When Ontario first went into lockdown in mid-March, it quickly became obvious that we were living through history and the global impact of the pandemic would be inscribed in history books for future generations.
The large scale nature of the pandemic left limited space for the local stories that reflected daily reality. Hence, Markham Public Library (MPL) set out to create a community memory journal that would seek and uplift stories from local voices of all ages and capture the day-to-day changes brought on by the pandemic.
Initially, MPL asked for submissions of written and visual personal stories that explained how the pandemic has changed day-to-day lives. The submissions quickly surpassed the criteria of personal accounts and entered the realm of creative writing, artistic expression and journaling. Today, MPL’s COVID-19 Stories Exhibit is home to over 100 stories from local voices of all ages.
By collecting stories of change brought on by the pandemic, MPL wished not only to capture history “as it happens” but create an exhibit that would build on empathy and connect the Markham community through shared experiences.
MPL wanted to utilize the known stress-relieving aspects of journaling to help process emotions and thoughts while helping the community understand that everyone is going through a confusing and difficult time. As a result, the submitted stories not only preserve experiences of uncertainty but also serve as a way of healing by providing an outlet for stress and anxiety while combatting social isolation.
The first call for submissions was publicized in early-April and since then, the exhibit proudly houses over 100 stories in various formats, including: poems, short stories, social media posts, musical performances, and much more. Stories continue to be collected through the MPL website, where individuals are asked to answer one simple question, “How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your life?”
The library has received submissions from children as young as four and adults as old as 95. Needless to say, no one story is the same. From funny accounts of failed Zoom meetings with screaming children in the background, to stories of struggles with mental health, the exhibit is a mosaic of individual experiences that reflects the impact of the pandemic on the Markham community as a whole.
MPL quickly recognized that the virtual submission of stories left out the voices of the most vulnerable members of the community. The pandemic exposed the digital barrier of those who often times felt most isolated. Those without access to internet and technology shared their stories with staff over the phone which were later transcribed and uploaded to the exhibit. Additionally, submissions from children were collected with the help of teachers across Markham, allowing the students to reflect on schooling from home, new hobbies and feelings of boredom.
The exhibit is divided into the following categories: adolescent stories, children’s stories, general stories, older adult stories, parenting stories, poetry, and visual stories.
Many stories share common themes, such as frustration with learning/working from home, inability to visit loved ones, accounts of racism, and general feelings of hopelessness. The exhibit is a clear reflection of the local voices that would have otherwise been unheard.
To read the full collection of stories or submit your story, visit markhampubliclibrary.ca/covid.
Story submitted by Margarita Radzevich.