SAIT in the time of COVID

2020 Spring / July 7, 2020
In this view from early March (above), the garage door at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site opens to admit another car. Accessible only to those referred after assessment by a Health Link nurse, these sites helped keep people with symptoms like headache and fever separate from others. – Leah Hennel (JA '98) photo, courtesy of Alberta Health Services

The voices of our fellow alumni impacted by the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1920 are forever silent. We can only imagine how it felt for staff and students at the fledgling Provincial Institute of Technology and Art (as SAIT was known from 1916 until 1960) to have their buildings seized by the Calgary Department of Health. 

For a month, those buildings served as a temporary hospital for flu patients — but we have no record of alumni who worked, died or recovered there; who used their practical skills to keep Alberta’s essential services functioning; and whose resilience brought hope to a province still reeling from the First World War. 

In this issue — during this historic pandemic — LINK hopes to capture and preserve at least some first-hand SAIT stories for future generations. 

When we look back at how drastically COVID-19 has changed our world — and how quickly it all happened — this LINK will reflect some of the uncertainty, the expertise, the resilience and the strength of SAIT alumni navigating unprecedented challenges. 

I call this historic pandemic Calgary’s three-headed monster: we have the COVID virus; we have COVID — the health and wellness challenge; and we have COVID’s impact on the economy, which is also suffering because of the drop in oil prices. This is the biggest call that we as a CEMA team have ever had.



“We share a hangar with a flying school at an international airport. I realized this was serious when I came to work and there was a sign on the door cancelling all training flights and ground schools. Then I realized the airport was completely quiet — no one was flying their small planes for training or pleasure. SOS completely shut down for two weeks. We are now open again but customers can only leave equipment at the front doors for repairs. The aviation industry will be hit hard. If this was all over tomorrow, I would guess two years before things resemble normal again.”


Quote from Cathy McDonald


“I’m a sponsored student from Namibia and have been living in Residence for two years. After finishing my exams, it was difficult to travel because international flights were suspended. My sponsor is working day and night to find flights to get me home, and I was lucky that SAIT Residence has allowed me to stay another month. SAIT’s International Centre checks up with me every week, and my family has helped me through this time — they’re always checking in. I also have caring friends I’ve made through class. One brought me a bike so I could cycle around to keep busy and distracted from the situation. When we started online classes, it was a lifestyle we were not used to and everyone was just panicking. But you need to adapt to change and in the end, we’ve all gotten used to it. I sometimes wake up, look through the window and ask myself, ‘When is life ever going to be normal again?’”


Capturing COVID

Despite the risk of COVID-19, photojournalists across Canada are donning personal protective equipment and using their cameras to cover the pandemic experience. Four award-winning SAIT alumni living in Vancouver, Calgary, Mississauga and Ottawa are documenting this extraordinary time, sharing surreal sights from a country in lockdown and telling the stories we need to know. 

View some of these dramatic images from alumni photographers Nathan Denette (JA ’03), Darryl Dyck (JA ’98), Leah Hennel (JA ’98), and Sean Kilpatrick (JA ’84), in the gallery below:

“At first, when many reporters were in lockdown, it was the photojournalists who were out there, wearing PPE and shooting photos to capture this moment. COVID-19 is a unique story with so many angles — business, the elderly, unemployment, kids learning online, and more. I’m working hard to research and safely document them all. That’s what I do.”


Terry Coulter quote

Judy Stewart Quote

“Our station offers an escape from the 24/7 news cycle, so we talked on-air about the experiences everyone was going through, keeping it positive and informative while acknowledging the weirdness. I’ll remember the ever-changing rules on appropriate safety measures, best guesses on what the numbers infected were going to be, and what counted as a COVID death. And the slogans! ‘We are in this together.’ ‘Flatten the curve.’ ‘Quarantine 15.’”


“Most of the Interfaith Centre’s student support is based on personal visits, so the virtual world makes it awkward for many to engage with us online — sometimes it’s unsafe for students at home to openly share their struggles. But what’s inspiring is that some are meeting together online with greater intentionality, especially as they wrap their faith around these uncertain times. And some are embracing the opportunity to grow, diving deeper into self-analysis and spiritual edification, or simply learning the guitar or how to cook. This generation of students gives me hope. They genuinely care about their own future, the future of other citizens of Earth and even Earth herself. They are creative and innovative and even COVID-19 won’t stop them from making their mark in this world.”


Quote from student about their experience during COVID

“My plan was to spend 2020 in Angola, assisting in training workshops for library staff. My visa application was in the mail when the shutdown began, and there is currently no timeline for when I’ll be able to go. Angola has only registered a few COVID-19 cases, and what they find somewhat galling is how readily the world has ground to a halt to address the pandemic, yet childhood malnutrition kills more children per year than anything else and malaria is a massive killer. Angolans find it upsetting that the Western world is only invested in fighting this pandemic because it affects them directly.”



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