Mention history and most people think about researching events of centuries ago, whether through dusty tomes or archaeological evidence.
The fact is, of course, that history takes place in the here and the now – and the strength of the historical record depends to a large degree on how quickly and accurately contemporary events are documented.
There is a paucity of information available today, for instance, on how White Rock and South Surrey was affected by the influenza pandemic of 1918-1921, as many anecdotal accounts were never recorded while residents who remembered it were alive.
Fortunately for White Rock and South Surrey – and thanks to a new youth-driven summer project, Community In You(th) – some of the history of how the Peninsula dealt with the current COVID-19 pandemic is now being preserved for future generations.
And a virtual presentation, available by the middle of this month, will use cutting-edge technology and graphics software to display the project’s findings so far.
Co-funded by the City of White Rock, through White Rock Museum and Archives, the project is the brainchild of 2014 Semiahmoo Secondary grad Lisa Xie, who has been studying for her MBA through a university in Beijing, China.
In collaboration with current Semiahmoo students Vicki Li (going into Grade 9 this fall) and Simon Meng (going into Grade 12) – Xie calls them the “right and left arm of the project” – they recruited some 30 students from around the community to deal with fact gathering and conducting interviews with individuals, organizations and businesses.
“The majority are from Semiahmoo, although we also have students from Elgin Park and Earl Marriott and one who was at Southridge School but started going to Crofton House,” Meng said.
Xie said she saw the project as a way to reconnect herself with her community here.
“I was really involved during my high school years,” she said. “But I haven’t really been back in the community since graduating from Semiahmoo, except for coming back for holidays.”
Xie said that when the pandemic brought her back to White Rock and South Surrey, after extended studies in both Europe and China, it struck her that there was potential for a project that would document how businesses, organizations and individuals were impacted negatively by COVID-19, but also how people in the community responded positively during the crisis.
She also realized it could be an opportunity for other young people, who have felt the impact of being isolated by pandemic restrictions and the necessity of doing studies online.
“It was something that would allow students to be involved in reconnecting with their community, and I could use the framework from my MBA studies to help manage it,” she noted.
“It’s so rare for youngsters and youth to be involved in local history and I want to continue to encourage youth to be involved in this way.”
“I was really interested in the project because earlier in the year we did a (similar) project in Social Studies,” Li said. “But that was mostly focused on how people in the past had faced pandemics. I didn’t feel we covered COVID-19 properly, so this was a really good opportunity to do it better.”
The Community In You(th) idea was enthusiastically received by museum staff – including executive director Karin Bjerke-Lisle, curator Charlene Garvey and archives manager Hugh Ellenwood – Xie, Meng and Li said.
“The museum gave us a $1,000 budget, and also offered us support to document the studies,” Meng said, adding that the project, launched in June, started to gain real momentum in June as participants gathered information through phone and online interviews.
“We initially walked into this by approaching classmates and teachers, because they’re some of the closet connections we have,” Meng said.
“Through that we were directed to businesses, bigger organizations such as the hospital and volunteer organizations. But we think that everyone’s story is equally important, although it’s up to the individual if they want to include their story.”
From their own experiences of isolation, the students understood the importance the community found in maintaining and strengthening connections, by reaching out to others during times of lock-down.
But Li said she has has been surprised to learn about local businesses who, while suffering the impacts of the pandemic themselves, were also community-minded.
“They decided to do something very beneficial, such as the restaurants who contributed to the White Rock Rotary’s and City of White Rock’s Feed My City program,” she said.
Xie, Meng and Li said they all hope that the project, while technically winding down this fall, can have an ongoing life – possibly as a way of involving other students in gathering other historical data on the pandemic.
By the middle of September the students plan to launch an online virtual reality presentation through the museum’s website, which will show 360-degree panoramas of the city on which pop-up facts about the pandemic – gleaned from their research – will be superimposed.
“The virtual reality technology has been generously sponsored by Vicky’s dad,” Xie noted. “Otherwise the whole budget might have gone to that. Our parents played a huge part in making this successful – it took everyone involved to make this happen.
“Without the help and support that everyone has provided us today, we wouldn’t have this information to share with future generations,” Li said.
Those who would like to participate in the Community In You(th) project by sharing their pandemic stories are asked to contact Xie at email@example.com