Obituaries behind paywall: P.E.I. premier open to sponsoring newspaper death notices

By The Canadian Press

CHARLOTTETOWN — After hearing concerns from an “alarming” number of residents, P.E.I. Premier Dennis King says he would consider sponsoring a regional media company’s obituaries page to ensure its death notices are not behind a paywall.

The premier made the comments about SaltWire Network in the legislature Tuesday, saying that reading obituaries in the newspaper and online is “part of the Island DNA.”

“Islanders have a great connection and affinity to their newspaper and the death announcements,” he said. “It’s a very important ritual and a public service that Islanders have become accustomed to.”

SaltWire Network owns 23 newspapers across Atlantic Canada, including two of P.E.I.’s oldest — The Guardian, which was founded in 1887, and Journal Pioneer, founded in 1865. The network recently moved death notices behind its paywall, advising readers in an online note that they could get a 30-day free trial but after that would have to pay for a subscription.

“For those who view these items on our website regularly, we are asking our readers for their support to keep this service available and sustainable,” the note says.

King said he’s open to discussing ways of addressing the paywall with SaltWire.

“Do I want to have the government of P.E.I. sponsoring the obituaries? I don’t know. But maybe there’s a creative way to take a look at this,” he said. Neither the premier nor SaltWire responded to requests for comment Wednesday. 

Nathaniel Lamoureux, funeral director and owner of Dingwell Funeral Home, in Souris, P.E.I., said he’s in favour of the government sponsoring the obituaries page for Islanders.

“I think that would be an amazing idea. That’s a way of supporting Islanders and the community … death notices are very important to people on P.E.I.,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

Lamoureux added that many funeral homes, including the one he operates, post obituaries written by family members of the deceased for free on their website. Still, many Islanders turn to their local newspapers.

“I’ve heard it so many times that people say: ‘As soon as I get The Guardian, the first page I go to is the obituaries,’” he said. 

Charlottetown resident Sasha Andric, 49, said he’s in favour of the province paying SaltWire so residents can access the obituary page without subscribing to the paper.

He said in an interview over social media that he sees the move to put death notices behind a paywall as SaltWire “trying to find a way to survive.”

“It would be tax money well spent,” he added.

Abbey McClung, a 24-year-old Dalhousie University library studies student, said the new paywalled obituary page, which applies to all of the chain’s publications, is going to make research work “much, much more frustrating.” 

She relies heavily on the obituaries published in Nova Scotia’s SaltWire-owned Chronicle Herald for school research and exploring genealogy. “When I’m looking for someone and I don’t know where to find their information, that has been the first place I look,” she said.

McClung said she’s worried about what the loss of free access to Atlantic Canada obituaries through SaltWire will mean for local historians and archivists.

“Coming from a place with a small history, there’s not a lot of articles about people, and we’re just trying to preserve that heritage and preserve our stories,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 22, 2023.

— By Lyndsay Armstrong in Halifax. 

The Canadian Press

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