MRU journalism students contribute to Maclean's COVID-19 obituary project

Maclean's magazine is working with journalism schools across the country to pay tribute to the 9,000 Canadians who have died of COVID-19.

'They Were Loved' obituaries written for every Canadian who lost their life to the pandemic

Mount Royal University professor Archie McLean, left, and journalism student Christian Kindrachuk, right, are contributing to the Maclean's obituary project: They Were Loved. (Submitted by Archie McLean and Christian Kindrachuk)

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken the lives of more than 9,000 Canadians since March, and that number increases every day.

In Alberta, more than 200 people have died from the virus.

In an age of statistics that grow until they are beyond comprehension, how do we understand all that we we have lost? 

It is a question Maclean's magazine is working to answer with a project called They Were Loved. It's intended to ensure an obituary will be written for every Canadian who lost their life to the pandemic.

It is a partnership with Carleton University's Future of Journalism Initiative and journalism schools across the country. It strives to capture the richness of each life.

"When I heard about it, I'd been aware of a similar project that the New York Times (NYT) had done where they commemorated the victims of 9/11," Archie McLean, the professor overseeing Mount Royal University's contribution to the project, told the Calgary Eyeopener.

"It was a beautifully written, beautifully done thing. And I was hoping that we could be a part of something just as special here in Canada."

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Intimate details

The New York Times obituaries for the victims of 9/11 are preserved indefinitely on its website, and are called Portraits of Grief.

Each profile includes personal details about its subject, and many provide vignettes from their lives, McLean said.

"It just takes you beyond the name and the age, and gives you a little window into what their life was like, and they're very beautiful — but but very ambitious, as well, to get them all done."

Similarly, the Maclean's project also seeks to provide a more intimate snapshot of who the Canadian victims of COVID-19 were.

The research and writing is undertaken by journalism students who attempt to find relatives and friends of the victims, as well as organizations they were a part of, and jobs that they had.

In this photo, a body is removed from a long-term care facility, the Centre d'hebergement de Sainte-Dorothee in Laval, Quebec, on April 13. The Maclean's project aims to humanize the statistics of COVID-19 deaths in Canada. (Christine Muschi/Reuters)

From there, the student journalists begin to gather personal stories and details.

"[Some relatives and friends] are really up to retell the memories they have of the people they loved and the people they lost," said Christian Kindrachuk.

He is a journalism student at Mount Royal University and intern for the project. Kindrachuk is helping to write the obituaries this summer with two other MRU students, Tristan Oram and Angela Lackey.

"Other people can be a little bit more hesitant, because … it can really hit home."

Who that person was

The pieces are short — 200 to 300 words — which means the writers have to be selective about what to include. Anecdotes that speak to a larger whole of the person, McLean and Kindrachuk said, are sought and prized.

For example, Kindrachuk was told about one Alberta woman who walked into her daughter's home at Christmas and immediately helped prepare the food and clean the house — without stopping to remove her own coat.

"There is a responsibility to really try and tell the story about who that person was," Kindrachuk said.

"I'd never written an obituary before … it has been rewarding, being able to tell these stories, and we are hoping to reveal the people behind the number."

For McLean, capturing the small details that tell the human story have led him to discover how diverse our lives really are, he said.

"Most people think of an obit as about death," McLean said. "What I love about obits is that they're really about life … it's really quite beautiful."

Selected obituaries will be regularly published in the print edition of Maclean's; all will be published on a dedicated page on its website.

If you would like your loved one included in this project, you can email:

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.


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