Society of Professional Obituary Writers # 1

SPOW_finalphotoChris is not an anachronism, although he looks to have stepped from the pages of a Hardy novel and named Jude or some such. No, not Hardy and not Jude but Chris, circa 2013, printing copies of William Lyon MacKenzie’s The Colonial Advocate, circa 1824.

Chris works at Toronto’s MacKenzie House. I went there to research the history of this man, who not only published the news but also became the first mayor of the city. I wanted to know more about this, about how Toronto could move from having a radical journalist and publisher, and leader of the Rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada, as a mayor–from that noble beginning–to Rob Ford.

You see, I was hosting the opening event last Friday night for SPOW, the Society of Professional Obituary Writers, at our annual conference just up the street from MacKenzie’s former domicile, north on Jarvis Street towards Bloor.

I needed arsenal in order to debunk our much-maligned reputation vis-a-vis elected officials down at City Hall. There were many Americans among our delegates bursting with laughter already and wanting to know: Is it true? In Canada?

Speaking, briefly, of Toronto city hall and obituary writing…here’s a moment in time. I’ll take you back a couple of weeks, shortly after the news broke about Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine etcetera etcetera ad nauseam (disclaimers intact always.)

I joined the scrum at city hall, muscled in with the crowd of journalists hoisting huge cameras, and said to my colleagues:

“I am the most important journalist here today.”

“Why?” many of them asked.

“Because I am an obituary writer,” I said.

I’m twirling off in all directions in this blog post but promise to return order in the posts to come. Because I’ll be telling more stories about how our conference went–fabulously. It was a lot of work but the pay-off in connections with fellow writers, and historians, was well worth it.

Next up: The history of a radical mayor from a couple of centuries back, as told to us by historian Danielle Urquart.


About Nor

I'm a creative non-fiction writer, with a special interest in memoirs and obituaries--life stories, local histories with flesh & blood anecdotal details. I'm also beginning to create podcasts of people's stories and expanding their audiences. I'm a diarist, an editor, and a political activist. I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and spend days tapping keys or staining my fingers in ink.
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