The Storytelling Chairs

Eight storytelling chairs sit at the heart of the COVID in the House of Old exhibit, speaking to lives indelibly altered by the pandemic’s spread through long-term care. Each individual represented by a chair stands in place for hundreds or thousands of Canadians who faced similar circumstances.

Audios for the first six chairs were culled from a series of interviews conducted over the fall of 2021. Daughters, sons, and grandchildren told tales of devastating loss. Survivor residents spoke of painful separation. Workers described confusion, exhaustion and terrible stress. 

Yet the people profiled here are much more than casualties of history. Their stories are also about aspiration, accomplishment, enthusiasms, good times, bravery and deep personal connection. A representational object is mounted on the back of each chair, while paper “Valentine” acknowledgements, lovingly created by family, friends and project researchers, rest on each seat.

The seventh exhibit chair is held by the Wikwemikong Nursing Home on Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory in Northern Ontario. We visited the home in May 2022 to gather stories, cards and objects for their chair. A month later this important – and beloved – community facility celebrated 50 years of service. In 2023 we partnered with the Remember Rebuild Saskatchewan project to add Kayley’s Chair, giving voice to the experience of a younger adult living in a residential care home for older people. Then we worked with community partners ODLAN and Senior Pride Network Toronto to pull together Alf’s Chair to honour the experience of Rainbow Seniors in residential care.