by Andrea Klassen
How will you remember the COVID-19 pandemic? For me, the strange world we have been living in since March 2020 is something I will most vividly remember through a photograph from our wedding, held on a day in June 2020 where indoor gathering restrictions eased to 50 people. My husband and I immensely enjoyed our tiny wedding of just over 30 people but we were still keenly aware of the family and friends who could not be there due to the pandemic restrictions. At the end of the service, as we walked out of the church, we paused to wave and blow a kiss at the camera that was livestreaming the wedding to households tuning in from as nearby as Steinbach to as far away as Germany. Waving to the loved ones we missed having at our wedding will be one of my pandemic memories.
Our individual memories, and the objects that remind us of them, are important to us. A museum’s role in the community is to collect these individual objects that tell us about our communal past. As the senior curator at Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV), part of my role is to ensure we collect not just the objects that tell us about our past, but also the objects that will tell the future about our present.
MHV is looking for objects related to our individual and collective experiences of COVID-19 so we can preserve them as a memory of what it was like to be Mennonite and living through this period. Our collecting to date includes MHV-branded face masks that speak to the personal protective equipment we have all become so accustomed to wearing. We also have one of the 13.5 million blank, postage paid postcards declaring “I miss you” in English and French, which were delivered to each household in Canada in March 2021 to help people stay connected during nation-wide lockdowns. Two COVID-19 vaccination stickers, one in English and the other in Low German, speak to the public health mass vaccination campaign we are experiencing today, together with the controversies, conversations, and social divisions that have arisen in its wake. Our most recent addition is a bundle of long, pink, plastic ribbons used to rope-off seating in a Mennonite church’s sanctuary in Winnipeg, which help to regulate social distancing.
While we are not out of the pandemic yet, the time to collect these kinds of items is now, while they are still part of lives and before they are discarded. What is your pandemic story? Example of objects we would consider for the collection are all around us today: an “open/closed” sign from a local business would allow us to interpret the closure of non-essential businesses; a photograph or program from an event held in a restricted format would help future curators to interpret the limitations placed on social gathering during the COVID-19 pandemic.
MHV needs your help to preserve this history for the future. Whatever your COVID-19 story, if you have an object with a story to share with the museum, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the museum at 204-326-9661, ext. 226.
- MHV grounds and galleries (including the new ‘Mennonites at War’ exhibit) are now open seven days a week to those that are fully vaccinated (see Manitoba Health Order July 17).
- ‘Demonstration Days’ are every Saturday. Come see a variety of heritage skills in action and have a wagon ride with the kids.
- Village Books & Gifts is open seven days a week to all!
- Livery Barn Restaurant open Thursday to Sunday starting at 11am for lunch. Dine-in, patio or take-out are all available.
- Mennonites at War Speaker Series, August 17, 7:30 p.m. Dr. Ben Nobbs-Thiessen will be presenting “On the Frontlines of the Chaco War (1932-35): Locating Mennonite Settlers Amid Twentieth Century Latin America’s Largest Interstate Conflict” in this online event. Register on our website: www.mhv.ca/events
Photo caption: Recent additions to the MHV collection that will help to interpret the history of the COVID-19 pandemic.