The Halifax Company’s tartan mask featured in new COVID-19 exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum


The owner of a Nova Scotia business that turned to making face masks when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, says she is shocked and honored that her tartan mask is on display in a new exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

“I didn’t think a museum would ever want something for me to do,” said Sherrie Kearney, owner of the Halifax-based Maritime Tartan Company.

The exhibition brings together a hundred masks from more than 20 countries. “Unmasking the Pandemic: From Personal Protection to Self-Expression” examines how masks “convey stories of resilience, cultural identity and our collective humanity in the face of a global crisis,” according to a press release.

Resilience is an apt word for the Maritime Tartan Company. Before the pandemic, the company made scarves, blankets and other tartan items.

After seeing masks advertised online at prices like $ 25, Kearney started selling masks on the basis of what payment you can to make sure they are in the hands of the people who need them.

The tartan mask made by the Maritime Tartan Company appears in a section of the exhibit titled “Survival & Strength”. (Royal Ontario Museum)

“I wasn’t really thinking about my business,” Kearney said. “I was thinking of people who needed masks and the inability of people to get suitable and inexpensive masks.”

The Kearneys also heard from people who said they lost their jobs and couldn’t afford masks, so they sent them free masks.

Since the start of the pandemic, Sherrie Kearney has made approximately 25,000 face masks. (Craig Paisley / CBC)

“It was just the human thing to do,” said her husband, Dale Kearney. “You have to take care of each other during something like this.”

The company sells its three-layer masks for $ 10.

Sherrie Kearney estimates that she has made 25,000 masks since the start of the pandemic. Her husband takes care of the paperwork, packaging and mail, but she takes care of all the cutting and sewing.

The couple submitted two masks to the museum – a Canadian maple tartan mask and a Nova Scotia tartan mask – but only the latter is included in the exhibit.

The Kearneys have received letters of thanks for their work from individuals and politicians. (Craig Paisley / CBC)

Alexandra Palmer is the museum’s senior curator of global fashion and textiles. She said the masks have become a symbol of many things, including fashion statements and problem solving.

“People can do good things if you come together and we can solve terrible problems and we can help,” she said.

“East Coast of the Salt of the Earth”

But there is another side to them.

“They represent the loss, the struggles that people have or people who have died during COVID,” Palmer said.

At the time of the most recent update, 97 people had died in Nova Scotia from COVID-19, a number that pales in comparison to the more than 4.7 million lives lost worldwide.

Palmer said there were several reasons to include the maritime tartan mask in the exhibit, such as the history of the company and who Sherrie Kearney is as a person.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang wears a tartan tie made by the Maritime Tartan Company. The company organized a fundraiser that raised $ 1,700 for the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia using a tie and mask signed by Strang. (Craig Paisley / CBC / CBC)

“She truly embodies this east coast of the salt of the earth, Haligonian, and is so kind and so community oriented,” said Palmer.

Palmer highlighted the donations the Maritime Tartan Company made from the sale of its masks.

According to his website, he donated nearly $ 38,000 to charities in 2020-2021. The site also includes a list of organizations that have received donations and amounts.

“A company that makes you proud to be Nova Scotian”

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr Robert Strang, who signed a company-made tartan tie and mask for a fundraiser for the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia, applauded their inclusion in the exhibit.

“This local business not only started making tartan masks to help keep people safe, but in true Nova Scotian spirit, they’ve focused on helping others by using their business to fundraise. funds… for local charities, ”he said in a statement.

“This is a company that makes you proud to be Nova Scotian and I am delighted to see their tartan mask included in this exhibit. “

The exhibition is free. Palmer said that since so many people who mass-produced masks did so to help their communities, it was important that the exhibit did not have an admission fee.

The exhibit, titled “Unmasking the Pandemic: From Personal Protection to Self-Expression,” tells “stories of resilience, cultural identity and our collective humanity in the face of a global crisis,” a press release read. (Royal Ontario Museum)

Sherrie Kearney said she has no plans to visit the exhibit in the near future.

“I’m too busy,” she said. “I sell a lot more things than masks and Christmas is coming, so busy, busy.”

At the couple’s home, which also serves as a production space, the wall is adorned with letters from members of the public and officials like MP Andy Fillmore and Strang, thanking them for what they have done. Some people have called them heroes, but Dale Kearney disputes it.

“We are not heroes,” he said. “We’re just doing what we’re supposed to be doing during this.”

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