Recreation and Fun in the time of COVID-19

Posted By: Savannah Sewell (MARF 2021)

***I would like to begin this blog with a heartfelt acknowledgement that, although the majority of Canadian residents during the pandemic have not had to deal with the loss of a loved one, the pain and sacrifice associated with the virus is important to keep in mind. Many have lost their lives, the lives of loved ones, businesses and livelihoods, and have had to make difficult choices during this time. I intend that this blog be a light and fun record of the pastimes during this time, and not as a slight or insult to those who have not experienced this pandemic without emotional difficulty and the pain of loss.

One of the most difficult aspects of everyday life for Canadians and Canadian residents during the COVID-19 pandemic has been occupying their time. In the spring of 2020, many people were excited by the two-week extension of March Break (in Ontario), an opportunity to have a few quiet weeks at home to curb the virus. As we all know, those two weeks have continued into 15 months of pandemic protocols, lockdowns, and stay-at-home orders.

During this time, many people have taken up new hobbies and pastimes. In fact, hobby, game, craft, and sports equipment has been so popular that there have been spans of time when they are virtually impossible to find. As the summer holidays begin, parents, children, and people in general are looking for new and fun ways to occupy their time. Within this blog, we’re going to explore some of the most popular choices of new pastimes over the pandemic and some local businesses and links that you can use to find new ones (mainly in southern Ontario).


Due to the beginning of the pandemic’s hitting in the dead of March, a nasty winter season for most Canadians, a lot of the outdoor recreation and fun didn’t begin until the changing of the seasons in April/May. However, by June of last year, you would be lucky to find one, seemingly normal item: a bicycle. Whether it was in the city or the country, bike shops could not keep them in stock! Several bike shops had signs on their windows and website banners displaying their lack of stock, and the online used bike market had bikes costing sometimes up to three times the original cost.

Other outdoor activities such as running, swimming (in lakes and rivers), walking, and hiking have become more and more prominent.

Virtual races are now available on apps like Strava; while races aren’t running, you can sign up online and receive a racing kit. The race is completed over a certain period of time or on a certain day or weekend and recorded on the racer’s phone or smartwatch. These activities are then loaded onto the race’s website or linked to the online challenge and recorded as the racer’s time. A great way to stay challenged and participate in the community, although not in person.

It should be mentioned that, as some fields have thrived, one of the industries hit hardest over the past two years has been ski hills. Most have been under policy and legislation that does not allow them to be open or functioning, and as a result have lost two seasons. Luckily, at the end of the season this year, there was an opportunity for them to open (in Ontario) and for individuals to book sections of time to visit and to ski or to snowboard with members of their own household, while observing social distancing guidelines.

The Parks Canada website has a great interactive map to show you all of the national and provincial sites for camping, hiking, and enjoying the outdoors. If you are looking for a smaller excursion, most municipal websites have links and suggestions to parks, crown land, and conservation areas around you.


Both indoor and outdoor games have become widely popular. Seemingly growing in popularity during the pandemic, they ranged from games that can be played virtually to include more than one household during the stay-at-home orders, to the classic family games that most people typically avoid entirely. We typically avoid them to abstain from a household meltdown of power based struggle after the youngest sibling wins. Interestingly, card and table games were also very popular during the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918. Michael Waters writes about how some people played blackjack until “the sight of a card fairly nauseated” them (2020).

“Dutch Blitz”

A virtual game like JackBox can be played by several players in one space, all on their individual phones, or over several households, all logged into the same gaming room or code. Streaming services for movies and television also adopted similar models. Creating a viewing option that means that a movie can be played simultaneously over screens that are not in the same household, essentially, allowing for a movie night, while not in close proximity. One of my close friends and I have utilized those new tools in a weekly show watching series, while we simultaneously FaceTime or video chat.

If you haven’t found a new favourite family game, here are some links and options for purchasing that you might not have heard of before. Games that we love in my house are: Mexican Train Dominos, Horse Races, Dutch Blitz (it gets to be full body contact – be careful), Wizard, and Disney UNO (a favourite of my cousin’s daughter who is 8 and relentless).


My “crafting” corner, complete with yarn stockpile!

