When the Surrey Archives put the call out for citizens to submit documentation about the current pandemic, Walter van Halst thought his students just had to be involved.
So the Lord Tweedsmuir teacher asked the kids in his classes to pen letters – real letters they had to put a stamp on and mail to van Halst at the school – about their lives during COVID-19.
“My good friend Rick Hugh told me the archives were looking for accounts of this period,” said van Halst. “So I’m collecting student writing assignments on the topic of ‘My life during COVID-19,’ which should give some very unique perspectives from the students at Lord Tweedsmuir at the Grade 9, 11, and 12 levels.”
So far van Halst has received about a dozen letters. He said after he reads and marks them all, he’ll ask the parents for permission to submit them to the Surrey Archives.
After van Halst started the project, he even heard from Chelsea Bailey, archivist for the City of Surrey.
“She read my story (see “Cloverdale Strong” link below) in the Cloverdale Reporter, about Cloverdale during the pandemic, and she reached out,” said van Halst. “She said they were interested in preserving my documentation of the pandemic’s effects in Surrey.”
So, van Halst told her in addition to his story in the Reporter, he hopes to have many letters from his Grade 9, 11, and 12 students, once the writing project is over.
“I think it’s a great idea to get some impression – we call it a primary source in history, a contemporary account – of what it’s been like for kids under COVID-19,” explained van Halst. “Adults have been affected profoundly, but we forget that kids have been affected profoundly too. And how have they been affected? Maybe these letters will shed some light on that.”
The City of Surrey recently launched a drive to preserve photographs, videos, audio, writings, and other forms of media about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the lives of the people of Surrey.
The archives has even set up a website called “COVID-19 History in the Making,” which can be found by visiting surrey.ca/culture-recreation.
“The effects of the pandemic will be the subject of future documentaries, films, research articles, novels and more. The archives must be proactive to ensure community donations are collected in order to thoroughly document this extraordinary time,” reads the Surrey Archives’ website.
The archives is looking for items that tell how the pandemic has affected people’s lives “through the medium they most prefer, such as photographs, videos, audio recordings, letters, diaries, and more.”