Strange new world: Spencerville Mill museum to present COVID-19 tales

Above, SNC's Community Environmental Grants benefit local events including the Spencerville Mill Canoe Run, in 2019. Courtesy photo

Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News

SPENCERVILLE – At this point in COVID-19 daily saturation of news, numbers, and restrictions, most Eastern Ontario residents don’t even want to think about the virus much less gather their memories about it.

But the Spencerville Mill Foundation is hoping individuals and businesses within a 30 km radius of the last remaining structure of the type along the South Nation River – the centerpiece of Spencerville history — will put their aversion aside and help compile a “COVID-19: History in the Making” exhibit about the days when the pandemic is upon the land.

The exhibit is planned for July 2-Aug. 26. Other museum activities remain on the back burner for this season.

Will History in the Making be real life or virtual? Time will tell said exhibit coordinator Sheila Fawcett, a long-time member of the foundation board of directors. The preference is for a reality display of C-19 memorabilia with visitor numbers limited by precautions in place at the time; as a fallback, a video will be made by local graphic designer Mary Moore to be shown on the mill museum website.

Those of us dealing with the actual outbreak may be fed up with the whole Covid “thing”… but we have to think how the phenomenon will be viewed a generation from now. That’s the premise behind the project which includes an invitation to all schools in the catchment area to become involved, said Fawcett, a retired school principal.

“Yes,” she agreed. Covid emotions may be a little raw and close to the surface right now. “But we want to hear all the stories, the sad and happy ones, about how the virus changed so much. We’re living in an historic time none of us have experienced before and aren’t likely to experience again.”

“Many have suffered losses… but there’ve been many positives too: We’ve found new ways of doing things, become more technically savvy, new businesses including right here in Spencerville have opened during the pandemic.”

Comprised entirely of volunteers, the foundation took over administration of the 200-year-old dilapidated stone grist mill more than 20 years ago and, since then, has overseen ongoing restoration inside and out, along with transformation of the grounds into a park with picnic tables and flower gardens.

The milling apparatus functions and regularly provides demonstrations during the summer season, July and August; an old-fashioned general store doubling as modern gift shop is located on the first floor.

In non-COVID times, the foundation sponsors public events, rotating exhibits and entertainment under the Music at the Mill banner. The mill remained closed last season after the virus struck with no events presented, Fawcett said.

A wedding exhibit covering 1920-2020 entitled “Summer of Love” was being organized for last season with music, fashion entertainment and high tea but the pandemic put an end to all that.

“We decided that exhibit wasn’t right for this year… so we came up instead with an exhibit that was more reflective of the times we’re living in,” Fawcett explained, adding that the mill is the only Eastern Ontario institution she knows of currently putting together a pandemic exposition.

The foundation is asking for photos, videos, stories, testimonials or expressive creations that reflect how residents felt and coped over the past 14 months. A juried art show will run in tandem with the exhibit. Deadline for submissions is June 5.

“We want to capture what change looked like, what new skills or hobbies evolved, what new vocabulary came into common usage,” the foundation announced in an invitation to participate. “Please share your stories of resilience and adaptation, comic or crazy…whatever it took to cope with our strange new world.”

Stories should be 200-500 words, children’s artwork is welcomed, and ideas are being sought for a C-19 time capsule which one wag has already suggested should contain a roll of toilet paper: “From sourdough bread to drive-by birthdays… we want to see it all.”

To cope with an anticipated load of entries, three emails have been set up to accept various contributions. All addresses end in and include 2020ourstories, 2020ourphotos, and 2020ourexhibit for descriptions of three dimensional artifacts.

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