 pandemic, which will eventually join its permanent collection in its archives. (Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada)

"The things people choose to share can be really indicative of how they're feeling and what's important to them," she said.

And she doesn't plan to stop accepting donations anytime soon, even if the pandemic restrictions are lifted, because she wants to document how this experience has changed lives going forward.

"Hopefully we'll keep getting stuff for years."

With files from Vincent Bonnay

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