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'This is not a small story': Exhibit highlights pandemic’s impact on Canadians in long-term care homes

A travelling exhibit making a stop at the Millennium Library is shining a light on the pandemic’s impact on residential care homes and the gaps exposed in Canadian elder care.

"COVID in the House of Old" features seven ‘storytelling chairs’ that tell seven distinct stories of Canadians who either died by COVID-19 or were severely impacted by the virus at a personal care home. Visitors have the opportunity to listen to powerful audio testimonies about love, grief and outrage.

They vary from staff members to seniors living in isolation to those removed from their care homes altogether at the onset of the pandemic.

Curator and health historian Megan Davis said she chose stories that reflected different realities of the pandemic.

“One of the things that I learned which interested me as a historian was the way in which people's previous traumas or difficulties in life kind of intersected with what they encountered in long-term care facilities,” Davis told CTV Winnipeg Maralee Caruso in an interview.

She spoke to one senior who lived through the Second World War in the Netherlands, and felt reminiscent isolation during the pandemic.

She also spoke with a residential school survivor named Karen who felt similarly shut off from her family while living in her care facility.

“You've got to remember that in the summer of 2021, we were also learning about the deaths of the unmarked graves and residential schools,” Davis recalled.

“So Karen was also working through that in isolation in a care facility. So for her, there was a double impact.”

Davis hopes visitors to the exhibit come out with a sense of what needs to be done to create a better care system for our older Canadians and for ourselves.

Starting May 2, folks are also invited to contribute to the exhibit. A vintage typewriter, computer, audio recorder and art supplies will be on hand for visitors to share their own pandemic stories.

Davis notes they will be put on the exhibit’s website and archived for future historians and scholars.

“This is not a small story,” she said. “More Canadian seniors died in care facilities than in any other global north country. It’s a Canadian story.”

"COVID in the House of Old" runs at the Millennium Library from April 30 to Mary 13.

- With files from CTV’s Maralee Caruso Top Stories

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