NOTE: This is one in a series of articles published by The Brock News to mark the one-year anniversary of Brock University suspending in-person, on-campus classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To read all of the articles in the series, click here.
Photos of empty grocery shelves, signs asking people to stay two metres apart and sidewalks chalked with messages of hope are some of the submissions found in the COVID-19 in Niagara archive.
The website was created by Brock University’s Archives and Special Collections in partnership with the Digital Scholarship Lab last March during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a collection of photos, artistic responses and text observations that illustrate the personal life experiences and opinions of people in Niagara during this time.
A mother documented a day in the life of her child during online learning. A Brock alumnus wrote emails to his friends every week for the first two to three months of the pandemic. A man shared his observations concerning physical distancing at the supermarket.
So far, the website contains more than 1,000 items from 300 submissions. But more is requested of the Niagara community.
“These are the details that can easily slip through the cracks and disappear very fast,” said David Sharron, Head of Archives and Special Collections at the University’s James A. Gibson Library.
“The archive preserves the voices of everyday Niagara citizens. It’s not how Ontario responded or what the Prime Minister said: This type of information will be readily available. The archive illustrates what we have all experienced in our homes and work. The comments are raw and unfiltered. They’re about how people were feeling at the time, which is really the building blocks of history.”
Submissions are welcome from anyone in the Niagara community, including students who are learning remotely from their homes in other cities.
Sharron said there are community members who have yet to be represented in the archive, such as medical professionals working the front lines and people who have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. He would also like to receive more content from people 25 years and younger.
Submissions can be anonymous and can be in a variety of forms, such as photos, videos, songs, screenshots of social media posts, memes, emails, log entries, notes and posters. Digital items can be submitted through the COVID-19 in Niagara website. Analogue media, such as penned journal entries, poems, short stories, as well as paintings and drawings, can be donated to the physical archives at any time. They will be catalogued and connected to the other items submitted to the COVID-19 in Niagara archive.
The website also contains several surveys people can answer. Questions are added quarterly based on timely topics, such as mandatory masks, lockdowns, border closures and vaccines. Eight new questions recently added to the website ask people to reflect on the past year and look to the future.
Up to 20 files can be included with each submission, and people are welcome to submit documents more than once. Contributors retain ownership and copyright of the materials they submit. A map shows the locations in Niagara where submissions came from.
“Every contribution adds a bit more to the project,” Sharron said. “The circumstances surrounding the pandemic are ever-changing, and with them, so do our experiences and opinions.
“We’re living in a significant time in our history: A pandemic is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. People generations from now will look back on these records to gain a better understanding of what happened in Niagara, how people coped and how they felt about it.”