Manitoba Museum puts call out for pandemic-related artifacts

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba Museum needs your help and is asking for people to donate items to preserve the history of COVID-19 for future generations.

When Roland Sawatzky, curator of history at the Manitoba Museum, was researching the 1918 pandemic in Winnipeg, he found no pandemic-related artifacts in the museum’s collections.

“Why didn’t they keep anything, and maybe they did but it got lost or thrown out over the years, and I thought when this came around for us in 2020, this time we have to hold on to something,” said Sawatzky. “So that we can educate in the future about it, do exhibits, and really share it with future generations what our experience was.”

There are no limitations on what those artifacts could be, whether it is a letter penned to a friend or a board game used to relieve lockdown boredom.

“We’re quite open, because, of course, people’s experiences are quite varied, and what’s meaningful to them is very different, and so we want people to feel open when they contact us to really discuss things are important to them,” Sawatzky said.

The museum is still in the early stages of collecting items and gathering stories from Manitobans, and has no immediate plans for an exhibition. However, artifacts can be used sooner for other purposes, including education.

“We can use those artifacts and stories in different ways until then. Through school programs for instance,” said Sawatzki. “In our permanent galleries, our temporary exhibits, loans, researchers can use this material as well,”

A museum exhibit could come on a pandemic anniversary, he said, and that could come on multiple occasions throughout the decades.

The Manitoba Museum is not alone in this initiative with museums worldwide collecting pandemic artifacts. To offer items of interest, email the museum at info@manitobamuseum.ca, and include a description and picture of the item. Sawatzky will then get in touch with the person and discuss the history of the item and decide whether it is suitable for the museum.

“Things like masks and letters, they can be considered ephemeral by people. When the pandemic was over in 1920, I’m sure a lot of people never wanted to see a face mask again; they didn’t want to think about the pain,” said Sawatzky.

“I’m thinking about the poor curator in 2121 who has to do an exhibit on pandemics, and I want to leave that person with something to work with.”

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