Volunteers set up sombre reminder of N.B.'s COVID-19 death toll

·3 min read
The group installed 443 headstones, one for each reported COVID-19 death at the time of the memorial.  (Submitted by the New Brunswick COVID Memorial Project - image credit)
The group installed 443 headstones, one for each reported COVID-19 death at the time of the memorial. (Submitted by the New Brunswick COVID Memorial Project - image credit)

In an effort to remind people the pandemic isn't over, a group of volunteers set up, and took down, a memorial for New Brunswickers who died of COVID-19.

The group, called The New Brunswick COVID-19 Memorial Project placed 443 paper gravestones near the provincial legislature in downtown Fredericton on Sunday night, and removed them Monday evening — the night of the New Brunswick Day holiday. Each grave represents someone who died because of COVID-19 in the province. The toll was last updated on July 26.

Though no one in the group has been personally touched by a death due to the virus, it includes members with long COVID-19 and other disabilities.

"We should grieve the people who've been lost in our province, especially those who've been forgotten or who didn't need to be lost in the first place," said Chelsea Stevens, one of about 10 volunteers with the project.

"I know a lot of people are really tired of hearing about COVID," said Stevens. "But it's still very much with us. And it's still very much a problem, as we can see in the state of our hospitals."

The timing was meant to reinforce this message. Not only was the memorial set up on the eve of New Brunswick Day, Aug. 1, but the year before on July 30, 2021, the province removed all COVID-19 restrictions — restrictions that were later reinstated in September 2021.

Stevens believes some of the COVID-19 deaths could have been avoided if policy decisions had been different.

Community welcomed opportunity for remembrance

One couple from Quebec said they'd been looking at the memorial all day, she said, and some others approached and asked what the number of official deaths had gone up to.

"Online as well, we've had people reach out and say, you know, 'One of my family members is one of those people. So I really appreciate, you know, you having this space and kind of remembering them,'" said Stevens.

The group has put out an open invitation for people to continue the memorial around the province, she said.

"It is something that needs to continually be highlighted," she said. "Because, it's just — if you're not paying attention and you're not seeking information out in other places, it's really easy to just have no idea what's going on."

Bruce Guthrie/Submitted by Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg
Bruce Guthrie/Submitted by Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg

Inspired by similar memorials in Canada and abroad 

Stevens said their event in Fredericton was inspired by a memorial in Manitoba and one on the National Mall in Washington D.C.

Stevens said the group came together over social media in a group chat, where she and other Twitter users in New Brunswick started discussing the idea.

"The Washington D.C. one and the event in Manitoba kind of really spurred us on to be like, 'This is something that we should be doing here in New Brunswick,'" she said.

Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg, the artist who created the memorial in Washington, was pleased to learn it had inspired people north of the border. Her memorial was titled In America: Remember.

"It's a huge honour to have people in other countries and communities across the world want to replicate this art," said Firstenberg. "Because that means the art mattered to them, that it had resonance."

Firstenberg would like the memorials to give people pause.

"I hope that these continued exhibitions of white flags, or white headstones in the case of New Brunswick, just remind people to take an extra moment before they honk their horns or before they express anger toward one another because we are a nation in mourning. A world in mourning," she said.

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