Crosses are displayed in memory of residents who died from COVID-19 at the Camilla Care Community facility in Mississauga, Ont., on Nov. 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Crosses are displayed in memory of residents who died from COVID-19 at the Camilla Care Community facility in Mississauga, Ont., on Nov. 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Grandparents, researchers, friends: 20,000 people in Canada have died of COVID-19

It’s been just over a year since Canada recorded its first case of the virus

When Thelma Coward-Ince donned her uniform in 1954, she was believed to be the first Black reservist in the Royal Canadian Navy.

Decades later, the strong, hard-working great-grandmother moved into the Northwood long-term care facility in Halifax due to dementia. She lived there for five years among other navy veterans until a deadly virus began silently and rapidly spreading last spring.

Coward-Ince, a woman who spent her life breaking down racial barriers and became a pillar of the Black community in Halifax, died April 17 after testing positive for the novel coronavirus.

More than 20,000 Canadians have now died from COVID-19.

Since the first death last March, health officials across the country have shared the grim daily numbers of the pandemic’s fatal toll.

There have been grandparents, parents, single mothers and children. Some were health-care workers and others who worked to ensure Canadians had essential supplies.

Many who died, like Coward-Ince, were residents of crowded care homes, which served as fuel to the fire of the virus during the first and second waves of the pandemic.

Curtis Jonnie, better known as Shingoose, left behind a legacy that many have said set the course for generations of Indigenous musicians.

Jonnie, an Ojibway from Manitoba’s Roseau River Anishinaabe First Nation, was a residential school and ’60s Scoop survivor. He became a fixture of the folk music scene and was instrumental in pressuring the Juno Awards to establish a category for Indigenous music in the 1990s.

The 74-year-old lived in a Winnipeg care home when he tested positive for COVID-19. He died earlier this month.

“Through his pain and life experiences, he’s made such a huge contribution,” his daughter, Nahanni Shingoose-Cagal, said at the time.

COVID-19 also blazed through meat-packing plants last year. Many of those infected were people who had come to Canada looking for a better life.

Benito Quesada worked at a large slaughterhouse south of Calgary. The 51-year-old from Mexico was a union shop steward at the Cargill plant in High River, Alta.

“He always told me how proud he was for having been able to bring his family to Canada,” said Michael Hughes with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401.

Quesada, described as a quiet, gentle and humble man, was one of two plant employees to die from COVID-19 when the virus infected nearly half of its 2,200 staff last spring.

READ MORE: Over 1,500 COVID orders issued after workplace inspections

Hiep Bui worked at the plant for 23 years. The 67-year-old met her husband on a refugee boat when they both fled the Vietnam War.

“I just want everyone to remember my wife … was a wonderful lady, very generous and very compassionate,” Nga Nguyen, her husband, said at the time.

Many people who died spent their final weeks and months fighting on the front lines of the pandemic.

Maureen Ambersley was working at an Extendicare nursing home in Mississauga, Ont., when she tested positive in December. She died Jan. 5.

The 57-year-old was loved by her colleagues and worked as a registered practical nurse for more than 16 years, her union, SEIU Healthcare, said. She was the fourth union member to die from COVID-19.

An online fundraiser for Ambersley’s family said the grandmother was a maternal figure to many. She baked, cooked and knitted for family and friends, and loved helping people as much as she could.

ALSO READ: Host arrested, attendees fined $17K after alleged party in Vancouver penthouse

Laurence Menard was a 33-year-old single mother who worked as a social work technician at a community health clinic in Drummond, Que., before her death last May. Most of her clients were in seniors’ homes.

“Laurence had a lot of character, she had guts. She was frank and did not beat around the bush,” said her sister, Virginie Menard.

Huy Hao Dao spent the weeks before his death working as a COVID-19 researcher and investigator, tracking down infected patients to learn how they caught the virus and tracing those who they came into contact with.

The 45-year-old Quebec doctor known for his perpetual smile died in April.

He was a pharmacist before he went to medical school to become a specialist in public health and preventive medicine. He was also a professor at the University of Sherbrooke.

The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada said at the time that Dao had heroically served the medical profession during the global, life-changing pandemic.

“It is a startling reminder that the threat of COVID-19 is very real,” the college said.

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 80+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

Police have identified the vehicle involved in the Feb. 14 hit-and-run in Chemainus and are continuing to investigate. (Black Press Media files)
Police seize and identify suspect vehicle in fatal Chemainus hit-and-run

Investigation expected to be lengthy and involved

The Cowichan Women Against Violence Society is planning on opening a child and youth advocacy centre. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Child and youth advocacy centre eyed for Cowichan

Cowichan Women Against Violence Society hopes to open centre later this year

CVRD to apply for a grant to improve a 4.85-kilometre section of the Cowichan Valley Trail near Shawnigan Lake. (File photo)
CVRD looks to improve section of Cowichan Valley Trail

District applies for $250,000 grant to widen, upgrade 4.8-kilometre section in Shawnigan Lake

Cowichan Valley writer Jennifer Manuel will headlining YakFest on March 1. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Cowichan Valley writer to headline next YakFest on March 1

YakFest is a B.C.-based monthly women’s event held online via Zoom

Langley resident Carrie MacKay shared a video showing how stairs are a challenge after spending weeks in hospital battling COVID-19 (Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Stairs a challenge for B.C. woman who chronicled COVID-19 battle

‘I can now walk for six (to) 10 minutes a day’

Face mask hangs from a rear-view mirror. (Black Press image)
B.C. CDC unveils guide on how to carpool during the pandemic

Wearing masks, keeping windows open key to slowing the spread of COVID-19

Churches, including Langley’s Riverside Calvary Church, are challenging the regulations barring them from holding in-person worship services during COVID-19. (Langley Advance Times file)
Det. Sgt. Jim Callender. (Hamilton Police Service screenshot)
B.C. man dead, woman seriously injured after shooting in Hamilton, Ont.

The man was in the process of moving to the greater Toronto area, police say

Wildlife advocate Gary Schroyen captured this picture of a one-year-old cougar in the Sooke Hills using a homemade trip camera. Vancouver Island is home to approximately 800 cougars, which makes up about a quarter of the total population in B.C. (Gary Schroyen photo)
Wildlife advocate Gary Schroyen captured this picture of a one-year-old cougar in the Sooke Hill using a homemade trip camera. Schroyen presents Animal Signs: The Essence of Animal Communication on Nov. 30. (Gary Schroyen photo)
Declining Vancouver Island cougar populations linked to wolves

Large carnivore specialist says human development still plays biggest role on cougar numbers

(Black Press file photo)
Child in critical condition, homicide investigators probe incident near Agassiz

The child was transported to hospital but is not expected to survive

Sewage plant in Lower Mainland, operated by Metro Vancouver. (Metro Vancouver screenshot)
‘Poop tracker’ launches as researchers test Lower Mainland sewage water for COVID-19

‘Studying the virus in wastewater allows researchers to look at an entire population…’

This poster, spreading misinformation regarding COVID-19 restrictions, has been popping up in communities across Vancouver Island.
UPDATED: Poster popping up in Island communities falsely claiming COVID restrictions are over

Unattributed poster claims COVID restrictions ended March 1; Island Health responds

Most Read