I myself am a HUGE crafter. All things crafting bring me and my family members joy. I was a very lucky recipient of something called a Kitchen Apprenticeship – a term borrowed here from the practice of children’s learning craft, art, and trans-generational skills, while spending time in the home while their parents practiced these activities. Typically, it refers to a young woman, learning and helping while older women quilt, sew, knit, or crochet, within the home. I learnt to sew, quilt, and knit, amongst other crafts from the time that I could walk. My mother had three girls within three years and idle hands were the devil’s plaything in a big way.

I am delighted that these practices, crafts, and arts have become more and more com-mon during the pandemic, so common that for the first six months of the pandemic, I could barely find certain yarn!

Some of the best online free help I’ve found for beginners is here:

*There are also wonderful and really accessible videos on TikTok for most crafting communities

And here are some wonderful and local sources for yarn, fabric and tools, outside of the bigger stores like Michaels and Fabricland and online stores like Yarnspirations or Hobbi:


One of the most interesting pastimes that has come back into fashion during the last two years is journaling. Once incredibly common to memorialize one’s life and to document the on goings of certain global events, it has become a space for mindfulness and positive mental health. Journaling has also gained a creative depth with journals sporting objects, and sometimes a mix of journal items, calendar events, tickets, photos, and even flowers or leaves.

I should also mention that next month’s blog will take this content as a jumping off point as I discuss TikTok and how its’ trends, communities, and platform as a whole have thrived during the pandemic. Things like relationships challenges, family activities, and how-tos are documenting everyday life in a digital curated space with accuracy and representation that the historical record very seldom sees.

If you are looking for tips and tricks for personal journaling, students at UBC breakdown the types of journaling and how they may be useful here:

Events and Openings

Luckily, the world seems to be opening its eyes to us again and programming and in-person experiences are open! I myself am very excited about my yearly trip to Wonderland and have many exciting things planned as the summer goes on. We can all play our part in encouraging and helping the economy, small business, and seasonal businesses by enjoying their services as they open up! Some wonderful opportunities are provided by local museums and heritage sites for outdoor tours and summer camp programming. Find your local museum online and check out what they have planned for the summer! I am sure that they are all very excited to see everyone back and enjoying the museum.

All of the wonderful new skills and hobbies associated with the pandemic could not be covered in one, small blog. For example, baking/cooking, bread making, embroidery, yoga and meditation, tie dye, learning a different language, taking master classes, podcasts, and picking up new instruments have also all been very popular. Perhaps one day, someone can write an entire dissertation of how Canadians occupied themselves during the pandemic. If you’re reading this blog, cite me so that my great-grandchildren know that I was contributing in some way to the COVID cause. Thank you, in advance.

What’s your COVID-19 Story?

As part of the Museum of Healthcare’s COVID-19 project, we are collecting narratives of individuals’ pandemic experience.  If you have picked up a new hobby or practice and it has become an important part of your life, please share with us!  You can participate by contacting the museum at or call 613-548-2419.  All stories, in any form, are welcomed.  Whether by video, email or handwritten letter, the value of personal experiences of this pandemic cannot be understated.

Special thanks to Ian M. Fraser and Janine M. Schweitzer for their generous support of the 2021 Margaret Angus Research Fellowship!

Bibliography & Image Sources (Click to view)

Gompertz, Simon and Plummer, Robert. “Coronavirus: Six things that are booming in sales.” BBC Business, March 29, 2020. June 21, 2021.

Martin, Ashley. “History repeating: Entertainment suffered during Spanish Flu in Regina.” Regina Leader-Post, April 22, 2020. June 20, 2021.

Waters, Michael. “How to Quarantine…in 1918.” Slate, April 17, 2020. June 20, 2021.

Images (in order):

“Toronto: Tommy Thompson Park” by The City of Toronto is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Matt on CBC” by andy_c is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Dutch Blitz” by steakpinball is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Me and some of my yarn stash in January 2021

“Wonderland – Canada” by mRk.Cool is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Savannah Sewell
Savannah Sewell

Savannah Sewell is a graduate of the Master of Museum Studies program at the University of Toronto, and a proud alumna of McMaster University’s Anthropology Department, holding a Honours Bachelor of Arts. Savannah’s previous experience varies from numerous archaeological projects, both locally and abroad, through exhibition creation and design with the Canadian Language Museum, to an internship in Marketing and Communications at the Aga Khan Museum. She is an excited emerging museum professional with a passion for community and accessibility to museums and their critical role in understanding the past and navigating our future

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