By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist at the Oshawa Museum
What a surreal time we are currently living through. In the not to distant future, historians will study this time and those of us who collect history can help those future historians with our actions now.
Each institution that is part of DRAAG has something in their collection that highlights the human experience during a tumultuous time. The Oshawa Museum has an amazing collection of letters written home by a young Oshawa resident as he served in the trenches of World War I. His perspective, his words, help to humanize a time in history that is well documented but often in a clinical, statistical manner.
While official documents outline the impact of the war, they cover important facts such as casualties, number of Canadians injured, the financial impacts of the war, letters such as those written by Pvt. Garrow provide us with the personal impact. While the entirety of the collection is amazing there is one interaction that stand out to me because of the simplicity. In a letter dated May 7, 1916, Garrow gently reminds his sister that is he writing her back as often as he can but between the mail going out only twice a week and him not getting a great deal of time to write while in the trenches, it takes him a bit longer to respond. This interaction between brother and sister is a bit of normalcy in the midst of such a traumatic time and it helps those of us reading it 100+ years later connect on that human level. Those of us with siblings understand all to well the sigh that had to have escaped from Garrow when he read Lillian’s letter.
If you are interested in reading Garrow’s letters, the Oshawa Museum has an online exhibit that makes these letters available digitally. We also have some photos of the family along with all of the official documentation sent to the family available through this exhibit.
Check it out here: https://lettersfromthetrenches.wordpress.com/
The collecting and preserving of letters, diaries and journals such as Garrow’s is so important for us in the future to understand that human side of history. Currently, we are living through an historic event. My daughter mentioned how in 20 or 30 years she will be telling her children what it was like to live through this pandemic. She is entirely correct. Each of us can help future historians understand the human side of the pandemic by writing about our experiences. Then, once this has passed, donating our writings to the appropriate local archive.
One of the ways the Oshawa Museum is working to document the impact of COVID-19 on our community is through an online journal. Here staff of the Museum, as well as members of the partner institutions and the public, will have an opportunity to share how life has changed living through this state of emergency.
I am also asking the Oshawa citizens consider writing a personal journal documenting their thoughts and experiences, their fears and their joys through this time. All of these documents will then become part of the archival record of the impact of COVID-19 on Oshawa and its citizens.
For more information on the COVID-19 Oshawa online journal, check it out here: https://covid19oshawa.com/ .