Literacy Alberni executive director Graham Hughes came up with the idea as a way to continue promoting literacy while respecting COVID-19 social distancing restrictions. The office and Klitsa Tutoring are both closed to clients and students at the moment. The postcard project “fosters community connection and legacy-keeping through storytelling and sharing our experiences of the COVID-19 global pandemic,” he states.
Literacy Alberni is inviting everyone to share their stories, thoughts, struggles, successes, lessons learned, etc., via special pandemic postcards. Kids, adults, families, roommates, work teams—anyone can fill out their postcards with whatever they are feeling about the coronavirus pandemic and how it is affecting them.
This is the second time Port Alberni has been enmeshed in a global pandemic: when the Spanish flu came to Canada in October 1918, councils for both Port Alberni and Alberni closed establishments where people congregated, including schools, dance halls, pool rooms and the theatre (known then as the “moving picture theatre”). Jan Peterson wrote about the flu epidemic of 1918 in The Albernis, one of three books she wrote on Alberni Valley history.
Other than that, though, there are few references to the Spanish flu among the museum’s collection, Alberni Valley Museum coordinator Shelley Harding said.
Hughes and Klitsa Tutoring program coordinator Lesley Wright hope the Pandemic Postcard Project will ensure the coronavirus historical record creates a broader picture. Hughes will donate all the postcards to the museum to become part of the community’s historical record. He hopes they will form an exhibit in the future, and has a vision of self-publishing a book of postcards in the future.
Wright is excited to be able to provide so many voices to the historical record. “I’m an historian and…to have first-hand documentation for 100 years from now is amazing,” she said. With today’s technology and social media, all the posts people are making on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat, for example, will be well buried and inaccessible a century from now.
“We can look at the dates and look at the politics and the wheres and whens. But to truly experience what this is like on a personal or social history is going to be lost.”
The postcards, however, will last. They can be stored as a hands-on product, “something we can touch and pick up from 100 years back and know what the average eight-year-old or 80-year-old was going through at that time.”
Opening up the project to people of all ages is also a way to gain different perspectives, she said. “Kids are experiencing this differently,” for example.
While the project will be an historical record of this time, Wright said the postcard project also offers a way for people to share their feelings. “I think there are a lot of people out there unable or unwilling to express their true frustrations or feelings with their families,” she said. “Being able to do that in an anonymous way is one way of getting (those feelings) out.
“Some people are having profound moments and it’s a way to share.”
Wright hopes the project will catch on globally. She has shared it with family in England, and once it hit Facebook other people began sharing the post—even as far away as New Zealand.
Houle Printing has printed 1,000 postcards that are available in Little Libraries at Tyler’s No Frills, Quality Foods, Ladybird Engraving (on Margaret Street) and Harbour Quay. Drive-by postcard pickup and drop-off is available at Literacy Alberni on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Postcards may be downloaded at www.literacyalberni.ca/the-pandemic-postcard-project/.
Postcards can be mailed to The Pandemic Postcard Project, P.O. Box 1146, Port Alberni, B.C., Station Main, V9Y 7L9. Be sure to include your first name, age, and city of residence (example: Jane, age 13, Richmond, BC). For more information, e-mail email@example.com.