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'These are not numbers': Sask. researchers build online memorial for over 1,800 COVID-19 victims

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A team of researchers from the University of Saskatchewan has built an online memorial for those in Saskatchewan who died of COVID-19.

Remember Lives Not Numbers puts a human face to the over 1,800 people in the province who died during the pandemic.

Associate professor of history Jim Clifford, said during the pandemic, the human stories of lives lost turned into a number count in media reports over the last three years.

“I remember some of the powerful stories reported in the news during the early months of the pandemic that helped connect the death count with lives lost,” Clifford said in a news release.

“We collectively mourned Alice Grove and Fred Sasakamoose. But as the numbers grew, we probably needed to avoid thinking of the scale of the loss to avoid being overwhelmed.”

Daily reporting of COVID-19 deaths stopped in February 2022, but over 800 people have died since then, Clifford said.

Over 80 people are listed on the memorial website.

Eleanor Widdowson is the sister of Alice Grove and said she felt her sister’s story needed to be told.

“I went through quite a bit when it came to her death, considering that the doctor hadn't put it on the death certificate,” Widdowson told CTV News. “I had an amended death certificate made because it was not being put out in the media where these people were dying.”

She said she felt that people were not being careful enough.

“Somebody had to speak up and you know, I'm glad that they've done it for her. She helped out a lot in the volunteer work and everything in the community for the Western Development Museum and stuff. It's nice that she's being recognized.”

Patrick Chassé who was also on the research team said the project helped give meaning to the loved ones left behind.

“We felt that there were a lot of personal sort of details about people's lives that were missing, right? These are not numbers. They're not statistics. They're not graphs and charts. They're people, people who lived very rich and interesting lives, people who left us too soon.”

Chassé said some were business people, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and people who the team wanted to honour and remember.

“There's a really rich collection of stories that we've gathered together here. as many cases as possible, we tried to use the obituaries themselves to quote from them what we like pulled the life highlight out, which is what we call these little, these little the sort of quotes that we feature on the website beside people's names.”

Chassé said researchers found information by going over public records like obituaries or news stories.

“But that brought us to just over 100 cases, and we know that there's obviously more cases out there and so we encourage people to reach out to us.”

He said that they hoped the project helped people come back together after COVID-19 restrictions caused a separation.

“I think we forgot what it was to be a community, to be a province of people who are going through this really difficult experience. And by bringing us back together to remember collectively. I think it's all of our hope that this will kind of plant a seed for rebuilding these communities that are so important.”

The project received two grants from the federal government equal to about $600,000.

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