Skip to main content

The downtown exhibit showing Winnipeg’s response to two pandemics


A new interactive exhibit in Winnipeg’s Exchange District is exploring how our community responded to two global pandemics a century apart.

Virus: Making & Breaking the Pandemic opened Friday at the Millennium Centre, 389 Main Street.

Heritage Winnipeg created the exhibit. Executive Director Cindy Tugwell said they came up with the idea when they realized that most of the heritage buildings in the Exchange District had been standing during both the influenza pandemic of 1918, and the more recent COVID-19 pandemic.

“They were a constant, they’ll tell us about how our economy is doing and how we react to things,” said Tugwell. “These heritage buildings downtown have witnessed both pandemics over 100 years.”

The self-guided exhibit is free and open to the public daily from 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. until Friday, Mar. 31. Tugwell said informational panels and interactive video displays show the differences and similarities between the two pandemics.

Lessons like wearing masks, “How to get the masses to wear the masks, you have to remember there were no vaccine back in 1918,” said Tugwell.

She added that, like COVID-19, there was also a lot of food insecurity during the influenza pandemic, “Many heritage buildings – schools, churches – became pivotal for food services for insecurity during that time,” she said.

As for some of the differences between the influenza and COVID-19 pandemics, Tugwell said media was a major one. “Back in 1918 you had the newspapers and telegrams to tell you what was going on, now in 2020 we had everything, from social media, internet theories,” she said. “It was difficult to understand what was really happening, what was real news, what was fake news.”

Tugwell said the exhibit shows how the health care systems of both eras were overwhelmed.

“A lot of these health care workers were stretched. A lot of these hospitals were stretched to the maximum, and we experienced that 100 years later. Tugwell said. “So, lessons learned could be lack of preparation.”

The exhibit is being held at the Millennium Centre, one of the buildings that experienced both pandemics. Tugwell said the choice was deliberate. “COVID was a horrible thing we had to go through, but we’re showcasing it in such a beautiful architecturally significant building,” she said.

We wanted to talk about COVID but be socially connected while we talk about it.”

More information on Virus: Making & Breaking the Pandemic can be found at the Heritage Winnipeg website Top Stories

Stay Connected